While introducing her chart-topping "Begin Again" on Thursday night at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, Taylor Swift spoke of how the process of writing a song about love has changed over time. Evolution takes place in an artist's life, as well as career, and night one of her three-show stint in Music City was great proof of this in her career path.
The girl who charmed us with "Tim McGraw" has grown up. Swift is 23 now, and looks the part. As she has matured, so has the emotional content of much of her material. However, that growth has only deepened her bond with the audience. After all, much of the sold-out crowd have grown up with her. They've bonded with Swift over various triumphs and heartbreaks, and Thursday night proved to be a celebration of how far Swift and the audience have come together.
With Swift in the process of wrapping up the U.S. Leg of her "Red" tour, the night was heavily weighed toward the current best seller. Her performances of tracks from the album such as "22" and "The Lucky One" resonated with her fan base, and she aimed straight for the heart – and delivered on a stark version of the heartbreak ballad "All Too Well."
However, the crowd also came to hear the hits that have been a part of their lives – and Swift did not disappoint. "Sparks Fly" and "Love Story" inspired sing-a-longs by the crowd, who were seemingly hanging on her every lyric. Interestingly enough, it wasn't just teenagers that the songs were making an impact with, as we noticed several fans in their thirties and forties singing along. Musically, one of the magical moments of the show was "You Belong To Me." An across-the-board hit in 2009, she played with the arrangement just a bit – as she and some of her female dancers played time travel of sorts, giving the song somewhat of a 50s sheen, complete with gorgeous red dresses.
A two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year (and she's nominated once again this year), Swift has worked hard to make the "Red" tour notable for its' visual design, as well. Whether it was her talented squad of dancers that elicited a strong response from fans – or the elaborate staging that allowed her to rise almost all the way to the 300 section of the arena, as well as venture to both sides of the house – one couldn't take their eyes off the stage because you didn't know what you might miss. Opening acts Casey James and Ed Sheeran also delivered strong sets to kick off the night. The capacity crowd – as if not loud enough – erupted into another stratosphere when the singer announced Luke Bryan as a special surprise guest, performing with her fellow CMA Entertainer of the Year nominee on his "I Don't Want This Night To End" hit.
Sadly, the evening did have to reach a musical apex, as it did with the one-two punch of "I Knew You Were Trouble" and "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," sending fans off into the September night on a positive note – with two of the biggest hits from "Red" – and in the case of the former, possibly her greatest work as an artist yet.
At the end of the night, what sets Taylor Swift apart from the pack is that even in a crowd of close to 20,000 people, she can still shoot for -- and achieve -- emotional intimacy. When talking to her audience, it wasn't just asking them how they were doing or if they were having a good time, she was getting personal, sharing the stories of songs such as the afore-mentioned "All Too Well," or "Mean." Not only did Swift prove once again how well she knows and respects her audience, she also let her guard down very effectively, as well – giving the fans a chance to see inside the artist. And, from that standpoint, nobody else is doing it better.