FOXBOROUGH — When it came out late last year, Taylor Swift’s sixth album, “Reputation,” was perceived by many as an expression of world-weariness. Its first two singles, the high-drama “Look What You Made Me Do” and the whiplash-inducing “. . . Ready for It?,” as well as their attendant videos, which reveled in starker, darker imagery, and Swift’s low press profile, only added to this idea. It wasn’t entirely correct; plusher tracks like the giddy “Gorgeous” and the sumptuous “Getaway Car” lurked within “Reputation,” which was also capped by the simple, lovely “New Year’s Day.” But facts don’t matter much in the realm of tongue-waggers.
And as Thursday night’s show at Gillette Stadium showed, Swift had deftly played her hand with the album’s roll-out; in a savvy reflection of the album’s “public person/private life” themes, she kept rubberneckers out while inviting in her true believers, who filled the stadium dressed in outrageously detailed homages to her lyrics and sang along with her deepest cuts. (And aren’t the snakes and rumors that give “Reputation” its dramatic heft more relatable than ever in this age of Instagram influencers and Twitter meltdowns, anyway?) The concert (the first of a three-night run for the 28-year-old singer-songwriter, who became the first woman to headline Foxborough’s hulking structure in 2010) opened with a cacophony of voices talking about Swift, their sentences overlapping in such a way that they turned into white noise. The gang-vocal refrain of “. . . Ready” — “baby, let the games begin” — ushered in the evening’s proceedings, which ran through Swift’s now-sizable catalog with aplomb, a high-energy presentation that included dancers, medleys, a temporary fountain, copious expressions of gratitude, a cameo from pop upstart Hayley Kiyoko, and a particularly impressive moment during which Swift made her way from one side of Gillette’s turf to the other while pressing the flesh with Biden-like zeal.
If the synth-heavy “Reputation” has one flaw, it’s that its premium-caliber production can feel a bit claustrophobic. But the space offered by Gillette, and Swift’s joyous leadership of her dancers and band members, allowed its songs to shape-shift in surprising ways; “Don’t Blame Me,” which has a determined stomp on record, loosened up enough to highlight its gospel-anthem vocal line, while the rock-anthem update of the venom-charged “I Did Something Bad” allowed Swift to flaunt her torch-singer side. A brief set in the crowd brought Swift back to her teardrops-on-the-guitar roots, and her strumming along with the 2012 single “22” and the peppy yet longing “Reputation” track “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” felt joyous and intimate, the two songs in conversation with one another as “Hands,” with its bittersweet reflection of times gone by, preceded “22” like a melancholic sigh preceding a story about the past.
Swift’s shows have changed in the years since she first started headlining Gillette, with her push into pop bringing in more set pieces and dancers, as well as feisty opening acts like the pugilistic future-pop acolyte Charli XCX and the coyly exuberant Camila Cabello. Her thoughtful medley of the romanticism-fueled 2010 track “Long Live” and “New Year’s Day,” which she dedicated to the audience and the small town’s worth of people who helped put on this week’s shows, demonstrated that the core of her appeal — her plainspoken lyrics and excitement about making music — has only become stronger as she’s grown.
With Camila Cabello, Charli XCX
At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Thursday (repeats Friday, Saturday)Maura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.