On my way up to the balcony of Studio Coast to join the other media people for the Tokyo release party of Taylor Swift’s new album, Speak Now, a fellow foreigner who I’d never met before asked my why I came. I didn’t know what answer to give but apparently he didn’t expect one.
“I’m here to see the fans,” he said.
Actually, I wanted to see Swift perform songs from the new record, which I like, but the guy had a point. I’m not sure how a nominal country singer-songwriter could become so popular in Japan. Much of Swift’s world-wide success is credited to her “crossover appeal,” and there are just as many pop and rock elements in her songs as there are country motifs. Still, judging by the fact that the vast majority of fans at the event were high school and college age girls, I would guess that Swift’s appeal is extra-musical. I read somewhere that Swift was told when she started out that in order to sell a million records she would have to personally meet a million people, and she seems to have taken that advice seriously. A year ago she was barely known in Japan, and this is at least her third trip here since February.
Though the performance was touted as being “acoustic,” she brought a full band and the five songs she played sounded pretty much the same as they sound on record. The male emcee, who sported what was either a funny grey hat or a funny grey wig, kept reminding us that Swift would be back “with a real electric band” when she plays Budokan in February, and she encouraged everyone to come, “because then we can play loud.” Though she’s been a pro for almost a third of her life so far, Swift still seems a little awkward on stage. When she doesn’t have that blindingly spangled acoustic guitar strapped on she strikes the same set of four rock star poses while she sings. “Cute and charming, isn’t she?” the emcee said after the last song, “Mine,” the first single from Speak Now which the emcee announced had gone to number one, while the album opened at number six. Just so we wouldn’t forget they played the video in the background, again. And again.
Later, Swift came out to answer questions from three pre-selected girls who stood on the stage and shook with anticipation. She hugged all three and one of them immediately burst into tears. One asked what her favorite Japanese food was (teppanyaki), another asked what her first impression of her Japanese fans was (“I love the way they just keep smiling–and they’re very stylish, too”), and the third queried what she planned to do when she turns 21 on December 13. Swift mentioned that in the U.S. “21 means you become an adult, so it’s a very important day. But I don’t know if I’ll ever become an adult.” I guess that means she’s not going to get drunk. The emcee then asked all three girls what they thought of Taylor. One said, “She smells good.” The girl who burst into tears earlier did an encore. Then everyone in the audience was encouraged to take cell phone photos of Swift. She raised her arms in triumph in front of a sea of keitai screens. Another thousand fans were securely in her pocket.