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Taylor Swift's best surprise guests on her never-ending 1989 tour, ranked

Actress Lisa Kudrow (L) and singer-songwriter Taylor Swift perform onstage during Taylor Swift The 1989 World Tour Live In Los Angeles at Staples Center on August 26, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Actress Lisa Kudrow (L) and singer-songwriter Taylor Swift perform onstage during Taylor Swift The 1989 World Tour Live In Los Angeles at Staples Center on August 26, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Christopher Polk/TAS/Getty Images for TA

All year long — and seemingly all our lives — Taylor Swift has been welcoming her friends, idols, and everyone in between to the stage for her 1989 world tour. The guest appearances have been at turns inspired and confusing, ranging from the Weeknd to Imagine Dragons, Justin Timberlake to her "Bad Blood" model crew, girl groups like Little Mix and Fifth Harmony to Chris Rock and Matt LeBlanc. Even Ian McKellen recently revealed that he and best friend Patrick Stewart got an invitation to the 1989 stage, but had to turn it down due to prior commitments.

As Swift said at her show in Santa Clara on August 15:

"Any artist that you see on the 1989 world tour stage is here because they wanted to be, out of the goodness of their own heart. They wanted to be here to perform for you, and to surprise you. This means they came here for free. This means they could've been doing anything else...but they wanted to be with you.

They're here because they love you, and that's such an incredible honor."

Swift's claim that all the 1989 world tour guests wanted to be there "out of the goodness of their own heart" is a lovely sentiment, but I have a feeling that everyone walking the "1989 runway" is less interested in pleasing fans than in absorbing the incredible attention the moment affords them. Swift is one of the biggest pop performers on the planet. Any friend of hers is a friend of millions.

(Thank god Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart have each other.)

As for Swift, I believe she is thrilled to welcome each and every one of these people to the stage. Every time she introduces a new guest, she throws her hands up like she's on a roller coaster, giddy with some combination of excitement, triumph, and power. Whatever the motivations for the guests — fun, publicity, a "what the hell" lark — one thing is abundantly clear: Taylor Swift is having the time of her life.

To save you the trouble of going over her dozens of guests, here are the eight most memorable surprise appearances from Taylor Swift's 1989 tour — so far, anyway.

8) Joan Baez and Julia Roberts (Santa Clara, August 15)

There are so many questions about this pairing, who went onstage together at Swift's Santa Clara concert to dance along to "Style." Did they know each other beforehand? Is this part of a blood pact neither remembers making in the '90s? How many people in that stadium were appropriately heartbroken to get a Joan Baez appearance instead of a Joan Baez performance?

So, okay, this isn't one of Swift's "best" surprises, but you can't beat it for the sheer "Why is this happening?" factor. The Baez/Roberts pairing also highlights another important demographic of Taylor Swift's guests of choice, namely the "We're doing this for our kids" quadrant. (See also: the aforementioned Rock and LeBlanc.)

7) Lisa Kudrow (Los Angeles, August 26)

Many give Los Angeles grief for its smog and entertainment-obsessed industries, but the city's best revenge is its proximity to just about every major star. Ergo, and to be upfront: LA is disproportionately represented on this list. (Swift also played there for five nights in a row.)

After confusing everyone by bringing out LeBlanc, she made a more understandable Friends choice the next night with Lisa Kudrow, who appeared (barely) in character as the folk-singing Phoebe Buffay.

Swift was visibly thrilled. She told the stadium with a wink that this guest "has only ever played in coffeehouses" before they strummed acoustic guitars in tandem for a stadium sing-along of Buffay's biggest (and only) hit, "Smelly Cat." The only thing that could have made it more of a trip for Friends fans would be if they did a breakdown à la the recorded version of "Smelly Cat," which was decidedly more pop than its folksy predecessor.

6) Beck and St. Vincent (Los Angeles, August 25)

For as much pop star power as Swift wrung out from Los Angeles, she also brought out an act that confused much of her stadium audience. Beck joined Swift to perform his latest single "Dreams," with guitar goddess St. Vincent accompanying. Videos show much of the floor audience blinking in confusion at the runway instead of dancing along.

This is a shame, because Beck and St. Vincent's performance on the Staples Center stage is rock solid. Beck matched the stadium's energy by jumping up and down like an excitable teen at his first concert. St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) accompanied him on her angular new Eddie Ball signature guitar. Every so often, Swift noticed that St. Vincent was standing off on her own and went over to lean a friendly elbow on her shoulder. St. Vincent is a documented Swift fan, but she eventually had to shrug her off to strut down the runway and rip her guitar solo to shreds.

It was glorious.

