By Dalton Ross
Updated July 25, 2011 at 04:36 AM EDT


Being a parent can be challenging. But there are perks as well…like, say, taking your 8-year-old daughter to a Taylor Swift concert so you don’t look like a creepy middle-aged dude bopping up and down by yourself alongside tween girls in homemade “TS Rules 4Eva!” t-shirts. Thankfully, my daughter Violet is a huge fan, enabling me to go to Swift’s Sunday night show in Newark, New Jersey under the guise of parental superstar, when in reality I was pretty excited to attend myself. It wasn’t just the show I wanted to see (although I do dig Swift’s music). It was also the spectacle around the show.

Upon arriving at the arena, I bided my time by scoping out just a few of the hundreds of signs brought in by adoring admirers. They ranged from the straight-forward (“I Love Taylor Swift” won’t win any points for originality), to the longwinded (even with all the abbreviations, “Missed u in KY. Glad UR feelin fine!” is a lot to read from the stage, especially with a bunch of lights shining in your eyes) to the vaguely political (“T-Party”). My personal favorite was a big sign that was supposed to be Swift’s lucky number, 13, but kept being held upside down so read “E1” instead. Whoops! There was also an astounding amount of flashing lights, glow sticks and other assorted illuminated objects. As Taylor herself would say from the stage later, “I noticed that this is a very sparkly crowd tonight.” And how.

As for the show itself, Swift definitely knows how to put on a performance. She has emerged as an intensely personal songwriter, and where she really excelled — for me — was when the music was at its most stripped down, like a ukulele version of “Fearless” or an acoustic medley of Jersey classics “Dancing in the Dark” and “Living on a Prayer” that led into the irresistible “You Belong With Me.” But, of course, this show was not meant just for me, which explains why the screaming masses (including my daughter) went gaga for the approximately 316 wardrobe changes and elaborate production numbers like a ballet-themed “Enchanted” (which felt a tad Disney on Ice), a Cirque du Soleil-themed “Haunted” (with women spinning around in mid-air on harnesses), and the vocal fireworks of “Dear John” which were accompanied by, yes, actual fireworks.

Did I mention the screaming masses? “I just can’t believe you guys are SO loud,” Swift told the audience in the understatement of the evening. Even my industrial strength earplugs could only block so much of the incessant racket. Of course, there are worse people they could be screaming for. Unlike many of today’s pop divas, Swift not only knows how to play lots of different instruments, but also impressively writes her own songs. And by acting like the ultimate anti-mean girl, she has become a true role model for young’uns. (See, now I sound like a parent again.) “Thank you for your insanely loud shrieks and screams,” an appreciative Swift told the crowd. On this night, she earned them. I may have even whooped once or twice myself. Just don’t tell anyone.

For non-Taylor-Swift-related rambling, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.