Taylor Swift Has a Message for Critics as She Launches Reputation Tour

Is that a message on the middle finger?
Is that a message on the middle finger? Stuart Warner

click to enlarge Taylor Swift opened her show as a sultry vixen, singing two songs from Reputation, her newest album. - JIM LOUVAU
Taylor Swift opened her show as a sultry vixen, singing two songs from Reputation, her newest album.
Jim Louvau

Usually, Phoenix New Times doesn’t review concerts unless you can get high on second-hand pot smoke.

There was no danger of that at the launch of superstar Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

It seemed like more lemonade was sold than beer.

The crowd was decidedly wholesome, young, and female. The lines at the men’s room were short. In fact, a number of girls, tired of waiting, slipped in to take a pee with the boys. They were not welcomed kindly. “If we did that we’d be arrested,” shouted one gentleman at the urinal, unable to turn around and face the accused.

Younger fans wore unicorn crowns to honor their hero. Grown women and men dressed in Taylor Swift outfits.

Everybody seemed to have a good time as she performed their favorite songs as well as 13 new ones off her current album Reputation (hence, the name of the tour).

But I wasn’t there to review the music. I was more curious why she has so many haters, none of whom seemed to be among the record crowd of around 59,157 Tuesday night.

Is it the Hillary Clinton factor? Half of America can’t stand an accomplished female.

Swift is a remarkably talented young woman. She's a five-tool performer: singer, dancer, songwriter, musician, and CEO of a billion-dollar industry.

Yet as I researched her story, I kept finding all these complaints: She’s too innocent. The girl-next-door image is phony. She’s too controlling. Every move is calculated. She writes too many songs about her exes. Hey, if men didn’t write about their exes, there would be no country music.

click to enlarge Is that a message on the middle finger? - STUART WARNER
Is that a message on the middle finger?
Stuart Warner
Obviously, she’s heard all that, too. The new tour addressed the critics before she even stepped on stage, giving them a giant middle finger on the big screen, adorned with a ring shaped like an asp.

That was the first of many snakes on the three stages at the arena on May 8.

There were digital snakes. Giant inflatable serpents. And even a snake carriage that carried her from one platform to another.

“You’ve probably noticed that there a lot of snakes in the show,” she told the faithful. “A couple of years ago, someone called me a snake on social media … I got really low for a time because of that.”

I’m not a pop culture expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s a reference to her feud with a couple of well-known slithering creatures named Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian.

West referenced Swift in the lyrics of an early version of his song “Famous.”

“I feel like Taylor Swift still owe me sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.”

She objected publicly, so Kardashian had her followers tweet-bomb the singer with snake emojis.

Fang fight?

Swift said she became so distressed that she considered giving up her career.

She also gave up touring for a while.

It became “really important to figure out who I’d be if I didn’t have a spotlight on me all the time,” she told the audience.

So she returned to perform under an even bigger spotlight.

Her first four tours grossed more than $600 million, including $250 million for the last one, the 1989 Tour in 2015, according to Billboard.

Industry estimates say she is already poised to surpass that for the 53 shows scheduled for Reputation. Tuesday’s crowd broke the previous attendance record for a concert at the University of Phoenix Stadium of 56,524 set by One Direction in 2014.

The tour has been 14 months in the planning, she said. The Glendale arena was selected as the starting point because it was available for two weeks of rehearsal. But the symbolism of having Phoenix attached to the beginning of her return also figured in the decision.

She certainly shattered her nice-girl image during the opening set of songs from Reputation, "... Ready For It?" and "I Did Something Bad."

Makeup and lighting turned the freckle-faced blonde into a sultry, red-haired vixen.

“They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one,” she sang. “Light me up.”

Then, the lighting technician flipped a switch and she was good Taylor once again, giving her adoring fans a sloppy, wet one for showing up from all over the country.

Twenty-two more songs followed, as well as a dozen or so costume changes and lots of people gyrating on the stages.

The light and video shows were spectacular. Somehow, at times, live Taylor was projected into a prerecorded video on the 172-foot wide screen. It made the Super Bowl XLIX halftime program seem like an interlude in a touch-football game.

I won’t critique the music, but her fans seemed dazzled by the big numbers. I preferred the songs when she went solo on the guitar (“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and “All Too Well”) or the grand piano (“New Year’s Day”). I think I’d like watching her in a small club. She seems like someone you’d like to have a beer with.

In between songs, she took time to subtly address her critics again.

“How much do you value your reputation?” she asked the crowd. “You shouldn’t care if you are misunderstood by people who don’t know you.”

Then she thanked the fans for taking the time to understand her.

The two-hour extravaganza concluded with a rousing rendition of "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," which is difficult to describe except that it included fireworks and fountains and lots of people getting wet.

Finally, after she disappeared from view, this message appeared on the giant board:

"And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive."

In other words, if you don’t like me, kiss my asp.


1. "...Ready For It?" (Reputation)
2. "I Did Something Bad" (Reputation)
3. "Gorgeous" (Reputation)
4. "Style" (1989)
5. "Love Story"  (Fearless)
6. "You Belong With Me" (Fearless)
7. "Look What You Made Me Do" (Reputation)
8. "End Game" (Reputation)
9. "King of My Heart" (Reputation)
10. "Delicate" (Reputation)
11. "Shake It Off" (1989)
12. "Dancing With Our Hands Tied" (Reputation)
13. "All Too Well" (Red)
14. "Blank Space" (1989)
15. "Dress" (Reputation)
16. "Bad Blood"  (1989)
17. "Should've Said No" (Taylor Swift)
18. "Don't Blame Me" (Reputation)
19. "Long Live" (Speak Now)
20. "New Year's Day" (Reputation)
21. "Getaway Car" (Reputation)
22. "Call It What You Want" (Reputation)
23. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (Red)
24. "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" (Reputation)
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Stuart Warner was the editor of New Times from 2017 to 2019. He has been a journalist since the stoned ages of 1969, playing a major role on teams that won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is also the author of the biography JOCK: A Coach's Story.