“Love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right.”
– Taylor Swift, from the album Red
It has been weeks since today’s guitar-playing Pop Princess took to the stage at Ancol, Indonesia, and I am still mulling over Taylor Swift’s “Red” concert.
In a sea of screaming teenagers and ilk sat a woman in her 40s, quietly surveying the packed Mata Elang International Stadium (MEIS), the biggest concert venue in Jakarta which sits 10,000 people and had hosted Bruno Mars last March. I was neither a fan nor a detractor, but I had always wanted to dissect the appeal of Taylor Swift ever since one of my students made her her topic in Show and Tell. Indira is a bonafide Taylor Swift fan-girl, who knew her favourite artist like the back of her hand.
MEIS belonged to Taylor Swift that night of June 04. The mosh pit was a massive heaving body of Swiftees (read: Taylor Swift fans) ready to worship at the feet of their pop idol; a major headache for security if Swift decided to dive into the pit and greet her admirers was the thought that crossed my mind. Up in the VIP area, seated fans were poised to wave their glow lights and banners proclaiming love to the goddess of teenagers. Up in the balcony, which was near to stage right and one of the video walls, the adoring fans were in full concert regalia and stoked to the max. I sat in that area together with friends, such an anomalous spectator in the flood of young Swift fans.
Then pandemonium broke lose when red light inundated MEIS and, in seconds, Taylor appeared elegantly poised on the centre of the stage, dressed in white silk polo shirt and black shorts, her long legs wrapped in black tights and her feet in bedazzled red shoes. Shrilly screams reverberated around MEIS and everyone was on their feet. True to her signature greeting, Taylor looked to her left then right and centre like a queen addressing her royal subjects. More screams ensued and, without missing a beat, she launched her first-ever show in Indonesia with “State of Grace”, the first song in her newest album, “Red”.
I’m walking fat through the traffic lights/ busy streets and busy lives/ and all we know is touch and go/we are alone with our changing minds/we fall in love till it hurts or bleeds or fades in time/ and I never saw you coming
Taylor remained unfazed by the screams. Later, she uttered Terima kasih (Thank you in Indonesian) following it up with Selamat Malam (Good evening in Indonesian) and “Hi, I am Taylor” that sent the horde of spectators in the Festival (mosh pit), ruby, gold, diamond, silver and bronze sections into a Bacchanalian frenzy.
Fan-girling was at its dizzying height and it was not showing signs of abating. Each song was punctuated with deafening shrieks and singing. The youngsters knew the lyrics to the 13 songs Taylor sang, belting them out with passion, wrong grammar and in off-key tune. The girls at the back of my row were on their feet from start to finish and heady from the red euphoria named Taylor Swift.
It was during her third number that it becomes clear to me the reason why legions of young fans worshipped her. I cottoned on to that epiphany when she was half way through her spiel on emotions and their possible colours. It was difficult getting the full gist of what she was saying with the screaming that accompanied each word she said. Red, from what I caught through the shrieks, is the colour that bests her described her emotions. Fortunately, her concert spiel was succinctly summed up in the prologue of her CD lyric book: “My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love. The red relationships. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and then hit a wall and exploded…This album is about the other kinds of love that I’ve recently fallen in and out of…This album is about love that was red.”
Screams from the adoring crowd – they knew the song “Red” was next.
Loving him is like a driving a Maserati down a dead end street/faster than the wind, passionate as sin, ending so suddenly/ loving him is trying to change your mind once you’re already flying through the free fall
Could Swift have described one of my horribly wrong relationships? Not just loving Charles, but merely knowing him. Apparently, Taylor did although I was a bit hesitant to acknowledge it. Unknowingly, I found a point of similarity with the young singer. Actually, not just one but two: she quoted a line from one of the poets I like, Pablo Neruda, which goes something like this – “Love is so short, forgetting is so long”.
That she could play musical instruments – a banjo, piano and guitar – also impressed me, as, like Lady Gaga, Alicia Keyes et al., Taylor lived up to the title of singer-musician. She wasn’t some fabricated artiste put on stage to entertain people. She played the banjo during her fifth number while singing “Mean”, which was another song that spoke of a part of my life – bullied in school by classmates for being an Inglesera and by a teacher for being a free-thinker. Taylor’s piano- playing skills were exhibited when she segued into the poignant “All too Well”, accompanied by ballet dancers, which caught me off guard. It struck a chord in me, recalling Zainal who “call me up again/just to break me like a promise/ so casually cruel in the name of being honest/I am a crumpled piece of paper lying here…”
She played the guitar during her seventh song of which the name of it escapes me. I don’t think it was part of the album “Red”, which was the only album I revised prior to the concert.
From the lugubrious songs, Taylor switched to more upbeat tunes: she took to dancing with her crew in the sixth song, “22”; jammed with a violinist in the Gothic-styled staging of “I Know You were Trouble” for the 10th song; and tickled the audience in the eighth song, the teenagers’ love anthem of “You belong with Me”.
Her energy was boundless, as it was one song after the other for the almost-two-hour show, which wasn’t enough for her fans who clamoured for more. Her encore: “We are never ever getting back Together” visualised with Taylor garbed in a circus ring master outfit and her crew in various Alice in Wonderland costumes. The scream-sing-along-fest continued until she disappeared from the stage.
Taylor caught the tickle of her fans, talking about love – crushing on someone, falling head over heels the wrong person, the break-up, the epiphany. She made it personal, connecting herself with people outside of her Hollywood world and sending the message that even stars get wounded. It would have truly made my night had she sang “The Last Time”, a duet with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, and “Everything has Changed”, the second duet in the album featuring Ed Sheeren. But, I suppose, that would be too sombre for a crowd of adolescent Swiftees.
Additional photography by Shyryl M. Falcunitin