The mawkish Hollywood version of Ariana Grande’s new tour would have included a section in which the 26-year-old bared her soul about the pain she had gone through following the 2017 bombing of her concert in Manchester. But Grande wasn’t minded to follow anyone’s script but her own in a searing performance which let her songs do the talking.
It was an effervescent and often moving turn by an artist with a meaningful claim to the title of world’s most interesting pop star. She danced and there was the occasional costume change. And yet the high concept frippery increasingly a feature of big arenas shows was largely absent. Grande’s most impressive special effect was her remarkable voice. She segued from Beyonce-style melismas to chewy rap bars, never less than entirely assured but careful, too, not to lean to far into the melodrama often the downfall of forbears such as Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera.
Former Nickelodeon star Grande has been famous since her teens and the large numbers of parents and kids (and the occasional grandparent) in the crowd attest to the breadth of her following. Perhaps out of respect for her audience, the dancing was never especially risqué while her lyrics avoided in-your-face sultriness. Grande is a complicated pop star for all the family.
She nonetheless swung knockout after knockout on the first of three nights on the Dublin quays. It started with the luminescent God Is A Woman and Grande and her background hoofers arranged at what looked like a recreation of the Last Supper. Later there came a change into a sparkly red dress for a number belted out on a mini-stage in the middle of the crowd. A giant globe meanwhile descended from the ceiling and gleamed with stars as she belted out NASA and Only 1. A mock-up of a burnt-out car with Dublin etched on the side was another prop in a performance that didn’t really require embellishment.
Security had been stepped up for the concert. Only see-through bags were permitted and metal detector searches were conducted at the entrances. There was also a rigorously enforced prohibition on flash photography so that 3Arena staff in the seated areas seemed to spend much of the evening running back and forth weeding out those flouting the rule.
Grande didn’t sing Ghostin’, her almost too raw paean to her ex, rapper Mac Miller, who died of a drug overdose last year. The big lump in throat moment instead came with NoTears Left To Cry, 2018 single wherein Grande channeled her grief over Manchester and tragedy in her private life. It and the extended version of Thank U, Next that followed communicated more pain and empathy than all the dewy-eyed speechifying in the world. They were crowning achievements at the end of a remarkable show by a pop artist proving herself the very opposite of plastic and disposable.