TAMPA — In the very first show of her very first headlining tour of the United States, pop princess Taylor Swift could have honked a tuba with her left nostril for two hours and the sold-out crowd of teen girls still would have shrieked and swooned as if the St. Pete Times Forum were handing out free unicorns at the door.
Such was the adoration for the 20-year-old singer-songwriter that there was never a question of whether she could carry a tune in the cavernous venue. It was whether Thursday's euphorically appreciative audience of 15,432 would actually let Swift get a word in.
Touring behind sophomore album Fearless, which has spent more time at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 chart than any other album in the 21st century, Swift had more than boisterous fans to help her through the biggest gig of her life. There was a seven-piece band, six backup dancers, an IMAX-sized video screen, a taped cameo by buddy Miley Cyrus and a shape-shifting stage that was a schoolroom one second, a castle the next.
You want more distractions? There was the constant Rapunzellian unfurling of her bounteous blond locks, a massive head of hair that thought it was auditioning for a shampoo commercial. There was the doe-eyed gamine's spaced-out gaze into the crowd, an oft-repeated vanity pose that was unintentionally hilarious, like a naughty Cinderella with a few Prince Charmings on the side.
And then, of course, there were all those sugar-smacked hits, which the crowd shouted above and beyond Swift's sweet, if thin, voice. And if you're still wondering: No, there weren't any caterwauling catastrophes a la her unfortunate Grammys duet with Stevie Nicks.
After raucous audience chants of "Taylor! Taylor!" the show commenced with a totally winning You Belong With Me, as cheerleaders pranced about and poor lil' Tay-Tay appeared in an awesomely nerdy band-geek outfit. Oh, man, it was pandemonium in the joint — especially when Swift doffed the dorky getup to reveal a frisky silver dress, which allowed her to gyrate in a way that made me instantly recheck her age. (20, right? Whew, close one.)
After Our Song, she finally greeted the crowd. "Welcome to the first night of the Fearless Tour 2010," she said. And then, after a perfectly timed beat, she added, "I'm Taylor." She'll get better at chatting up the crowd. But, woo, girlfriend can flirt just fine already.
The sorta-country songs kept coming: Teardrops on My Guitar, Fearless. To shush the haters who claim she's all studio sheen, Swift played a short acoustic set on a small stage in the back of the venue. For Hey Stephen, Fifteen and White Horse — all cozy diary entries from a prodigious talent — she performed and picked unaccompanied. Is she Streisand? No. But what she lacks in vocal chops, she more than makes up for in star power.
The rest of the show was an ever-changing display of "let's bust the budget," including a re-creation of her Love Story video, complete with ballroom dancers and a baroque orchestral score. For the encore, she warbled lukewarm new single Today Was a Fairytale; the crowd seemed kind of numb to it — until she flashed a pic of hunky ex Taylor "Twilight" Lautner on the screen.
And for show closer Should've Said No, Swift hammered out a funky percussive rain dance that ultimately summoned an indoor downpour. Can you bust her for a Flashdance ripoff? Sure. Can you bust her for being a flash-in-the-pan? Not anymore.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.