Some artists simply evolve into a more mature version of themselves,1 just look at how gracefully Taylor Swift has transformed from young country girl to ruler of the new world. Others struggle visibly more. For every Swift, there’s a Justin Bieber or Britney Spears cautionary tale. Ariana Grande is the latest star to grow up in front of many iPhone cameras and Instagram posts. Thusfar, she has handled everything like a pro,2 mainly by always answering questions with politically correct opinions.
Earlier this month, Grande posted an open letter to her Facebook page,3 in which she comments on double standards and the male gaze in popular culture. It’s an interesting read and while some critics where quick to dismiss the letter as hypocritical attention seeking,4 she was largely applauded for taking a stance. And while I personally have a hard time believing Grande, I am really looking forward for her to prove me wrong. Writing this letter was the first step, let’s see what she does with these feelings in her upcoming songs. Will she be a young, feminist Beyoncé? Will she become the heir to Mariah Carey’s throne, which she’s been appointed numerous times already, and make classical love songs?
I caught Ariana Grande’s last show of the European leg of The Honeymoon Tour. The venue, Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, turns out to be a little bit too big for the singer. The floor is only half-full and the upper ring is closed. When most of your fans can’t drive a car to your show, it’s probably a good idea to make it a seated event.5 When Paula Roja warms up the crowd, whose best known song seems to be a Spanish version of Anna Kendrick’s Cups (When I’m Gone), the teens show they don’t need a sold-out stadium to create a good vibe.
At 9PM, Ariana Grande takes the stage. She comes out with Bang Bang, complete with fireworks and Nicki Minaj on screen and I’m glad I brought my earplugs. The youthful enthusiasm of the crowd is almost overwhelming, but it seems to actually affect Ariana. In three-or-four-song blocks, she works through most of the songs in her catalog. Two albums deep, the singer already has enough hits and fan-favorite tracks to build a good show around. And that’s exactly what she does. Her husky voice is as soothing as it is on record and her dancers and band, including two violinists and a cellist, are world class. Within thirty minutes, Ariana Grande has already floated through the venue on a pink cloud, came down on a chandelier and made the inside of Palau Sant Jordi look like Washington DC on the fourth of July.
All this isn’t to say that the show is flawless. Between the songs, Grande never really connects with her audience and sticks to the usual thank-yous and I-love-yous. When Ariana sings, it’s beautiful, but she’s sometimes overpowered by the backing tape. There are no background singers, which is something you rarely see with shows this big. And the great collaboration with The Weeknd, Love Me Harder, turns out to be a mess because of it. Where most featuring artists get some time on screen, The Weeknd’s verse is skipped and the track loses its balance. When Grande tries to sing on top of the tape, it becomes the low point of the night. Fortunately, Ariana recovers with the Major Lazer assisted All My Love6 and Honeymoon Avenue, a song so sweet it makes your dentist rich.
After Break Free, a song created with a stadium in mind, Ariana Grande returns to the stage for the inevitable Problem. It’s the end of a show that’s defined by Grande’s professionalism. The Honeymoon Tour is well-balanced, the voice of the little star is more than convincing and every fan in the building, including their parents, will have a great memory of their first concert. But more than anything, this show is making me even more curious where Ariana will go next. Right now, she’s an excellent pop star and a perfect role model for her young fans, but her recently discovered feminism has yet to be seen in her music and her live shows. I’ll be watching.
- Whatever that means. ↩
- There are some reports on her diva behavior, but those are mostly rumors and can be found on every single artist. ↩
- And Twitter. And Instagram. ↩
- There is definitely something to say for this point of view. The suggestive lyrics found on Ariana’s latest album and her sexy videos can be seen as an argument against feminism, but I won’t go into that now. ↩
- Even Taylor Swift’s 1989 supporting tour is almost completely seated, and her fans are a little older than Ariana’s. ↩
- From the Lorde-curated soundtrack of the latest Hunger Games movie. ↩