At Rogers Arena on Thursday, April 16
If you’re an out-of-touch 35-year-old male, attending an Ariana Grande concert is great way to be confronted with your own mortality and irrelevance. Quite frankly, up until a few days ago I had no fucking clue who she was apart from what I’d gleaned from tabloid headlines. But apparently, while I was taking a nap, she conquered pop music this past summer and can pretty much sell out Rogers Arena now.
If you’re equally clueless, Grande initially gained fame for playing Cat Valentine, a lovable, vermilion-haired ditz on Nickelodeon’s Victorious—think a musical Saved by the Bell with a far more jarring laugh track. (Yeah, I watched a few episodes. What of it?) This is a vital detail because the elementary-school- to high-school-age girls in attendance were all wearing cat ears as a nod to this character.
If you didn’t bring your own cat ears, the kind people at the merch stands were selling them in two varieties: black lace ($20) and light-up ($40). Other hot sellers, which made parents uncomfortable, were shirts with Love Me Harder emblazoned across them ($40) and booty shorts with I Got One Less Problem Without You on the posterior ($30). The mob scene for these keepsakes put iPhone launches to shame.
At 9 p.m. on the button, Ari took the stage for the Honeymoon Tour, this much to the delight of the faithful, nicknamed the Arianators. (Meh. Too bad Arian Nation was already in use.) Pairing a sparkly black skirt and top with her trademark thigh-high boots and a set of cat ears, which, astonishingly, were not available at the merch table, she opened with “Bang Bang”, a collab track with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj.
The show immediately started ticking all the good pop-concert boxes. An eight-piece band who didn’t do much or warrant an introduction. A dozen backup dancers bouncing out of trap doors. Costume changes galore. A massive LED wall complemented by smoke machines, lasers, and pyrotechnics. And, most importantly, Grande had already flown around the stage twice by the sixth song—once on a cloud and once on a chandelier.
But here’s the problem: virtually every other song the 21-year-old hitmaker has done features guest vocals. So you’re spending a lot of her set listening to the canned voices of Minaj and the Weeknd or watching videos of her boyfriend Big Sean (twice), Childish Gambino, and Mac Miller rapping. While this is happening, Grande just sort of shakes her hips while waiting to unleash maddeningly inoffensive lyrics ranging from "Here is what you need to do to get with me" to "We are broken up now and I sorta regret it." Again, this all played well to those in attendance, and what the fuck do I know anyways?
We got all the megahits like “The Way”, “One Last Time”, and “Break Free”, and the show went as scripted. Except for one moment following a video tribute to her recently deceased grandfather. During “My Everything”, the title track off her sophomore LP, Grande actually choked up, missed a verse, and had a tough time composing herself. Did an errant piece of the confetti-snow that was falling from the rafters during this emotional number get in her lungs? Or was it possible she wasn’t grown in a vat of synthetic amniotic fluid by Nickelodeon’s marketing department?
Shockingly, it was the former. Up until that point, audience interaction was strictly of the “What’s up Vancouver?” and “C’mon, make some noise!” variety. But then she piped up and humbly thanked the crowd for supporting her music and sending funny tweets that make her laugh. “This is such a surreal experience. I’ve felt like crying all day. I never thought I’d be here,“ confessed one of 50 most beautiful people in the world, according to People magazine.
The precisely 90-minute set ended with her biggest hit “Problem”, which had video-screen guest vocals by Iggy Azalea. A huge bottleneck ensued on the way out, as the satiated jostled to purchase what shirts remained. When asked what he thought of the whole scene, one parent replied, “Well, it’s over. Ask the kids.”
You didn’t need to. Even geriatric Ariana Grande neophytes such as myself recognized that the selfie-stick-wielding hordes all looked like that hearts-for-eyes emoji at the end of the night. They are the future. Consider yourself warned.