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Live: Taylor’s Teenage Wonderland

August 07, 2011 by in Journalism, The A.V. Club

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The AV Club, August 7, 2011 (no longer on their website due to loss of local interest content in website overhaul)

Jenny Starrs, 15, has a storybook name, star-spangled eyes, mall princess clothes, and an open-diary honesty. She’s the self-identified biggest Taylor Swift fan among her girl gaggle of bffs, and ticks off her favorites with the fickle conviction of fifteen—and a thousand internet quizzes. Favorite Taylor Swift song: “Stay Beautiful,” a twangy, boy-dazzled chorus from Swift’s first album. Favorite Taylor Swift boyfriend: muscleboy and Twilight paramour Taylor Lautner. Saturday night, standing in line at Lincoln Financial Field to see her idol, the subject of a hundred magazine collages and leader of countless car sing-alongs, Starrs is ecstatic, beaming in anticipation of a fairytale come to life.

Taylor Swift sung about fifteen once—that wobbly, diary-charted age between dolls and school dances, packed lunches and dinner dates, the tipping point where boy cooties become tongue kisses and promise rings mean nothing when it’s true love and he kisses you in the rain. That worldwise but nostalgic song earned her a VMA—but also, infamously, the ire of Kanye West. That real adult world has its glamour, its gold-plated astronauts, and its J. Mendel dresses—but also its haters and its cads.

Now 21, Swift herself can’t seem to decide which side of fifteen she wants to be on: the fenced-in playground of fourteen, yearning for an adult candyland of driver’s licenses and Prince Charmings. Or the real world of sixteen and beyond, with romances that end, castles that come with mortgages, and childhoods that shine idyllically behind.

She appeals to fans on both sides of that divide—dress-up box princesses and those who have long outgrown their ballerina shoes and tiaras. Among Saturday’s 51,000 attendees were hand-chains of sisters and cousins in matching fabric paint and felt letter t-shirts; gangs of high school sleepover buddies and their similarly pony-tailed moms; cowgirl-booted sorority sisters and their long-suffering boyfriends; and even the occasional chest-painted bro, who may or may not have thought he was attending an Eagles game. They had all turned out to see Swift—aw-shucks charming, gawky-beautiful, country-pop unicorn; pretty contradiction wrapped in a mini dress inside a snow globe. And Swift, all studied innocence and dewy eyes, seemed almost surprised they had come to see her.

She gave a concert loaded with all the frippery and feelings of adolescence, a diary reading and a daydream beneath Beauty and the Beast velvet curtains. Her secrets were drawn from jewelry box hiding spots and projected onto JumboTrons, her wildest fantasies of bully-shaming, bitch-slapping revenge, and wedding interruption acted out with background dancers. The whole time she was mama’s-table polite, shyly introducing herself and graciously thanking her fans for coming. She repeatedly evoked her Wyomissing childhood, her dream-come-true journey from watching an Eagles game on television to playing a sell-out show in their stadium. She had the superstitious talismans of a high school soccer star (her lucky number thirteen painted on her hand), the hand symbols of a Facebook default (her trademark hand heart), the applause-struck awe of a talent show winner, the hair of a Disney princess and dresses of a homecoming queen. “This crowd feels magical,” she breathed. “I must be dreaming.”

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