Flashing those inimitable doe eyes at a packed and sparkling Raymond James Stadium, Taylor Swift promised Tampa fans a night they'd never forget.
"Here's the deal," she said. "I may have had a good feeling about you before I even got on stage. So I might have planned a few things for this evening."
Boy, did she ever. In the final U.S. concert of her blockbuster 1989 World Tour, Swift gave Tampa a Halloween party the likes of which the city has never seen — countless costume changes, rotating catwalks, a galaxy of flashing wristbands that lit up the entire stadium, and one of her best surprise guests of the entire tour: Broadway superstar Idina Menzel, dressed as Frozen's Queen Elsa, belting out Let It Go in a Disney devotee's wildest dream come true.
Such is the magic of Taylor: With a wave of her hand, she can transform balmy Tampa into Arendelle.
On this Halloween, the 56,987 fans who chose Taylor over trick-or-treating made the right choice. When else might they see another pop star as close to the peak of her powers as Swift is at this moment right now?
Up and down Dale Mabry danced tribes of teenage Swifties in blinking tutus and music-video cosplay, screaming and shaking in delirious glee. They came from as far as Brazil, Alaska and New Zealand, yielding, in the estimation of Visit Tampa Bay, more than 9,000 hotel room stays and an overall economic impact of $10 million.
There's just something captivating about how Swift, somehow still only 25, has evolved over the past decade, and especially during this summer march across North America. That incredulous is-this-really-happening? gape has become an I-actually-made-this-happen gaze of triumph; she now stomps as much as sashays, every inch of her limbs snapping with empowerment. She's feeling every moment of it, and it shows.
Watch as she whips her sunglasses into the crowd on a snappy Welcome To New York; winks to midfield on an infectious New Romantics; ignites a frenetic, New Year's Eve-level dance party on Shake It Off; roars through a black-leather reboot of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (maybe rock is the genre she'll conquer next). It all seems so effortless, so graceful, as easy and natural to Swift as her transition from country to pop.
It's a testament to her singular focus on pop domination that Swift has gotten away with turning her back on almost everything she'd done before last year. Swift played all but two songs from her five-times-platinum LP 1989 — everything but This Love and All You Had to Do Was Stay — while leaving most of her early hit songs (White Horse, Mean, 22, You Belong With Me) on the shelf. Rarely did she reach into the wayback machine for an acoustic Fifteen, and a spin on Love Story in the synthy, pulsing style of 1989.
But, well, this is the 1989 World Tour, not the Fearless World Tour. In this day and age, Swift does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, with whomever she wants. And the world simply cannot get enough.
The best proof of that has been this tour's many guest stars, whom Swift gleefully trots out for duets at nearly every stop. All Saturday, Twitter buzzed with rumors about who Tampa might see, from her boyfriend Calvin Harris to none other than Adele, and if you were following the chatter, you might've been tipped to Menzel's cameo.
Still, nothing could've prepared the crowd for the sight of Swift emerging for Style in a plush Frozen Olaf costume, surrounded by a dozen dancing reindeer.
"It feels like there's only one thing missing from that whole equation," she said. "I just wish Idina Menzel was here, dressed as Elsa, to sing Let It Go." Brief but dramatic pause. "It's a good thing she is, Tampa!"
Menzel wasn't the only surprise guest, either — in a gesture of goodwill to the next generation of Taylors, Swift also brought out 19-year-old Canadian rising star Alessia Cara to perform her jazzy, trip-hoppy hit Here.
The guests were only half the reason for the celebratory vibe in Tampa — there was, of course, the whole Halloween thing, which sparked the Menzel sing-along in the first place.
Swift's band and crew dressed in costumes, as did her mother and father — Cruella de Vil and Superman, respectively. Even Swift's opener, Australian folkster Vance Joy, paid homage to Tampa's love of buccaneer culture, donning a pirate outfit and giving the hometown Bucs a shoutout.
"I don't usually dress like this," he told the masses. "I think this is the only time in my life this will happen, so I'm just going to enjoy it. Soak it in."
For her part, Swift seems to be doing the same.
"Feelings EVERYWHERE," she tweeted before the show, a sentiment she reiterated throughout the night, as she expressed disbelief that her unstoppable roadshow was finally coming to an end in America. (It continues next week in Singapore, China and Australia.)
No doubt, after more than 70 shows, Swift could use a break. This was a physical show — Swift glistened in the unseasonable heat from her many marches up and down the 50-yard catwalk. And yet her face betrayed no pain, no disillusionment, no trace she's anything other than 25 and alive.
"This has been not only the most exciting time of my career," she said, "it's been the most exciting time of my life."
She's not the only one who feels that way. For a stadium of Swifties, it was the Halloween treat of a lifetime.
-- Jay Cridlin