From a distance, the crowd that gathered for the second weekend of the Rock In Rio festival in Las Vegas looked a lot like the fans that congregated upon the 40 acres of open-air land last weekend. However, instead of swarms of Metallica shirts moshing out over the metal band’s grinding guitars, a sea of peppy Taylor Swift fans waved, bounced and shouted their way through the 25-year-old’s sizzling two-hour set. Like last weekend, a crisp breeze cut through the desert air and had festivalgoers doing their best to keep warm as they endured 10 hours of music that could have held its own without the pop princess headlining.
The pop-themed weekend was highlighted by scintillating performances from Jessie J, Charli XCX, Ed Sheeran and Tove Lo. Jessie J, in particular sparkled with her high-waisted pants and “Las Vegas” shirt that was overshadowed by her platinum bob cut that caught many off guard. Her dynamic vocals cut through hits including “Bang Bang” and “Do It Like A Dude” while she also impressively improvised a song on the spot for a fan in the front row.
Sheeran was equally enticing as he tore through his set and created his own mash-ups as he blended “I See Fire” with Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and weaved in lyrics from 50 Cent’s “In The Club” with his “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” to make it a fitting Vegas nightclub fire starter.
But it was really all about Taylor Swift on this night as fans swarmed the main stage in droves as the clock approached 11:30pm.
“If Taylor Swift opens with ‘Welcome To New York’ we’re tearing this place up!” a 40-year-old woman barks close to the stage as a huge curtain emblazoned with a boombox and the words “1989 World Tour” shields Swift and her band from fans at 11:25pm. “I know, I’m too old to say that but I don’t care!”
Not too far away, another group of teenage girls held the hands of their boyfriends and pushed their way through the crowd to get the best view possible for Swift’s highly anticipated performance, which doubled as the official stateside kickoff of her 1989 World Tour.
Overhearing the proclamation of the middle-aged woman, one of the barely 16 teens stops in her tracks to respond. “Then you won’t mind if we sing every single world to every single song at the top of our lungs!” she gleefully shouted back. Air high fives were exchanged and the verbal agreement was set in stone. Less than a minute later, the curtain dropped and Swift’s 5’10” frame emerged in a shimmering silver jacket that covered a glittery black cropped top which bared her toned stomach along with equally shiny purple miniskirt.
“Good evening Las Vegas!” Swift beamed to the adoration of the fans. “Welcome to Rock in Rio as we begin our story in New York!”
The synths to Swift’s 1989 album opener blared over the speakers as the 40-year-old and the teenager exchanged wide-eyed looks of awe and promptly went berserk. You would be mistaken to assume that this crowd wasn’t as rowdy as the fans that stormed the festival grounds for the rock-themed opening weekend. This group was arguably more passionate for their feminist hero that powered through her set of retro pop anthems from her fifth studio album.
Swift gave them what they wanted as she embraced her first full-blown pop album. The slender singer glided across the stage as her male backup dancers nailed every tightly choreographed move. She tore through “Blank Space” with a certain edginess that had been absent from her previous live performance as she sported a little black dress and armed herself with a golf club. The shirtless male dancers provided eye candy for the screaming contingency.
Throughout her 120-minute set that, outside of three songs, focused squarely on her 1989 album, Swift matched her new-found sizzle with equally daring wardrobe changes that bared a little more skin and embraced the retro vibes of her chart topping album.
Video interviews with her girl power crew of famous BFFs including Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez and others gushing over their friendship with Swift provided nicely added transitions between songs.
Highlights included her fiery rendition of “Bad Blood” (which the video will debut at the start of the 2015 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday, May 17), a beautiful acoustic performance of “Wonderland” and giant paper airplanes gliding through the midnight air during “Out of the Woods.”
She was even joined onstage by bestie Ed Sheeran as the duo performed a duet of Sheeran’s “Tenerife Sea” that was wrapped in buttery vocals. As fireworks and confetti filled up the Vegas night through Swift’s closer “Shake It Off,” it was evident that the pop princess had earned her stripes and was well on her way to becoming a queen.