With a lineup consisting of Taylor Swift, SZA, Dua Lipa and Becky G, it’s safe to say that Amazon was looking to make an impression with their concert celebrating their Prime Day sale (which takes place next week). While the company went big last year with a special Ariana Grande set at a Brooklyn warehouse, this one was something else entirely.
The show, which was livestreamed to all 200 million Amazon Prime members across the globe, saw New York’s dowdy Hammerstein Ballroom tricked out to the hilt, with a gigantic video screen spanning the entire front of the ballroom — and eye-popping visuals ranging from digital effects to sprawling nature scenes — and a stage that was a light show in itself. There were fireworks and steam blasts and eye-popping lights and showers of confetti and streamers falling from the ceiling — framing, of course, performances from four of the most dynamic pop-leaning female artists working today, including the towering titan of pop herself, Taylor. The evening was hosted by actress Jane Lynch and the entire show is available to stream for an unspecified period for Prime members.
And although there was never any question about who was throwing this invite-only party for select Prime members and various media and industry elite — Amazon logos and signage were everywhere, and between the performances there were essentially live and pre-taped commercials (mostly for Amazon streaming TV series and other offerings) taking place onstage or the video screens — the promotion never touched the performances themselves beyond the occasional “Thank you, Amazon.” It must have cost millions, but if the company was looking to double down on its recent efforts to connect with music fans, it succeeded.
Anyway, the show. Despite the formidable starpower of the bill, all eyes were on Swift, who was performing her first concert in the run-up to her forthcoming “Lover” album, due next month, and of course her first since the controversy around Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun’s purchase of Big Machine Records and Swift’s back catalog. To get the obvious questions out of the way: She didn’t bring out any special guests or play any unreleased songs (although we did get the live debut of “You Need to Calm Down”), and although some fans and media outlets noted that Swift “seemed to really emphasize the lyrics “the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats in the world” and concluded that the five-year-old line was directed at Braun and Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta, there were no comments about masters or scooters or anything overt (judge for yourself below).
Throughout her elaborate nine-song set, Swift strode the stage like the colossus she is, her long legs tucked into clomping high-heeled ankle boots that probably elevated her already towering height to 6’6” — as if she weren’t already larger than life. Her stadium-sized moves were scaled down for the 2,200-capacity Hammerstein, but her presence remains a dazzling burst of light, her blonde hair and dazzling smile and sparkling shirt and short shorts and the bigness of her music combining to create such a large life force that it’s almost like looking into the sun. Accompanied by a six-piece band, four singer-dancers and a flower-and-light-bedecked backdrop, Swift focused the tight setlist on her pop-era material, opening with the recent hit “Me!” and following with “Blank Space.” She then dipped back to 2012’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” and even the decade-old “Love Story.”
“I wrote this song in my bedroom when I was 17,” she said of the latter track during one of several friendly asides to the audience. “I had no idea it would change my life.”
She then mixed the old and new with an acoustic take on 2014’s “Welcome to New York” and an acoustic intro for “Delicate.” The set came in for a landing with “Style” and the live debut of her most recent single “You Need to Calm Down,” before concluding with an extended take on “Shake It Off” amid a shower of sparks, streamers and confetti.
The starpower of the evening’s lineup was underlined by the fact that the 2019 Best New Artist Grammy winner, Dua Lipa, performed first. Clad in big shoes, baggy faded jeans and a fuzzy halter, she and her four dancers bounced through a dance-heavy set, performing her hits with Calvin Harris (“One Kiss”) and Silk City (“Electricity”) along with three tracks from her debut album — maybe possibly suggesting that her forthcoming sophomore album will be dancefloor-oriented as well. Becky G, rocking a baggy bright orange ensemble, bounded through a five-song set of entirely Spanish-language reggaeton — including the controversial “Mayores,” about having a proclivity for older men — although the L.A. native spoke to the crowd in unaccented American English.
However, the high energy of the previous sets, the sensory overload of the venue and the building Swift anticipation worked against SZA a bit, as her sultry, lower-key brand of R&B required some mood adjustment from the crowd. Wearing a bright yellow pair of baggy pants and a big beige jacket (clearly, baggy was the sartorial theme of the evening’s performers, except for Swift), she ambled unhurriedly through four songs from her Grammy-winning 2017 full-length “Ctrl,” along with the cover of Sixpence None the Richer’s 1997 hit “Kiss Me” that she’s been including in her live sets this year. She was in strong voice and had won over most of the crowd by the time her set concluded with “Love Galore.”
And as attendees filed out shortly before midnight, many holding free limited-edition Swift posters commemorating the evening, it was hard not to think that Amazon’s biggest challenge — after such a star-studded, glitch-free and memorable evening — may be how on earth they will top it next year.