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Country queen Taylor Swift charms L.A. crowd

 Singer Taylor Swift arrives at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Marcus - Reuters
Singer Taylor Swift arrives at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Marcus
— image credit: Reuters

By Craig Rosen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Earlier this year, Taylor Swift's "Fearless" strung together 11 nonconsecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200. It was a feat that hadn't been accomplished in years and may have left those unfamiliar with the relatively new star curious about her appeal.

At the sold-out Staples Center on Friday, on her first headlining tour, Swift showed why she's become country's new queen with a two-hour-plus set that played on her strengths and pointed to her continuing pop crossover potential.

The key selling point on display Friday was Swift's relatability. She's not just another oversexed, underdressed prefab pop Barbie, but rather the girl next door who's had her heart broken and takes refuge in music she actually sings, plays and writes. While those songs for the brokenhearted were gussied up with costumes, elaborate staging and a half-dozen musicians, it was ultimately Swift's confessional tunes -- from opener "You Belong to Me," with its high school motif, to the lesson-learned regret of "Should Have Said No" -- that made the show a success.

In fact, Swift performed the two most effective numbers -- "Fifteen" and her first hit, "Tim McGraw" -- from the crowd on acoustic guitar. The former manages to split the difference both emotionally (and numerically) between Big Star's lost classic "Thirteen" and Janis Ian's "At Seventeen." The latter was received with such a thunderous ovation that Swift seemed genuinely moved and rewarded the crowd with a John Mayer guest spot.

Yet like the staging and costumes, Mayer's appearance wasn't necessary. Sure, he performed a serviceable duet with Swift on his "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and added some tasty electric guitar riffs to Swift's "White Horse," but Swift didn't really need any help handling the crowd or the stage. She has a likable stage presence that's not overly polished and even was slightly awkward at times, but her loyal following didn't seem to mind, often singing along without cues from the star.

Some well-produced humorous film clips, featuring cameos from Tim McGraw and Tyler Hilton, allowed time for set and costume changes and self-effacingly played up Swift's propensity for vengeance in song. If the message wasn't clear enough, "Teardrops on My Guitar" featured Swift's would-be Romeo slow-dancing with another blonde babe. Yet toward the set's end, when Swift rolled out "Picture to Burn," her girl-scorned theme had grown tiresome.

Thankfully, the more universally themed "Change" followed, with Swift noting that "it's been a tough year." Images of victims of economic and natural disasters were projected on the video screens, but as the song turned the corner and Swift noted that "things turn back around," scenes of triumph appeared. It was overly simplistic and a bit naive, but still hard not to be moved.

With her big-beat remix version of "Love Story," which has been receiving top-40 airplay, and her incorporation of Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around..." into her own piano-driven "You're Not Sorry," Swift showed off her strong pop crossover potential, but we can only hope if she fully makes the jump into that arena, she doesn't sacrifice the charm that made us take notice in the first place.

(Editing by Dean Goodman)

(please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)

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