The last time Taylor Swift made headlines in Denver, she was suffering through a court case against middle-aged DJ David Mueller, who'd groped her at her meet-and-greet at her 2013 Pepsi Center concert.
In court, she risked her reputation facing off against the creep, breaking the silence to talk about how powerful men, bolstered by the sick societal rule that women shut up and take it, poison our culture daily. The court sided with Swift: She won the suit and a whole Sacagawea dollar. Despite her victory, Mueller went on to find success on a Mississippi radio station, an outcome that supports the longtime truism of patriarchy: Rapists, gropers and women-haters survive.
Swift’s case came a few months before Alyssa Milano tweeted "#MeToo" as women came forward with accusations that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had raped them; the anti-sexual-assault movement soon dominated the news cycle and transformed into Time's Up. The Swift case also preceded Bill Cosby's rape conviction and came before dozens of men, from Charlie Rose to Louis C.K., saw their careers threatened because of their own sexual misconduct.
On Friday, May 25, the same day that Weinstein, facing rape and criminal misconduct charges, turned himself in to New York police, Swift returned to Denver for her fourteenth concert.
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Would she address the DJ case, thank her fans for their support through the whole grisly ordeal? Would she acknowledge the Time's Up movement’s freshest victory: Weinstein in custody — at least for a few hours, before he posted a $1 million bond? Would she tell her army of fans to break the silence and fight back and destroy gropers and rapists who make the world a miserable place for women?
Not in so many words.
What she did instead was alchemy: She turned shit into gold. She made magic — and not the Glenda, Good Witch of the East sort. Her lyrics and set design embraced fire and snakes, aligning Swift with witches burned at the stake.
The Denver stop on her Reputation tour opened with a machine-gun blast of images and sound bites illustrating the demise of Swift’s heart-of-gold, country-girl reputation that corn-fed Americans so cherished, a reputation sullied by coming of age in the limelight, the myth of the good girl turned bad (though let’s be real, not that bad).
Both the Reputation show and Swift's album of the same name that she’s promoting rarely stray from the theme. She has a lot to say about it. And why not?
Swift’s Reputation has taken hits: More than one music journalist — without hiding their schadenfreude — have dished out reports that it is a "disaster."
Add to that a legion of haters who boost their Taylor Swift social-media screeds with #TaylorSwiftIsaSnake.
Mix in the voices of the quickly dwindling fan base of not-exactly-in-good-graces-with-the-public-Twitter-ranting-Trump-lovin’-Kim Kardashian-hubby-probably-still-talented Kanye West. Nearly a decade ago, he blasted Swift at the MTV Music Awards in a righteous but embarrassing defense of Beyoncé, then repaired his relationship with Swift and a couple years ago damaged it again with his sickeningly succinct line in the song “Famous”: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” (Pig dung, he did.)
Then throw in a pinch of Kardashian Twitter shade — “Wait it's legit National Snake Day?!?!?They have holidays for everybody, I mean everything these days!” — and a few public feuds with the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj.
That's the recipe for the death of Swift’s good reputation.
Yes, Swift’s been stamped as a whore, a bitch and a snake. She’s been burned at the stake, by a judgmental public and a murder of pop sensations.
“They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one. So light me up (light me up), light me up (light me up),” she sings. Defiant.
What did Swift do when her enemies called her a snake? Simple: You want to see a snake? I’ll show you a snake — no, I’ll show you a franchise of snakes: snake necklaces, snake videos, snake set pieces, snake 3D projections, snake inflatables, even a snake chariot to cart me around stadiums.
That's the Reputation tour: in short, a big fuck you. Fuck you, Kanye. Fuck you, Kim. Fuck you, sicko DJ. Fuck you, witch-burning trolls.
Sure, that glut of snakes hints that Swift might be a touch bitter. But it didn't come off that way at this show. Instead, she turned her concert into a veritable snake-themed pagan rite that would make Saint Patrick himself tremble in his green Jesus-praisin’, snake-stompin’ sandals.
With song after song, some straight from Reputation and others stretching back to her country career, she performed a ritual purification: Fires burned, snakes prepared to strike, she mugged like a demon — it was all a little hair-metal — and then she floated brightly through one half of the stadium like a comet, landed on a second stage amid the crowd and broke out her acoustic guitar. Much to the delight of her original country fans, good-girl Taylor returned — still dwarfed by a massive inflatable snake. Then she walked through the swooning crowd, took to a third snake-bedecked stage, sang more and ascended in a snake-skull chariot, only to fly back to the main stage.
After an earnest number Swift played on a grand piano, her crew broke out another set piece replete with Greek columns and fountains. By the end of the show, she came out the victor, singing joyfully, transfigured from disgraced victim to demon to goddess.
She showed she’s a winner. She’s rich. She has friends, powerful dancers that back her, two of the most talented pop stars of the day, Camila Cabello and Charli XCX opening and even singing alongside her.
Forget Swift’s reputation: She’s got it all. And not without gratitude.
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Toward the end of the show, a line from a poem she wrote was projected on the massive screen. The line could be a slogan for the #MeToo movement, a mantra of liberation from the most powerful chain that patriarchy uses to strap down women: a good reputation.
Swift’s line is to the point: “And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.”
As the audience filed out, another video played — this one of aw-shucks, slumped, mundane Taylor, palling around with dancers, prepping for the show. That Taylor is charming, goofy and kind. She’s no longer in the limelight. She’s a regular person, fumbling and having a darned good time.
That Taylor reminds us of, well, us: everyday people just trying to do our best. And for her, perhaps that’s what feeling alive looks like.