Taylor Swift Performs 'Better Man' & 'I Don't Wanna Live Forever' for First Time at Stunning Pre-Super Bowl Set
"If you guys scream loud enough, Taylor will hear you," DJ/Swift friend Ruby Rose hollered from behind her turntables Saturday night inside a 62,500-square-foot mega-club custom-built (and soon to be unbuilt) for a series of high-profile Super Bowl week parties in Houston.
The opening act was probably right, given that the guest of honor was Instagramming videos of her cats from backstage just before that moment, and about 15 minutes later (no doubt after she heard fans' chants of "Taylor! Taylor!" from her cat- and Haim-sister-filled dressing room), Taylor Swift emerged to face 9,000 screaming fans and perform a packed 17-song set -- including two tracks she'd never performed live before.
"You have come from all over the world -- possibly to see football, but would it be all right with you if we played some music first?" Taylor asked the all-too-eager AT&T Presents DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night crowd during the opening number, 1989 bonus track "New Romantics." The answer was a resounding yes.
Below are highlights from the hour-and-a-half spectacle, which spanned from her 2008 hit "Love Story" to the first-ever performance of her most recent Billboard Hot 100 top five -- albeit without her duet partner.
Going It Alone
"I don't want you to think Zayn is going to come out, because he's definitely not," Swift immediately cautioned while introducing "I Don't Wanna Live Forever," her Fifty Shades Darker collaboration with the One Direction alum. "I saw a lot of phones go up in the air. The only one you have here is me, I'm so sorry." The crowd didn't seem to mind, helping Taylor out with the oh-oh-ohs during her stripped-down take on the steamy song.
Little Big Taylor
Another live debut was "Better Man," the Hot Country Songs No. 1 that Swift wrote for Nashville quartet Little Big Town. Not only has she never performed it live, we've never heard her sing it ever. Swift made epic use of her background singers for the performance, having them join her out on the circular stage and creating her own vocal group, a la LBT. "I never really knew what it would feel like to hear my song on the radio and have someone else singing it. Turns out, it feels awesome," she said before the song. "I feel really grateful to the artists who have decided to record the things that I have written. The one drawback is just that you don't really get to hear the crowd sing the songs back to you." This intro also led into an acoustic take on Calvin Harris and Rihanna's "This Is What You Came For," which she famously wrote with her EDM ex.
There's a Taylor Swift song for every occasion -- even Super Bowl. "I figured you guys are going to be watching football, and I wrote a song when I was 16 that features, like, cheer captains and bleachers, and I don't know, I felt like it might be appropriate to play tonight," she said to introduce her 2008 crossover smash "You Belong With Me." "I mean, it's really old, but…"
For Swift's last concert, at October's Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, she apparently faked out a few fans when her bedazzled white grand piano rolled out onstage. "When I sat down at the piano, a lot of people were chanting the name of a song I haven't played in a long time. You know what I'm talking about?" she asked, referencing her famous hair-flipping 2014 Grammys performance of the Red track "All Too Well" behind the keys. "So I figured that next time I was in Texas, if you wanted to hear 'All Too Well,' I would play it." And so she did, re-creating the hair-eography that made the original performance so memorable (and meme-able).
Parking Lot to Paradise
When Swift's multi-year deal with AT&T was announced back in October, one of the most exciting aspects of the partnership was the promised Super Saturday Night performance, portions of which will stream on DIRECTV's Taylor Swift NOW at later dates (so don't worry if you didn't have the golden ticket in Houston). And the fact that the Club Nomadic venue -- which also hosted Bruno Mars, The Chainsmokers and more artists over the past few days -- was constructed out of thin air allowed for a lot of customization. "Literally, this was a parking lot in October," Roger Hyde, DIRECTV/AT&T Entertainment Group SVP of creative services, told Billboard before Saturday's party. "It literally was nothing. All they wanted was that it had a nice view of downtown Houston, and it had good access, and we had the opportunity to build something this big. Knowing what [Swift's] folks wanted to do as far as the stage was concerned, we could build it around her. It's literally a custom environment. It's very intimate -- as big as it is, it's very intimate. No matter where you are, you'll feel very close to her. And no matter what camera angle you see the footage from, there will be fans in the foreground and the background. She's going to be surrounded by her greatest fans." That setup included a video screen that spanned the entire stage, a circular platform in the middle of a sea of her supporters and a few well-timed bursts of pyro that kicked up the already-hot performance.
Only 2017 Show?
Did Texas once again score Swift's only show of the year? Last year, her Grand Prix performance in Austin was her one-and-only live event of 2016. And she seems to think this could be it for this year -- at least for now. "I have to be really honest with you about something: As far as I know, I'm doing one show in 2017. And as far as I know, this is that one show," she said to wild cheers. "So what I'm trying to tell you is, by coming here tonight, you're essentially attending 100 percent of my tour dates for the year, so thank you! You're the crowd in my most recent daydreams, when I'm thinking about being onstage, so I was wondering: If you don't feel like dancing for yourself or screaming for yourself, you don't feel in the mood or whatever, you're like stressed out, would you do it for me tonight?"
Speaking of Dancing…
Anyone who has watched a music awards show in the past five years knows Swift loves nothing more than to get her groove on. So we all knew how this party had to end. "Houston, would you like to dance?" she asked before her final number "Shake It Off" left fans dancing out the doors and into the crisp Houston night.
Taylor Swift's set list for AT&T Presents DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night:
I Knew You Were Trouble
I Don't Wanna Live Forever
You Belong With Me
This Is What You Came For
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
All Too Well
Enchanted/Wildest Dreams medley
Out of the Woods
Shake It Off