5) Fetty Wap (Seattle, August 8)

Fetty Wap exploded on the radio this summer with his single "Trap Queen." While he just won the 2015 VMA for Best New Artist, he performed in Swift's stadium like he's been doing it for years. He was totally unconcerned with the crowd as he slid all over the enormous 1989 stage, which fit right in with the straightforward confidence of "Trap Queen."

When recounting the tour night with Fetty Wap on Instagram, Swift claimed that he left her "unable to find [her] chill." After watching videos of the performance, she was absolutely correct. She did her best to keep up, mouthing the words and striding down the runway in her thigh-high boots in her best impression of a model walk. For the most part, though, she just let Fetty do his thing.

4) Mary J. Blige (Los Angeles, August 23)

Blige joined Swift on the stage to sing "Family Affair" and her new power ballad "Doubt." All Swift could hope to do was let her soar. For all her best efforts to join in, Swift probably knew she couldn't match Blige's vocals, and so she largely kept her part to clapping and throwing her hands in the air (a Swift staple).

Taylor Swift The 1989 World Tour Live In Los Angeles - Night 2

Swift and Swift's raised arm and Blige on the 1989 world tour stage.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for TAS

Blige's energy was infectious. Her belting filled the enormous Staples Center as she sang the song's climactic affirmation:

Now you're looking at a leader

Now you're staring at a queen

You said I'll never be someone

But now I'm pulling all the strings.

Can't imagine why Swift likes this song so much. Still, nice moment.

3) The US women's national soccer team (East Rutherford, New Jersey, July 10)

Taylor Swift and the 2015 Women's World Cup champions. And Heidi Klum.

Taylor Swift's Twitter

The week after winning the World Cup, the US women's soccer team joined Swift for a victory lap. This is one of the most purely fun surprise appearances on the tour, as the team grinned from ear to ear and soaked up the warm reception from the audience of New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. They even managed to upstage supermodel of the world Heidi Klum as she worked the catwalk, which, despite Donald Trump's best efforts to denigrate Klum's current appeal, will always be a feat.

As for Swift? She got to hold the trophy.

2) Natalie Maines (Los Angeles, August 24)

As Swift ascends higher and higher into the glitzy world of pop stardom, it's always a little jarring — in the best way — when she reaches back to her country roots. Swift is so comfortable in the country world that her voice noticeably settles when she allows it to twang. So it's unsurprising her Natalie Maines introduction gushed with praise for the Dixie Chicks frontwoman, whom she cited as a vital influence on her early musical aspirations:

"If not for this woman and her band, I would not have known that you can be quirky, and fun, and yourself, and outspoken, and brave, and real...I wouldn't have dreamed the things that I dreamed, and I wouldn't be on this stage today."

The two women then broke out into the Dixie Chicks' revenge fantasy song "Goodbye Earl," which was also apparently Swift's "go-to talent show song."

This appearance therefore accomplishes two important things: 1) Maines gets to fill a stadium with her astonishing powerhouse of a voice, and 2) we get to imagine a tiny Swift strutting around a fold-out stage while trilling, "Well, it wasn't two weeks after she got married that / Wanda started gettin' abused / She put on dark glasses and long sleeved blouses / And make-up to cover her bruise..."

(Note: "Goodbye Earl" is a very strange choice to sing through a talent show grin.)

1) Alanis Morissette (Los Angeles, August 24)

Swift tends to take her time introducing her guests. She builds up the anticipation, starting from a conspiratorial whisper before revving up to a grand announcement in the bombastic style of a circus ringleader (which, well, she kind of is). To pump up the crowd for Morissette's impending arrival, Swift prowled the stage in a leather catsuit and intoned:

"She inspired a generation of confessional female singer/songwriters, who all of a sudden felt like you could actually say these raw feelings that you had. You could actually sing about your real life, you could put detail into it. You could get really really mad if you wanted to."

This is just a very good summation of Alanis Morissette's appeal. Also, Swift sells the hell out of it. There's no way she could care deeply about every single guest on her tour, but this moment echoes her adoration for Maines in its sincerity. Swift has built her career on confessional songwriting, so it's genuinely touching to see her paying tribute to a woman who both popularized and challenged the genre.

Then Morissette emerged from the floor, singing "You Oughta Know."

Of all the songs off her smash album Jagged Little Pill, "You Oughta Know" is perhaps the most explicitly angry. "You Oughta Know" tells the story of heartbreak through rage-induced tears, a feeling Swift came closest to capturing with "Blank Space." "Raw" is absolutely the right word.

Watching Swift and Morissette belt the song together is startling, then exhilarating. It's exactly what every surprise 1989 world tour appearance should be like — though it will be harder to thrill people when they come to expect something so great every time.

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