Maybe Taylor Swift likes nothing more than drag-racing Lamborghinis in the early hours with Justin Bieber, or maybe she spends her downtime practising risqué dance moves with Miley Cyrus. But I doubt it.
Despite immense success – only 24 yet with more than 26m album sales to her name – Swift shows no sign of succumbing to the modern age’s favourite morality tale, the innocent corrupted by celebrity. And the thousands of teenage girls at the O2 Arena with their flashing LED signs, heart-shaped hand gestures and placards love her for it – an affection they registered with some of the most vigorous volleys of screaming I’ve heard.
It was the first of five shows at the arena, in support of Swift’s latest album, 2012’s Red. The colour “represents very intense emotions”, she explained in one of her between-song chats – curiosity, danger, infatuation. “As I’ve found over the last couple of years, these are very fun emotions to write songs about,” she added brightly. Her smile, magnified on a vast screen, was like the sun rising over a perfect white picket fence.
Red recasts Swift from teen star to young adult. The transition was captured by the set’s juxtaposition of her perky anthem “22”, with its cheerful gloss of life in one’s 20s (“We’re happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way”), and an older hit, “Fearless”, an account of “the best first date I ever had”, sung with a nostalgic ache that betrayed her country music origins.
The placement of the two songs was typical of Swift’s thoughtfulness. So was the expert staging. A looped path reached out into the audience. At one point she was carried to another stage at the rear of the venue. Meanwhile the O2’s hydraulic mechanisms were given a workout. A walkway tipped downwards as she sang, barefoot, “This slope is treacherous”, from a song about falling in love. Then she was raised into the air by another hydraulic device to sing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” while flying through a snowstorm of confetti.
The music was good-natured pop-rock that dashed by with unguarded enthusiasm, nicely turned lyrics and a guest appearance from Ed Sheeran. At the end another guest materialised on stage, a fan who surprised Swift with a note before being manhandled away. Swift half-smiled and gave a little shrug. Perhaps afterwards she threw a huge tantrum and sacked all her security staff. But I wouldn’t bet on it.