Barry Egan reviews Taylor Swift at Croke Park: Show of sublime girl power as the snake charmer enchants her fans
Queen of pop Taylor Swift conquered Croke Park with a dazzling and darker new style, writes Barry Egan
Sometimes, most of us perhaps question the survival - even the possibility - of love in this violent, apocalyptic world we live in. As thousands upon thousands of little girls - and bigger ones - sang and danced and smiled along to the sublime girl-power pop songs of Taylor Swift at Croke Park, it was difficult not to feel some hope for the future of the planet.
For two hours on Friday night, and again last night, the rest of the world's ills fell away as the once ringleted country singer, America's Sweetheart, turned bad-girl queen of pop delivered an unyielding performance that was spectacular on many levels.
A few years ago, the cover of New York magazine spelled out her contribution to popular culture's zeitgeist: "Not Katy. Not Miley. Not Gaga. Why Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star in the world."
So it proved over the weekend in Croke Park.
Gargantuan snakes slithering across the stage and rising 100ft into the sky as the star holding a snake-gripped microphone sang about witches in flames. Then Princess Swift gliding above the audience on a sparkly chariot.
It owed as much to Cirque du Soleil, Game of Thrones, Mad Max and My Little Pony, as it did to fourth-wave feminism and female empowerment.
The Guardian said that Taylor's lawsuit against a radio host for groping her in 2013 was "a universal feminist statement" years before #MeToo. Time magazine heralded Taylor "as one of the silence breakers who inspired women to speak out about harassment." Lena Dunham lauded Swift for her ability to "grow and change in such a public way."
As much as Taylor Swift's songs are about - among many other things - female empowerment, female solidarity and female friendship and a shared struggle against global misogyny, Taylor Swift at Croker was, of course, a great pop show with great, great pop songs (Shake It Off, Dancing With Our Hands Tied, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things) you could sing and dance to - not a panel discussion on the many complexities of modern feminism. And it was delivered on probably the most spectacular stage the north Dublin venue has ever seen, or will ever see.
On a par with Madonna in her heyday, Taylor seemed to hold entire crowd in thrall with her every provocative movement - from almost the moment she walked on to Joan Jett's Bad Reputation.
It bordered on a spiritual experience to be part of so much positive energy in such a big arena that was literally shaking with joy.
It also bordered on the biggest pyrotechnics-filled Las Vegas show you'd ever see in your life time. There was no expense spared. (Have I mentioned pyrotechnics?)
It was grand and exciting. She flew through the night sky above the crowd on a balloon straight out of Alice In Wonderland.
Taylor, of course, had fallen down the rabbit hole and returned a different person (courtesy of her very public feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian; with Taylor being labelling a snake.)
A multi-millionaire victim reborn as street cred anti-hero, Taylor turned the serpent insult into a badge of honour and got a tour out of it.
So it was, then, that at Croker the superstar was pursued by giant inflatable snakes in variously nightmarish scenarios that Sigmund Freud would have doubtless had a field day with. There was also much fire belching angrily from the top of the stage and fireworks roaring into the sky along with dancers clad in black leather uniforms that would have put the chills in The Night's King in Game Of Thrones.
Self-analysis lurked in the songs.
A newsreader on the screens behind asks: 'Taylor Swift is on top of the world...but has she done some sketchy things to get there?'
Frankly, the audience don't care whether Taylor robbed a bank on the way to the gig.
"I've always heard that Croke Park is legendary," the already legendary Ms Taylor told the crowd; a crowd she soon had eating out of the palm of her hand - right to the last song.