"We begin our story in New York," said Taylor Swift -- never mind that she was standing in Las Vegas.
A fierce blur of blonde hair and rhinestones, the pop superstar headlined Rock in Rio USA on Friday, capping the first night of the festival's second weekend after performances earlier in the day by Charli XCX, Tove Lo, Ivete Sangalo and Swift's buddy Ed Sheeran, among others.
Although she acknowledged the scale of the gig, proudly noting that 50,000 people were in the crowd before her, Swift seemed more focused on the fact that Friday's concert served as the first U.S. date of her world tour behind last year's smash "1989" album. The road show launched this month in Tokyo and will pick up next week in Louisiana following Sunday's Billboard Music Awards, where the singer is scheduled to premiere her much-hyped music video for "Bad Blood."
The tour, due to stop at Staples Center for five nights in August, pulls deeply from "1989," which Swift famously said completes her long-building transition from country to pop. On Friday she began, as promised, with the album's wide-eyed opener, "Welcome to New York," about leaving Nashville for the Big Apple; later, she sang two cuts from the record's deluxe edition -- "New Romantics" and "Wonderland" -- while skipping some of her biggest hits, including "You Belong with Me," "Back to December" and "22."
Along with that fresh material came a fresh attitude: Where Swift used previous tours to present a kind of idealized Everygirl, here she happily emphasized her position as an A-plus-list celebrity, from the song that played before she appeared onstage -- "Feel So Close," by her rumored boyfriend, Calvin Harris -- to her succession of sparkly designer costumes to the interstitial video testimonials from Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez and more of her famous friends.
Many of the songs on "1989" address Swift's life as a public figure, and that's a theme her new show embodies, with elaborate set pieces in which the singer is surrounded by her 12 male dancers. (There's also an eight-piece band that includes four backing vocalists.)
During "Style," Swift strutted to the end of a long runway as the men, wearing red-and-black suits, trailed her on roller-skate shoes -- a clever riff on Madonna's iconic "Material Girl" video. Yet "I Know Places," about feeling circled by tabloid-like "vultures," was more sinister, with the dancers bursting through half a dozen moving doorways.
"Bad Blood," which Swift has said was inspired by the duplicity of a fellow pop star, similarly put the singer on the defensive, as did a handful of smaller moments, such as "Clean," a stripped-down ballad about weathering a breakup, and the acoustic "Wonderland," which she claimed she'd never played live before. Before that number, she invited Sheeran onstage -- on the day of their "three-year friend-aversary," she said -- for a gentle duet on his "Tenerife Sea."
Mostly, though, Friday's performance was about Swift owning her newfound might. She swung a golf club during "Blank Space" and whipped her hair in time to "I Knew You Were Trouble," revamped here as an industrial-funk jam. For "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" she strapped on an electric guitar, roughing up the song's bubble-grunge groove with grittier Joan Jett-style riffs. Then she switched to keyboard for a mash-up of her old song "Enchanted" and "Wildest Dreams," one of the most grown-up tunes on "1989." (After her microphone cut out during the latter, she said, "Well, at least you know this is live, don't you?")
Those all-star video messages were more demonstration of Swift's power, with her pals gushing about her brilliance and her generosity and her sense of humor. But unlike her performance -- which at its best had a nervy intensity in spite of the glossy production -- the testimonials felt gratuitous, even tacky.
She was showing us what a big deal she's become. She didn't need to tell us too.