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By Ines Min
Devoted fans here welcomed Taylor Swift in her first concert in Korea, Friday. The four-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter provided a polished, if underwhelming, show replete with model looks.
Though the Gymnastics Stadium at Olympic Park was only half-full, the fervor of the fans, which flocked from as far as Busan, made it sound like a packed house. The crowd was comprised of eight-year-olds to married businessmen and couples on dates, but the show was dominated by youths, many wearing matching handmade, Swift T-shirts.
The Seoul performance was Swift’s second on a world tour that kicked off in Singapore last week, to promote her third album, and continues on to more than 90 countries. The 21-year-old performer kicked off the show with “Spark’s Fly,” for a 14-song set.
“Annyeonghaseyo,” Swift greeted her fans. “Hi Seoul... This is actually the very first time that I have ever been to Korea. Thank you for having us.”
Radiant in a 1920s-inspired gold-fringed dress and black knee-high boots — the first of three outfits making their way through the ’50s to the ’80s — Swift proved her flair on stage with obvious delight in the fans’ adoring reactions, often pausing to simply smile at the camera.
Her vocals were as sweet as on her album, pitch-perfect and sincere. On the back of the professional expertise of an eight-man band, the concert would have been great were it not for the overall lack of strength in Swift’s voice.
Often overpowered by the three (sometimes four) electric and acoustic guitars, keyboard, drums and background singers, Swift showed that her vulnerability in giving live performances still mars her tours, although the overall sound balance was pristine. Combined with the vastness of the half-empty venue, the cheers of the crowd were at times louder than the music itself.
Nonetheless, well-produced visual entertainment on a big screen, theatrical lighting and the charming qualities of the singer herself culminated in a smooth concert. The stage, redressed as a distinguished country theater, became the picturesque background for the pop princess with her lips painted red.
“It doesn’t matter if we speak different languages or live miles and miles away from each other,” Swift told the crowd, alluding to the universal romance of her songs. “We all experience love the same way.”
To break through the barrier, Swift stepped off stage to walk toward the back of the audience, finding a raised perch to sit with a ukulele, then a 12-string guitar for songs from “Fearless,” her second album. “Fifteen” and “You Belong with Me” delighted many of Swift’s fans, who clambered out of their seats for a better view.
She continued with “Mine,” “Back to December,” “Dear John.” While the songs played were nearly identical to the album recordings, their realization was enough. Fans sang along to all her hits and gladly took up the call when Swift pointed her microphone toward them, truly a feat for a show in a foreign country.
Swift ended the night with another tribute to older fans with “Love Story,” after echoing calls of “Tay-lor, Tay-lor” drew her back. The optimistic, nostalgic piece on love overcoming all concluded the show on a honeyed note.
Though Korea might be less swayed by the charms of the acclaimed singer — the Singapore concert and subsequent shows in Japan have all sold out — the dedication of the fans present was boundless. Such was the intense devotion of some that Swift’s own family members were spotted after the last number.
“Mr. Taylor!” a group of girls called. “Mr. Taylor, we touched her! We touched her on her arm!”