Ariana Grande’s Show Is A Monument To Fandom Everywhere
Healing is easier when done in numbers.
It’s 7:45pm at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, and a young girl is quietly sobbing at the box office.
Ariana Grande is due to start her highly-anticipated arena show in 45 minutes, and the girl has just found out that her $200 ticket — purchased through a third party website — isn’t valid. The staff member working the ticket window is sympathetic, but ultimately firm: the girl cannot be allowed in.
The girl – who couldn’t be more than 12 or 13 years old — isn’t making a scene, or arguing. Instead, it looks as if she can’t quite believe what’s going on. All she can do is clutch her bunny-ears headband in her hands and sob.
An older woman at the ticket window next to her becomes aware of the situation, and kneels down to comfort the girl. Suddenly she stands up, and turns to the staff member at the girl’s window.
“How much is it for a ticket for this young lady to get in?” She asks, already reaching into her bag for her wallet.
“$140,” the attendant replies.
“Done,” the woman answers, and hands over her card to pay for a new ticket.
When the girl politely protests that she can’t let a stranger pay such an amount of money for her, the woman waves her away.
“Don’t be silly love, you’ve travelled a long way to be here — you simply have to see Ariana.”
For the second time in as many minutes, the girl looks as if she can’t quite believe what’s happening. She grasps her new ticket, gives the woman a bone-cracking hug, and hurries excitedly off into the arena.
The Legacy Of Manchester
You might not hear people talking explicitly about Manchester tonight, but the memory of the tragic May bomb blast that killed 22 people is everywhere. There is airport level security around the ICC, with full body-scanners at every entrance and a strict ‘No Bags’ policy in place (even small handbags must be checked at the cloak room). Groups of police officers cluster in every corner.
“Tonight is a celebration: of Ariana, of her music, of the strength of their fandom.”
You’d think that the heightened security would put fans on edge, but in reality it’s the opposite. Tonight is a celebration: of Ariana, of her music, of the strength of their fandom.
A week after the fatal bomb blast, Grande posted a letter to her fans on Facebook, writing: “We will not quit or operate in fear. I don’t want to go the rest of the year without being able to see and hold up uplift my fans, the same way they continue to uplift me.”
And so Grande is here — with tens of thousands of adoring fans waiting to lift her up, and be lifted.
Side To Side
As you’d expect from an artist at this level, Grande’s performance is nothing less than watertight.
Her setlist balances old fan favourites like ‘Problem’ and ‘Love Me Harder’ with recent hits like ‘Side To Side’, numerous album cuts from Dangerous Woman, and notable guest features like ‘Bang Bang’.
While her banter is limited to the obligatory “Make some noise Sydney!” and “How y’all feeling,” the show is littered with personal and political touches. The visual backdrop of ‘Thinking About You’ features animations of same-sex couples embracing, capped by a glorious pyrotechnic rainbow spilling from above. Earlier, during an extended costume-change interlude before ‘Side To Side’, words like ‘raw’, ‘ladylike’, ‘ferocious’, ‘gentle’, ‘feminist’, and ‘Not Asking For It’ flash repeatedly on the screen.
There’s no getting around the fact this show was lacking in the kind of outrageous spectacle expected of a pop event of this size, but Grande’s vocal prowess more than made up for the absence of pyrotechnic explosions or confetti blasts. Grande boasts a four-octave vocal range — that’s Mariah Carey-level insanity — and she made liberal use of it throughout the night, most impressively on tracks like ‘Leave It Lonely’ and ‘Let Me Love You.’
The most emotionally striking moment came towards the end, when Grande broke down and choked out tears during her simple rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, which she first performed at the Manchester One Love show in May.
Ariana Grande And Healing Together
Great pop music distills the universal into the intimate, and a pop show is the ultimate realisation of this intention. You might be crammed in a crowd of tens of thousands of people, but every word should feel like it was intended for you and you alone.
Great pop performers know this. You don’t walk away from an Adele, or Lady Gaga, or Taylor Swift concert feeling excluded from the experience — you walk away feeling like you matter.
Grande and her fans found themselves at the centre of a horrifying tragedy earlier this year. It would have been entirely reasonable for Ariana to cancel her tour and heal in private. But she didn’t, because she recognised that her fandom needed her now more than ever. Healing is easier when done in numbers.
The lack of personal banter and grand spectacle didn’t matter in the end — simply being there was the greatest statement Grande could have made.
Jules LeFevre is Staff Writer for Music Junkee and inthemix, and is an Ariana Grande stan. She is on Twitter.