During the big fuss over Kenny Chesney's appearance at Heinz Field and its messy aftermath two weeks ago, there was a Facebook contingent that wondered how there could be 50,000 people there when they "never even heard a Kenny Chesney song!"
While it's conceivable that someone could have lived this long without encountering "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" or "Keg in the Closet," the cliche about being under a rock would certainly apply to anyone who hasn't heard a song by Taylor Swift -- Pittsburgh's other country-pop stadium headliner.
Whether you were watching TV, riding in the car, walking past your tween's room or standing in line somewhere for a sandwich, it's unlikely you escaped "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "I Knew You Were Trouble" or "22" -- songs that have been loved and hated with great passion the past year.
And it certainly didn't start there.
The girl from the Reading, Pa., suburb who sang the national anthem before a Steelers game in September 2006 -- a few months after releasing her first single, "Tim McGraw" -- has been a phenom since her first album took off.
If you want to call her an overnight success, go ahead, but know that she started cutting demos at 10, wrote her first song at 12, and signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music at 14. Her family wisely moved her to Nashville, where she published 140 songs, including the single that she wrote in 15 minutes, "Tim McGraw," that wasn't really about Tim McGraw.
That debut, "Taylor Swift," was more of a country chart burner until it took off on the pop charts more than a year later with the success of the third single, "Our Song." Crossover stardom came in a big way with the Romeo-and-Juliet themed "Love Story" from her second album, "Fearless," and since then, there has been no stopping her and her aptly titled label, Big Machine.
She has sold more than 26 million album worldwide, scored more than two dozen Top 40 hits, and won seven Grammys (including Album of the Year for "Fearless") on top of a combined 13 CMA and ACM awards.
Stardom is manufactured in the studio, but careers are made on the road, and Ms. Swift, in addition to having written or co-written all of those hits, has managed to do what few other Top 40 acts have done: deliver live. It was a gradual process. That September 2006 gig singing for the Steelers coincided with opening for Lonestar and Diamond Rio at Falconi Field in Washington, Pa.
From there she got an opening slot for Rascal Flatts after Eric Church was fired for playing "too long" and "too loud," and then moved on to George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, the kind of people who can teach by example.
By the time she was headlining the Fearless Tour in 2009, she had the performance and stage presence part down, and the icing on top was an eye-popping production complete with a fairy-tale castle scene. But she was far from a teen-pop robot. At the arena in 2009, she practically hugged everyone on the floor on the way to serenade a back section.
When she made the jump to Heinz Field in June 2011, she was bigger than the venue, making every fan feel as if she was playing to him or her.
"I find that you have to emote a little bigger, but you can reach all the way up to the top," she told the media at a recent stop in New York. "Eye contact is important, even if it's from 500 yards away. Everyone who comes to these shows seems so engaged. They come to the show. They know the words. I'm singing the words. We're singing them at the same time, and therein lies the connection. It goes beyond what size the venue is."
On this tour, her personal hit parade has expanded via her fourth album, "Red," courtesy of Swedish hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback, who have tricked-out her trademark breakup songs with dance beats and clever electronic touches. The album was not designed with cohesion in mind. "State of Grace" sounds like it could have come off of U2's "Boy" album, and then there are country songs like "I Almost Do" and "Sad Beautiful Tragic."
"I'm 22," she told Billboard last year. "I'm all over the place. So my record is all over the place. Part of this record is acknowledging [that] all these emotions are very loud and very different from one another."
Those differences probably reflect the shuffle nature of music listening in the digital age, but you can bet that the true Taylor fans, whether they come from the pop or country side, will know every word to every song no matter what she plays Saturday.
"I think one of the things that I'm happiest with, in the last year, is the acceptance level in country music for me experimenting and for me trying to evolve and challenge myself musically," she said backstage at the CMA Music Festival. "Because I think it's never felt better to be on that stadium stage performing knowing that everyone's been so welcoming of change."
After the show, the parking lot cleanup will begin. It's been suggested that the cleanup crews be ready for sticky piles of Capri Sun packets.mobilehome - music
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published July 4, 2013 4:00 AM