She may portray herself as the goofy oddball, who knows how it feels to be an outcast or a wallflower, but when it comes to performing an arena show for 12,000 people, Taylor Swift is a force to be reckoned with.
Last night at Vector Arena, the 23-year-old looked truly delighted to be back in Auckland just 20 months after her last visit, as she kicked the show off with State of Grace and threw her black hat into the audience.
The leggy blonde was confident, energetic, chatty, and all smiles as she basked in the adoration of her fans (including Lorde, who was in attendance), as she lead her troupe of 15 dancers and 11 band members through a fluid, colourful 90 minute set that included multi-level staging, impressive feats of engineering, a carousel, music box, flying sparks, and jumbo screens. It was a vaudevillian, circus-inspired show, and the theme was Red - the name of the tour, title of her latest album, and an important representation of her songs.
"I spend a lot of time thinking about things in terms of analogies or metaphors ... and I found that there's one colour that represents the emotions that I've been writing a lot of songs about, extreme emotions, like love, and heartbreak. And that colour is bright, burning, red."
You could tell she was fired up. Red microphone, red shoes, red guitar, they all matched her passion for the performance, as she had the entire crowd on their feet right from the top.
Since she last performed in Auckland as part of her Speak Now tour, Swift has become an even bigger pop star. Her songs no longer take their cues from country, but mainstream pop and rock as well. She's gotten a little more cheeky, a little more indignant, and more determined than ever to prove she's here for the long haul.
But Swift is still the good girl of the music business. Her banter reinforces positive messages about friendship, creativity, and of course romance, and it's a family friendly show - no gyrating or tongue-poking for this pop princess.
A slick, well-honed spectacle, the performance may not leave much room for raw emotion or spontaneity, you can tell Swift works very hard to wow her fans.
The impressive production techniques started early, with Swift grabbing a fluorescent, flashing drum to beat in the dark, during second song Holy Ground. 12 other drummers leaped between floor and ceiling, bouncing on harnesses as they pounded along. Next it was the giant red flag wavers as part of Red - one of her stand out vocal performances of the evening, showcasing her ability to swing between fragile and vulnerable, and charging power.
Then there was Swift in a red ballgown being chased by trench-coated reporters in The Lucky One, before she took up a seat at the end of the catwalk, strumming away on her banjo for Mean.
The crowd was then treated to a count-up, as old home videos of Swift were revealed on the big screen, from age one, right through to - you guessed it - 22.
An irrepressible hit, 22 sent Swift around the side of the arena floor, through the screaming crowd, along with her dancers, to a small stage at the rear. She touched as many waving hands as she could along the way, singing all the while.
It is a signature move of Swift's, to perform specially for the back of the stadium, and she exceeded expectations this time. Sitting on her sparkly red stool, playing acoustic guitar, the second stage rose high into the arena, and revolved, as she sang old favourite You Belong With Me, and then Begin Again. Finally she launched into Sparks Fly, and returned to the main stage just in time for the fireworks.
Her final five tracks provided even more highlights. There was the moment her opulent white princess dress was ripped off during I Knew You Were Trouble, to reveal a black, bodice-like catsuit, as smoke jetted into the air in time with the dub-steppish bass. And the confessional story about All Too Well, performed up high, on a red, grand piano. The music-box opening of Love Story, and the black and white Blondie styling of Treacherous - there wasn't a moment to rip your eyes away.
But the finale was truly outstanding. It was like Alice and Wonderland had wandered into a circus tent, with rabbits, and fairies, and stilt-walkers everywhere, and Swift was their ring-leader in a red sequinned coat and top hat, clearly loving every sly moment of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. The catwalk lifted up and spun her out across the audience, as confetti canons exploded, and she led everyone in a deafening sing along, before saying thank you, good night, and disappearing back under the stage.
There was no need for an encore - fans had already gotten everything they came for and more. Swifties love Swift because she somehow manages to be a model of entertainment perfection, while also owning up to feeling every bit as "happy, free, confused, and lonely" as any young adult, and that message was delivered loud and clear.
Where: Vector Arena, Auckland
When: Friday, November 29
* What did you think of the show? Post your comments below.