Watch for the "wonder gaze."
On Saturday, early in Taylor Swift's sold-out show at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, the statuesque 21-year-old will strike a pose, tilt her head back and pull an oh-golly-gee move straight out of Snow White's playbook.
It will be totally corny.
It will be kind of funny.
It will be money in the bank.
Her doe eyes will widen, she'll cock a bony hip in her sparkly minidress, and Swift, the best-selling musician in the world, will oh-so-innocently "wonder gaze" around the venue as if she can't believe this is happening. She'll hold that stare for minutes. Seriously, there might as well be a cartoon birdie tweeting on her perfect lil' shoulder.
Whether Swift is still genuinely blown away by her success after selling 20 million albums is not the point. Maybe she's play-acting with her amazement; maybe not. Sincerity isn't integral to the "wonder gaze."
For better or worse, Swift, a pop-rock-country creation, is the closest thing we have to a Disney princess these days. And she knows it. Her public persona is sweet and kind, independent and gorgeous. She's totally willing to fall head over wedge heels in love — and then, the next day, dump, or get dumped by, Prince Charming (a.k.a. Joe Jonas, John Mayer, Taylor Lautner) and write a catchy take-that song about him.
Swift doesn't have to be real to be beloved, although her latest self-penned songs, especially slow-burners Dear John and Last Kiss, have genuine pain attached — or at least more pain than most fluff on the radio.
Instead, she only has to be real enough. It's a tricky balancing act, but wow, is she good at it. When rumor spread last week that nude pictures of Swift were roaming the Internet, even the most cynical didn't believe it. Not only is Swift not that kind of girl, but she's also not that dumb.
She is both approachable and untouchable at the same time, fantasy and diary entry all at once. Dreams of growing up to be Taylor Swift seem entirely reasonable. But grown-ups know that, for most of us, they are not.
The "wonder gaze" is all-powerful because it makes Swift appear as if she's marveling at the madness just like we are. You can roll your eyes at her signature move. You can let out a laugh. But what you can't do is look away.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.