Before I tell you about my five minutes with Taylor Swift, let me tell you about some of the other fans Taylor has touched.
There’s Khloe Carlson-Torres, a 6-year-old girl battling retinoblastoma, who Taylor visited last year at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Khloe (left) has cancer. Surgery tk. Taylor surprised her once. "She's hoping she'll shout her out," mom says. #StayFearlessKhloe— Matt Stevens (@ByMattStevens) August 22, 2015
Outside Staples Center Friday night, Khloe was rocking big sunglasses and a leather jacket that made her look just like a superhero out of Taylor’s “Bad Blood” music video. And she could use a superhero now. Surgeons will remove her right eye on Thursday.
“She doesn’t know yet,” Kristianna, Khloe's mom, whispered. “But she’s really excited about tonight!”
Then there’s Anthony Fulps, 19, of Garden Grove. Taylor saw Fulps’ Tumblr and wanted to meet him, so he got pulled back stage after a show in Arizona.
Fulps was one of dozens of students injured in a fiery Northern California bus crash last year that killed 10 people. Taylor told him she was glad he was OK.
“She said she was proud of me,” Fulps said. “I said, ‘I’m so happy right now.' She said, ‘I’m so happy you’re happy.’ I hugged her like six times. I just couldn’t believe it was happening.”
“I wouldn’t believe it either,” I told him. “I’m super jealous.”
Here I must confess that I am more than a casual Taylor Swift fan. I am 27 years old. I am single. And I have a portrait of Taylor Swift hanging in my bathroom.
I once owned a cardboard cutout of Taylor that I disposed of only when she began getting weak at the knees.
At one concert, I went so crazy for my crush that Taylor's dad noticed me in the crowd and gave me a special guitar pick.
Idk if this is weird -- but T-Swift's dad once picked me out of the crowd at a show. Gave me a guitar pick! pic.twitter.com/KQsitdBUP3— Matt Stevens (@ByMattStevens) August 21, 2015
I guess that helps explain why I was crowned a finalist in a nationwide “biggest fan” contest that drew thousands of applications.
I’m also a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, and on Friday, my bosses asked if I would live tweet and snap Taylor’s first “1989” show in L.A.
That's how I ended up roaming the grounds at Staples in search of other Swifties more than three hours before the show.
The fans I talked to — many of whom had been at the venue for hours — all used similar language to explain why they loved T-Swift: “She’s a good person.” “She’s just genuine.” “She gives back to her fans.”
Or as one young Swiftie put it: “Who else invites fans to her house?”
Two young women said a member of Taylor’s team gave them pit passes at her last show.
“I cried,” Erin Esparza, 18, said.
“We called our moms,” Mikayla Scanlan, 18, added.
Mikayla Scanlan & Erin Esparza were here at 11:30. Last concert they got hooked up with pit passes, "started crying." pic.twitter.com/xx2MY9InDC— Matt Stevens (@ByMattStevens) August 21, 2015
All this from people who love Taylor Swift without ever having met her.
Less than an hour before showtime, I had just spoken with a 73-year-old Swiftie from Utah and was fumbling with my notebook when I felt my phone buzz. The woman calling identified herself as Tree Paine. I realized right away she was Taylor’s publicist and I froze. Why would she bother to call me?
Paine asked me to meet her at the stage around 8:15 p.m. And as Taylor would say, “All I feel in my stomach is butterflies.”
It was almost two hours before I was plucked from my seat and shuttled backstage. On the one hand, I was remarkably calm and collected. I made decent small talk and I felt normal. But something else was going on inside.
I distinctly remember my knees shaking. I didn’t notice that HAIM — one of Taylor’s opening acts — had walked by until someone told me. There was conversation about the cool contraption that elevates and lowers people onto stage, about the downtown restaurant Bestia and about the drought stories I’ve written — but it's all such a blur. The fact that I am having such an incredibly difficult time remembering any of it says something about my state of mind.
Then, after about 10 tortured minutes waiting backstage… “Oh, hey!”
It was like we’d been longtime friends and Taylor was just stopping by to say “Hi.” She’d arrived strutting down the concourse with purpose in her step. In less than 30 minutes she’d hit the stage and she was ready: Sparkly purple jacket on, makeup done, smiley, happy, excited.
I flubbed an attempt to introduce myself, but she saved me.
“The cardboard cutout!” she said, apparently having seen an earlier post about my obsession.
I told her that I had spent the day talking to fans who truly loved her. I told her she had really touched the people who she had taken the time to meet. She told me that was sweet.
“You probably get that all the time,” I said.
“Oh,” she said with a giggle, “I have really low self-esteem, so…”
The chorus of people around her proceeded to tell her that that was absurd.
Then it was time for the picture. And yes, Taylor is that tall. She had to lean down to wrap her arms around my neck. But in the picture, she looks genuinely excited. I’m glowing.
I’ll leave the details about the concert to the critics. Also, tens of thousands of other fans have yet to experience the show.
But I will say that Taylor took time out between songs to talk to her fans about heartbreak, romance, and being brave.
“I think being brave enough to go to a concert alone is really romantic,” she said.
The world’s biggest pop star was peering out at a crowd of 15,000, but in that moment it felt like she was talking directly to me.