Taylor Swift has released two duets in the last year, and she sang them both Friday night at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball in L.A. Only one involved a partner, and that was more than good enough for the crowd at the Forum, which was witnessing her first public live performance since a Super Bowl-related gig last February.
In introducing “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” her hit duet with Zayn from the “Fifty Shades Darker” soundtrack, Swift heard the mounting applause and said, “Full disclosure — I always want to be upfront about collaborations. He’s not here.” A solo acoustic performance followed. But for a first-ever live performance of “End Game,” from her new “Reputation” album, she was able to stick closer to the recording by virtue of a guest appearance from a longtime member of her own A-team, Ed Sheeran.
Future, who also contributes a rap to “End Game” on the record, was MIA, but that didn’t matter much to a young crowd that was getting to see a major reunion. Swift and Sheeran haven’t often appeared together since he opened dates on her “Red” tour back in 2013, which was well pre-superstar status for him in the U.S. Now, they’re equals — or nearly equals, anyway. With “Divide,” Sheeran had the best-selling album of 2017, until “Reputation” came out two weeks ago and wiped away his title in a single week. Obviously, he’s not harboring any hard feelings about being superseded for ’17 sales honors, and his own reputation will only benefit whenever the sure-to-be-massive “End Game” gets released as one of her follow-up singles.
Swift’s first-ever stadium tour doesn’t begin until May, so Friday’s six-song gig at the Forum didn’t offer any kind of preview of the staging or production design she’ll unveil then. She didn’t bring a backing band, just four dancers who offered much of the same crouching choreography seen in Swift’s recent performance of “….Ready for It?” on “Saturday Night Live.” “Look What You Made Me Do” got its live premiere to end the mini-set, following reprises of past hits “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space.”
Sheeran was obviously welcomed by the throng in Inglewood, but his cameo was too fleeting to be the extended reunion fans may hope to see someday. For some Swifties, the most special surprise was the transformative, trackless rendition of “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” As the singer mentioned, the song was just nominated for a 2018 Grammy (for Best Song Written for Visual Media), and it’ll also get a push for best original film song with the Oscars and Golden Globes. If there were members of those orgs watching her performance live at the Forum or on the CW Network’s streaming app, Swift’s solo acoustic rendering made for a timely reminder that there exists what older voters might call a “real song” under the production value.
The four-and-a-half hour Jingle Ball also included performances from the Chainsmokers (joined yet again by their own perennial duet partner, Halsey), Sam Smith, Demi Lovato, Logic, Kesha, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Charlie Puth. The show will be edited down for a prime-time special on the CW Network Dec. 14.