To mark the end of 2018, global superstar Taylor Swift and streaming service Netflix threw one hell of a New Year's Eve party. There were snakes, there was glitter, there was confetti and there were the best indoor fireworks you've ever seen.
Didn't attend? Not to worry, there's still time.
The movie version of Swift's 53-date, award-winning, record-topping blockbuster Reputation stadium tour was released on Netflix Monday. Having attended two dates on the tour and seen Swift perform live for the first time in three years, I thought I knew what to expect from the movie. What I didn't expect was feeling equally as moved and starry-eyed while tucked up on my sofa on a cold winter's night as I did back on those warm evenings last summer. Not only did it spirit me back onto the stadium arena, but it left me with an overwhelming sense of relief that this spectacle has been committed to film I can revisit any time.
It's a smart move for Taylor Swift to partner with Netflix rather than a US-based TV network or put out a straight-to-DVD release. The streaming service is pretty much unrivalled in its ability to bring Reputation to a global audience at the same time everywhere in the world for an affordable price. For reasons of cost and geography, many fans were unable to attend the tour, which visited only five countries outside the US. But Netflix lowers the barrier to entry, making Swift's latest live performances accessible to pretty much anyone with an internet connection.
This is excellent news for fans who missed out, but also for Swift herself. The more people who see her play live — when she's absolutely in her element — the more likely she is to be recognised for doing what's genuinely important to her. When people think of Taylor Swift's reputation, no longer will they think tabloid headlines and unwanted scrutiny of her personal life. Instead visions of kaleidoscopic pyrotechnics will dance in their heads, while her poignant, powerful lyrics echo in their ears. It's a masterful deflection, a taking back of a twisted narrative, and perhaps most importantly in the long run, a way to establish this era as a building block in her legacy that's as integral as any that's come before it.
And it would be foolish to think that Taylor Swift isn't always, to an extent, thinking about how things like this movie play into the bigger picture. Swift knows that her reputation is a transient and ever-changing thing, but that legacy is a different matter altogether.
This particular show, with its curved stages, dancing lights, elaborate choreography and gorgeous costumes, is a work of art in itself. The live show transcends the album and serves as a reminder that no matter what else happens, Swift's stardom is perennial. Among the setlist are sure-fire crowdpleasers from earlier eras seamlessly woven into the show through mashups or B-stage performances, while fans belt out new favorites like Delicate as Swift shimmers high above the whole scene in a floating gold cage.
It also allows tracks from Reputation that didn't get the love they truly deserved a chance to shine with dazzling production. One to watch out for is King of My Heart, my personal favorite from the album, which quite literally gets the full song-and-dance treatment. Another highlight, Don't Blame Me, sounds like it was purpose-written with stadiums in mind. The live version of this song is akin to a religious experience; fans call it "going to church".
That's not to mention the acoustic rendition of All Too Well — widely considered to be Swift's best song — which is sung both by Swift and the fans around her with such depth of emotion that it relays to viewers the truest impression of what it was actually like to attend this show in person. Swift is well known for being very much in tune with her fans, and this connection allows her to talk to the audience with heartfelt candor throughout the show, as well as to stop and blow her nose with nothing but cheering and applause.
Hardcore fans will tell you that floor seats, particularly if you're in the pit, are the only tickets worth having. But the show is so spectacular and carefully designed that it's worth viewing from every angle. Each perspective brings with it a new experience, and thanks to Netflix, you get access to all of them for the price of a month's subscription. In fact, you get money-can't-buy views of the action: Swift smiling winsomely down the lens as she dances towards the camera, and ethereal slow-motion of the most dramatic moments.
For me, the camerawork and closeups brought new insights into a show I've thought about every day since I first saw last year. It's a divine showcase of the costumes, the dancing and especially Swift's own barely-contained effervescent joy at being on stage. And all in glorious high-definition detail, with the HDR and Dolby Atmos sound on point throughout. Even the less ardent fans among my own NYE party guests were bowled over by the production, both of the show and the movie itself, as my friends had to think hard to compare it to the best stadium rock gigs they've attended. Each of them left with a party favor in the form of a new favorite song, as the movie trained a light on Swift's artistry even when bringing lesser-hyped album tracks to the fore.
If you had any lingering doubts about whether Swift is still an artist at the top of her game, the Reputation tour movie will allay your concerns. Perhaps she's no longer America's sweetheart or the darling of the recording academy, but you don't become the world's greatest show-woman by always colouring inside the lines.
When Swift puts pen to paper for a new album, it's her fearless disregard of the traditional parameters of genre and subject matter that spin individual thoughts and feelings into showstoppers. The Reputation era culminates in a live event absolutely worth capturing and watching over and over again. It's a music event for the new year — and for the history books.