TAMPA — Taylor Swift is doing a darn good job raising your daughters.
After all, they actually listen to the Queen of Broken Hearts — at least they sure did Saturday at a sold-out Tampa Bay Times Forum, where guys were outnumbered oh, about 16,134 squealing gals to one. The middle-school melange absolutely ate up her cotton-candied wisdom about tolerance, esteem and how dumb boys can be. (Guilty as charged, Taylor.)
Plus Swift was so sweet, soothing, nurturing, she made Mary Poppins look like the Notorious B.I.G. Not only did her fans return the feel-good embrace through sheer volume during the two-hour show — in which every cut was blown out with thrashing dance routines, big-budget effects and red-hued wardrobe changes — but dozens in the wriggling, grateful crowd brought blinking homemade signs just in case their tinnitus-inducing wails weren't getting through.
Say what you will about the most powerful woman in pop — she's cheeseball, she's cheeky, she's more cavity-causing than a pouch of Fun Dip — but the 23-year-old Swift is steady in her earnest, wide-eyed portrayal.
After opening songs State of Grace and Holy Ground, both from new LP Red, Swift introduced herself to those who might not know her: "Hi, I'm Taylor. Nice to meet you. Thank you for coming to my show. ... I'm told I have a lot of feelings!" Oh man, did they eat this stuff up. And you know what? Good for them!
Credit Swift for learning from past tours, and maybe some bad press. She doesn't really do the "wonder gaze" anymore, that is-it-all-a-dream Cinderella schtick. (Confession: I kinda miss it.) Now she's flirtier, more knowing, egging on the screams with a calculated blink of her doe eyes.
She flashed some gam now and then, injecting muted sex appeal for the fans growing along with her. Still, compared to Rihanna's gyratory show here Friday, Swift is as racy as a Care Bear. Even when she doffed a ballgown during I Knew You Were Trouble, she revealed a top and shorts that wouldn't be out of place at Aunt Shirley's summer picnic.
She also kept things artistically fresh, including a shoo-be-dooing girl-group rendition of You Belong With Me. Swift has all but ditched any last vestige of her country roots, but her pure pop transformation has felt organic (e.g. the fun dance-off 22), which proves she was never that Nashville anyway.
There was endless expensive trickery: a giant multi-tiered stage that transformed into a carousel; an elevated B-stage in the back of the house where she played Begin Again; a floating platform that brought her back to the main stage while she cooed Sparks Fly; some jewelry-box ballerina nonsense for Love Story.
But for all that, Swift always made sure she was never far from her fans, seemingly working every part of the room all the way until the Big Top madness of the show's closer, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.
The setlist felt slight at 17 songs, and for as strong as Red is, I'm not sure it deserved to be represented by 11 (!) new songs. Swift is an exceptionally catchy songwriter with gobs of hits, and she abandoned rich parts of her first three albums.
But hey, any complaints put me in the minority. Besides, daughters don't listen to me anyway.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.