Taylor Swift's 'Transformation' Could Begin Sunday at The Grammys

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In August 2013, I published I Have Seen The Next Bruce Springsteen And Her Name Is Taylor Swift.

As anticipated, society's hallmark ensued -- negativity for negativity's sake, fueled largely by ignorance, bias and insecurity.

How dare you even think about "comparing" Taylor Swift to Bruce Springsteen, let alone imply she's following, to some extent, in his footsteps?

Forget context. To hell with nuance. That I was actually arguing Swift would blaze her own trail.

Just flame away.

That's how we roll in what my friend, Dallas media personality Gordon Keith, recently referred to as "the world of outrage."

But others took more thoughtful note, including, from what I understand, people deep inside Taylor Swift's camp. From last year's article, which was triggered by my attendance at two of four LA stops on the Red Tour, here's what appears to have resonated most with them (and, quite possibly, Swift herself):

There's a reason why music critics and serious popular culture doesn't mention Swift's name alongside Springsteen's (and will likely chide me for doing so). Actually several reasons.
First, a reason or two I can get with.
I didn't realize Swift was so "commercial." She's selling everything from Diet Coke to Keds to perfume at her shows. Legend has it that Bruce turned down millions from Chevy for the rights to "Born in the USA." At the same time, the spectacle of Swift's show (the costumes, the dancing, the pomp and circumstance) undermines her musical talents.
If she stripped everything down to bare bones -- using the nondescript black and drab set The E Street Band uses -- Swift would instantly trigger comparisons to Bruce's hard-driving, no-nonsense, four-hour rock shows.
She could and, I believe, eventually will dedicate herself to the sweaty marathon sessions The Boss has become known for. She'll drop much of the pizazz and bring the power.
The same elements that make Bruce's show tick provide what will be the lasting foundation for a Taylor Swift performance -- "part circus, dance party, political rally (maybe not so much) and big tent revival." That's how Springsteen described his show to "60 Minutes" several years ago.

After Swift's Red Tour pulled out all the theatrical stops, it was clear her camp had a decision to make: Do we try to top the spectacle of Red or do we trace a path that showcases Swift's raw emotion and musicianship?

(I was going to also refer to her "otherworldly talent" alongside "raw emotion and musicianship," but I scratched that. Swift and her team put a lot of work into the "theatrics" that are part of her show, particularly dance. And it shows. The product of that work is incredible. And requires remarkable "talent." However, for reasons I explain here and elsewhere, there's considerable upside to shifting focus to Swift's even stronger talent as a musician). 

Anyhow, it appears, if the hint Swift lobbed to her Twitter (TWTR) and Instagram followers Thursday night results in what they're predicting for her performance at Sunday night's Grammy Awards, that the decision has been made.

But what does it all mean? And, more importantly, why does it matter to music fans (who may not even be fans of Swift) and an industry struggling to remain relevant in an age of dwindling downloads, streaming music and the emergence of DIY at all levels of the craft? 

First the Tweet ...


And the Instagram blast ...

First, it means, at The Grammys on Sunday night, we're likely see something like this:


You'll be hard pressed to find a performance that tops that one. I'm secure enough in myself (or maybe comfortable with being insecure) to "admit" that I well up with tears and often jump the brink of emotion every time I watch that YouTube of "All Too Well." Outside of the most epic portions of the 15-20 Springsteen shows I have seen, nothing even comes close to having seen that live ... twice

By making the choice to perform All Too Well at The Grammy Awards -- though I haven't been able to obtain 100% confirmation that she indeed will -- Swift is reaffirming something she told the Associated Press, via Rolling Stone, late last year:

I think the goal for the next album is to continue to change, and never change in the same way twice ... How do I write these figurative diary entries in ways that I've never written them before and to a sonic backdrop that I've never explored before ... I'll bring in ideas and they'll take such a different turn than where I thought they were going to go, and that level of unexpected spontaneity is something that really thrills me in the process of making music ...

And this extends to the live performance.

As Swift evolves and pushes her own boundaries (or, rather, erases them almost entirely) she'll have the same impact on her audience. She'll prove that, as with a talent the level of Springsteen, it's the power, the glory, the promise, the majesty ... the ministry of rock and roll -- yes, rock and roll -- that ignites her 38 million Twitter followers and millions of other fans worldwide. Not free half cans of Diet Coke as you exit the arena after one of her shows.

All of this is not to say Swift requires a transformation. But we'll all be better off as she embarks on one. Me. You. Music fans. The music industry. Other performers. And Swift herself. In fact, she would get bored with the notion of Red times two defining 2014.

If Sunday night goes down the way I expect it to -- and hope it does -- I reckon we're on our way to seeing a Taylor Swift who receives less unfair snark from the often cruel and thoughtless mainstream as well as misguided music critics who should know better.

We'll be closer to what will no longer be a notion I'm offering as conjecture -- in the very lonely corner of the Internet I have carved out for myself. It will become a new reality. Taylor Swift has yet to bring the full force of her grace, talent and stardom down on the music industry.

But Sunday night -- again, assuming we get that powerful performance of All Too Well (or something like it) -- she begins to bring the power at an entirely different level. A level we associate with 1978 Springsteen as much as we do present-day Bruce.

Simply put, I expect future Taylor Swift shows to look more like rock and roll concerts. Relative to what we have seen, they'll be stripped down two-to-three hour sets. Maybe with the first few songs carefully choreographed, but the rest pulling from what has grown into a not only large, but extraordinary catalog of hit after hit from one of the few relevant album artists of our generation. The selections will look more like All Too Well, where Swift takes charge and improvises, responding to how the bond between her and her audience feels in the moment.

If I'm right about this -- and, ever since last August's article, it appears I might actually be on to something -- Taylor Swift will save rock and roll. It won't be Trent Reznor or Dave Grohl's umpteenth attempt to push what he thinks you should like on you via a new streaming service or a carved out Grammy performance.

It will be happy, free, confused, lonely at the same time Taylor Swift who picks up yet another genre and carries it on her back without even breaking a sweat.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks. Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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