Taylor Swift captivates the crowd at Staples – and gets a surprise from Kobe Bryant

If there were any doubts that Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star in the world today – and really, has there been for the last year or so since her “1989” album stormed the charts? – the 25-year-old singer put them to rest at Staples Center on Friday with an assist from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.

Midway through the night Kobe walked on stage to present Swift with a banner in honor of her 16 sold-out Staples shows, an all-time mark for the venue that she’ll hit at the end of her current five-night run, that will permanently hang from the rafters among the Lakers own 16 NBA championship pennants.

So Katy and Miley and Lady, face those facts. Next time the Misses Perry, Cyrus and Gaga reach Staples they can look up from the stage and see Swift’s name on the wall, the Clippers to her Lakers, guests in her house.

All of this, mind you, is a mark of Swift’s commercial appeal, all the albums and songs, tickets and T shirts she’s sold. And none of that would matter nearly as much without the artistry that’s taken Swift from a sweet teenage country singer to a strong young woman, the writer of fierce anthems and universal love songs, and a performer who easily captivated her audience for 18 songs over nearly two-and-a-half hours on Friday.

Swift opened her night with “Welcome To New York,” a black-and-white cinematic ode to the city where she lives, a dozen male dancers busily walking imaginary sidewalks, reading fictional newspapers, dancing past light poles and park benches as Swift sang this first song and the audience shrieked and cheered.

The “1989” album is named for the year of her birth, but many of its songs, such as “New Romantics,” with its electro-glam vibe, or “Blank Space,” an early highlight of the night, with Swift cast as a music video femme fatale, also owe small debts to the sound and style of that decade to that decade.

Those songs and others from the album were played in the style in which they were recorded. Older tunes, though, such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” from 2012’s “Red,” got makeovers, the first given almost a slow dirge-like opening before building to a roar, the latter roughed up and rocked-out like a biker’s leather jacket.

“I know I’m supposed to be cool, be chill, be like, ‘Fancy meeting you here,’” Swift said the first of several extended chats with the crowd. “But this is one of those weeks I’ve been counting down to.”

At other points during the night, Swift shared stories about herself or encouragement to fans to be true to themselves. Looking out at a sea of twinkling lights – fans arrived to find fancy wristbands taped to their seats, which were triggered remotely to flash different colors depending on the song – she encouraged everyone to hold onto the happy moments, not dwell on the bad.

Throughout the night, her between-song-banter seemed more natural and at ease than it has at points in the past, and the audience cheered all her words of self-empowerment and self-worth.

But the songs, and the production, were the heart of the night, with dancers and sets and video images smartly chosen and perfectly pulled off. For “How You Get The Girl” a rain storm appeared on the giant video screen, and Swift and her dancers performed with umbrellas and costumes that lit up the night. For “I Know Places” she and the dancers used a dozen doors on rolling wheels to create an ever-moving dramatic tableau for the song to unfold.

The set closely followed the pattern of earlier stops on the tour, mostly unfolding in the same order at each stop with a few slots left open for last-minute changes from night to night. In the celebrity guest spot Swift brought out Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, co-writer of several songs on “1989,” for a duet on his own band’s single “Counting Stars.”

During “Style,” Swift typically brings out famous friends and inspirations, and at Staples that’s when Kobe showed up. She also gives herself room to pull an older number out each night which on Friday found her accompanying herself on acoustic guitar to sing “All Too Well” for the first time on the “1989” tour.

Highlights of the final stretch of the show included the ballad “Love Story,” during which the runway rose up and rotated to bring Swift closer to more fans, “Bad Blood,” its catchy opening energizing the crowd while she and her backup crew danced through a city rooftop setting, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which rocked much harder live than it does on the record.

The main set wrapped up with “Out of the Woods,” a big, dramatic rock number that saw Swift strutting the catwalk in a glittering gold cat suit, one of eight costumes she wore on the night, before a joyful romp through “Shake It Off,” her irresistibly upbeat kiss-off to haters and players that served as her encore and farewell.

Opening for Swift in Los Angeles were Haim and Vance Joy, two acts who personify two parts of her musical identity. The three sisters of Haim rocked hair-flippingly hard on songs such as “Forever” and “Let Me Go,” songs that fit the more recent direction Swift’s taken. Australia’s Joy represents the singer-songwriter side of her past on numbers such as “Mess Is Mine” and his ukulele-driven hit “Riptide.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7787 or plarsen@ocregister.com

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