Over the last two years, the American pop singer Ariana Grande lost an ex to drugs and played a concert at the Manchester Arena during which 23 fans were killed by a suicide bomber. She doesn’t trade on trauma, far from it, but whenever she transcends the slick, professional pop-R&B that dominates much of her oeuvre she sings with real, earned emotion. Of course she does. She’s a human being.
Ariana Grande, Hydro, Glasgow ***
Rightly renowned for her extraordinary vocal range, Grande, mercifully, never over-sings like her heroes Mariah and Whitney. She’s far more controlled. Her voice resonates with a pure, yearning, undeniable sweetness. Image-wise, she’s the nice, bright, emotionally mature girl next door (if you happen to live next door to a gold-plated mansion) who shows occasional flashes of irreverent bite with songs such as Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored. A pop star for our times.
Here, on the latest leg of the Sweetener World Tour, she almost casually encompassed her appeal. It was an evening of heartache and triumph, ecstatically received by her adoring audience of young women and little girls. I found it quite touching, a genuine outpouring of reciprocal emotion on a massive scale.
However, the staging was fairly subdued for a star of Grande’s magnitude. Video effects transformed a translucent heart-shaped gangway into a whooshing star-scape, a lava lamp artery of globules a la Fantastic Voyage and, one assumes unintentionally, a waterlogged u-bend. At one point, an impressive 3-D Death Star hovered over the stage.
Meanwhile, Grande and her enthusiastic phalanx of male and female dancers scampered atop props such as an elongated picnic table and a dilapidated automobile.
Those all-important costume changes were facilitated by video interludes including cutely incomprehensible home movie footage of Grande as a child, a snippet of Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club (a film released when Grande was just three years old) and Grande’s amped-up version of Cole Porter/Marilyn Monroe’s unabashedly creepy My Heart Belongs to Daddy.
These trimmings, by design, never overshadowed the living, breathing star of the show. The power of her voice soared above it all.
Grande’s appeal is self-evident. Her fans love this unpretentious, talented performer for her emotional candour, her compassion and for bringing some light into a dark, rotten, divided world. Simply put, she makes people happy.