In case you guys hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m a big Taylor Swift fan and so, of course, I had to go and see her live when she brought the Reputation Stadium Tour to Wembley Stadium. One of my very favourite memories is seeing her 1989 Tour at Hyde Park in 2015: the music, the sun setting, the way I felt. It was magical. So I was very excited to see her perform again and ended up seeing both of the Wembley shows. With something like this – a huge show that I’m very emotionally invested in – I find it better for my overall mental health to see it twice. That helps to manage my anxiety about missing something or getting overwhelmed; I have a second chance to take it all in, which lessens the pressure a bit and makes it easier for me to cope with everything going on. It wasn’t cheap but I don’t regret it: Taylor is one of my favourite artists (and people), she doesn’t tour here very often, and concerts are the only thing that I really spend money on. So although I do struggle with anxiety around money, this experience wasn’t too bad.
The shows were amazing. Taylor is an incredible performer and the songs work so well performed live. The band, the dancers, and the backing vocalists were all fantastic too and the whole show was completely seamless. The setlist was a really great mix of songs from Reputation, as well as at least one song from each of her previous albums thrown it. That was really cool. And because she chose to perform ‘So It Goes…’ as the surprise song (she performs an acoustic version of a song in her back catalogue each night to keep an element of unknown in a very choreographed show) on the first night, we got to hear the whole Reputation album live. That was very special.
I’m not really a fan of Stadium gigs – Taylor is probably the only person I’d go to a stadium to see – because you end up spending so much time looking at the screens in order to see the person performing but a combination of the ginormous screens built into the stage and the multiple b-stages around the stadium did make it feel smaller. Plus, Taylor is such a compelling performer and the crowd was so engaged that you almost didn’t notice the size. Having said that, I do hope that, one day, she’ll go back to playing smaller venues. I mean, she could sit on a box, playing acoustic guitar for two hours and most of that stadium would still want to go.
My favourite performance was ‘Getaway Car,’ which is also my favourite song on the album. The graphics were beautiful and by that point, it was dark so the light up bracelets we’d been given were the only way to see the crowd. It was a magical sight.
My favourite moment of the two shows was Taylor’s mashup of ‘Long Live’ and ‘New Years Day’ (from her Speak Now album and Reputation album respectively) on the first night. It’s always a special moment because she dedicates it to the fans who’ve stuck by her. Halfway through, the whole crowd started cheering and it went on so long that I thought they’d have to cut a song from the setlist; every time it started to fade, it picked up again with more enthusiasm than before. You can see it in the video below: it clearly meant a lot to her. I’ve seen several people saying that she’s milking it – exploiting the situation – and that really irritates me because, when it comes to Taylor Swift, everyone seems happy to judge without context. This is the context: after last year, when everyone was demonising her and calling her a ‘snake’ (don’t get me started on that – that’s another example of people jumping at the chance to criticise her without actually investigating the situation first), she, in her own words, “went through some really low times.” The choices she makes have always centred firmly around what her fans want and suddenly she wasn’t sure if anyone would even show up. So this moment (that the video shows) is important. This moment is proof that she was wrong, that her fans see her for who she truly is and always will, and she’s just taking it in.
Oh, and it was pretty cool when she brought out Robbie Williams on the second night…
It was also really special because I got to go with one of my best friends and on the second night, we got dressed up, inspired by the Look What You Made Me Do music video. I’ve never done that for a concert before but it was SO much fun; it made the concert experience last longer and feel fuller. I had moments of feeling incredibly self conscious – and disgusting, if I’m being completely honest – but I also had moments of feeling really good and really confident. It’s complicated but I’m really glad we did it.
We had a really amazing time. I was in the middle of a really difficult time with a lot of very difficult emotions and while it didn’t fix that – that would be a bit much to put on a concert, even a Taylor Swift concert – it was a wonderful escape and I’m really grateful for that. And Wembley Stadium was really helpful in making the concert as stress-free as possible. I’m still getting used to the fact that I’m eligible for disabled access and tickets but not only does that make it more possible for me to physically go to the shows but the validation of how I struggle makes the shows much more enjoyable. It has been my experience that there’s a weird pressure at concerts to always be standing, always be dancing, always be having the best time, which isn’t always possible for me: I can’t stand for long periods of time. And because my difficulties are invisible, I’ve had people assume that I’m not enjoying myself and therefore don’t ‘deserve’ to be there as much as someone who would stand and jump and dance through the whole show. It’s stupid and reductionist but it is there. I don’t want to rant about this but I think it’s worth commenting on. Having a disabled ticket didn’t change that but by validating my experience, it gave me the confidence to enjoy the concert within my own abilities: I stood and danced when I felt able to; I sat when I needed to; I sang along to every song. And I had an amazing time.
I paid the price for going to (and dancing at) concerts two nights in a row: the muscles in my legs were stiffening up before we even made it to the tube station, which made walking physically painful. By the next morning, my whole body hurt and it took almost a week to recover fully. It sounds over the top but it’s the truth. I don’t know why my body reacts this way; I’ve spoken to several doctors and they all seem to think it’s to do with my Autism – although that tends to be their answer for anything unexplained. So, for now at least, I just have to manage it.
I guess the point of this post (beyond just writing it for fun) is to talk about managing concerts as an autistic person. They’re busy and overwhelming and complicated but there are ways to make them possible. I also wanted to talk about doing something like going to a concert when you’re deep in depression. You’re allowed to do fun things when you’re struggling; it doesn’t make your struggle less valid. And it doesn’t have to be a life-saving experience. That’s a lot of pressure. We’re all just trying to get through and sometimes that means singing your heart out at a concert.