Review: Taylor Swift earns her 'Reputation' during Ford Field stunner

The singer displayed a newfound confidence during Tuesday night concert, which included a stirring tribute to Aretha Franklin

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Taylor Swift wanted to play the bad girl Tuesday night at Ford Field, but her good side kept shining through. 

Taylor Swift performs with Charli XCX and Camila Cabello at Ford Field in Detroit on August 28, 2018.

Swift's Reputation tour brought a sold-out crowd of 40,000-plus to the Detroit Lions' home, and the 28-year-old pop superstar playfully teased her villainous side, incorporating towering snakes into her massive stage show and serving nasty side-eye looks during her opener, the stadium-rattling "... Ready For It?" 

But the Taylor Swift of yore, the bright, fun, aw-shucks girl next door, was never far from the surface. 

This was especially true when Swift led a stirring tribute to Aretha Franklin about 45 minutes into her set. 

“Detroit, last week we lost an irreplaceable force: Aretha Franklin," Swift said. "She did so much for music, she did so much for women’s rights, she did so much for civil rights. She was one of those people, where no matter what you say, no matter what glowing, positive things you said about her, it would be an understatement."

She continued: "Words could never, ever describe how many things she did in her lifetime that made our world a better place. And this is her home."

She then asked for the lights to be cut and for fans to honor Franklin with a moment of silence, which lasted a full minute.

A simple shout-out would have done the trick, but Swift went beyond that with her tribute to the Queen of Soul. And that was indicative of the entire evening, as Swift worked hard to make the stadium show special for the Detroit crowd. 

The nearly two-hour concert was Swift's biggest, most convincing show to date. Past tours have seen her placate the audience with speeches about following your dreams and other self-help platitudes, but on Tuesday, Swift displayed a new kind of confidence, one that comes from knowing you can't please everyone all the time, and the freedom that revelation unlocks.

Her 2017 album "Reputation" goes in some bold directions and finds Swift embracing a dark side not visible in her earlier work. That gave her a newly powerful stage presence, and enriched her overall presentation. 

It was quite a performance. Swift was helped out by a stunning stage production that included a towering, angled video wall that peaked in the center of the stage. Confetti canons showered the main floor crowd with mini Taylor Swift-branded newspaper clippings, and her stage was lit up with so much smoke and lighting that at several points, the fireworks going off in the background were an afterthought. 

The crowd got in on the act too, as fans were given wristbands that flickered in time with the music, a trick Coldplay pioneered during its 2012 tour. The technology has improved to the point where on Tuesday, sections of the audience were lit up in sync with alternating drum parts during "Blank Space," making the crowd the ultimate visual backdrop for Swift. 

She was joined by a team of 14 dancers and a six-piece band, but oftentimes Swift was on stage alone. And she worked the stage impressively, whether she was in front of a huge video backdrop of a desert during "Getaway Car" or alone at her piano during the "Speak Now" chestnut "Long Live." 

The 24-song set was heavy on "Reputation" material, with all but one song from the album (sorry, "So it Goes...") making the cut. 

A few of Swift's older hits, such as "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," were mashed together early on, and Swift performed "Jump Then Fall" -- a song from 2008's "Fearless" album -- acoustically, for what she said may have been the first time since she wrote it. 

She shared warm memories of Detroit concerts past, saying she's performed in Michigan 20 times over the years. (Tuesday was her fourth time playing Ford Field, following shows there in 2011, 2013 and 2015.) She mentioned seeing the faces of fans and watching them change over the years, and she was sincere enough that you believed her. 

She flew over the crowd twice, in a basket that looked like something out of "The Wizard of Oz" during "Delicate" and in a snake-shaped cage during "Bad Blood" -- the visual representation of the dual sides of herself that she presented -- and she brought out her openers Charli XCX and Camila Cabello during a fun romp through "Shake It Off" on one of two stages at the back of the stadium.  

(Cabello, who wore a Detroit Lions jersey during her opening set, also acknowledged Aretha Franklin and her passing.)

"Don't Blame Me," was a late-show standout, accented by what sounded like Swift backing up herself on vocal duty.  

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" were mashed together during the closer, while Swift and her dancers performed in front of an on-stage fountain made to look like the front court of a mansion. 

It was fitting. Ford Field was transformed into Swift's home for two hours on Tuesday, and she was a more than gracious host. She is welcome to come back anytime.