Slick and studied, Swift brings '1989' to Ford Field

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Taylor Swift celebrated pop music, her birth year and her love for her fans during her massive 1989 Tour stop at Ford Field on Saturday night. A crowd of 51,000 was on hand for the two-hour, 10-minute bonanza, though periodic lulls in momentum kept it from being a non-stop party.

The show was Swift's third blowout at the Detroit Lions' home, and her first since her full-on embrace of pop on last year's slick "1989" album. She spoke glowingly about her love for Detroit, and reminisced about the time she sang the National Anthem before a Lions game in 2006.

"My name is Taylor," Swift said early on, "and I love the sight of an insane, 50,000-strong Detroit crowd!" Her view of that crowd was enhanced by the light-up LED wristbands given to everyone in the audience, which lit up by radio frequency and made the crowd flicker in a glorious unison in reds, blues and white lights throughout the evening.

Swift worked the stage and the long catwalk that extended to the middle of the stadium along with her team of a dozen dancers. She strutted around in a series of sparkly outfits — total costume changes: six — and was the picture of poise for the entire 19-song outing.

The material focused heavily on "1989," and the songs she dipped back to — "Love Story," "I Knew You Were Trouble" and "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" — were given makeovers in the synth-heavy style of "1989." It was a bold choice to focus so tightly on the new album — 2010's "Speak Now" was ignored altogether — but it goes hand-in-hand with Swift's current creative phase. (Another artist who focuses her tours around her current albums and plays around with the makeup of her past hits: Madonna.)

But Swift isn't a natural performer the same way, say, Madonna is; her moves are studied, and she doesn't have the intuition or the instinct to fall back on at a moment's notice. She padded her show with long, plodding speeches filled with self-help babble and platitudes about love and self-esteem that came off earnest but empty. "I want you to understand what you are, and what you are not. You are not someone else's opinion of you. You are not damaged goods!" she told the crowd. Huh?

During her costume breaks, taped video segments featuring Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, the sisters Haim and several other F.O.T. (Friends of Taylor) played on the stadium's big screens. They spoke about hanging out with Taylor and how great Taylor is, and how she loves her cats and loves hanging out and eating snacks and dancing and singing. The takeaway: Swift as a fun, cool girl who's down for her squad, but the segments dragged, especially by the third round of testimonials.

Swift had a surprise up her sleeve for her fans, and after teasing it early on she brought out Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds for a mid-show run-through of "Radioactive." It was a truly out-of-nowhere cameo — Kid Rock, Detroit's go-to guy for these sorts of things, was in Columbus Saturday night opening up for the Rolling Stones — but something with more of a tie to Detroit would have been nice. Elsewhere, models Martha Hunt and Gigi Hadid strutted the length of the long stage during "Style."

Of "1989's" three No. 1 singles, "Blank Space" came just three songs into the show, and found Swift playing with her voice on a playback loop, a trick she might have picked up from her pal Ed Sheeran. "Bad Blood," the current No. 1 song in America, came late in the show, with Swift in all black in full-on fighter mode. "Shake It Off" was the night's closer, with Swift and her dancers returning to the long catwalk which rose in the air and spun above the crowd.

The show had all sorts of modern whiz-bang, but the best moments were the most intimate. During "You Are in Love," Swift strummed her acoustic guitar and sang in a near-whisper, a quiet moment in the middle of a huge stadium show. Yes, she was on a catwalk high above the crowd at the time, but the crowd sang with her, and it was the most connected audience and performer were all night.

Swift has a special bond with her fans, which isn't the easiest thing to establish in a crowd of more than 50,000. To her credit, she made the show as personal as she could; even if it sometimes came off as ponderous, it was always from the heart.

Aussie singer Vance Joy opened for Swift with a 30-minute set of singer-songwriter confessionals, including a moody cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark." But the crowd only came alive for "Riptide," which got a huge boost from Swift's cover version of the song. Toronto's Shawn Mendes also performed a short, confident set as fans were still filing into Ford Field.