The two most powerful statements from Ariana Grande — at the first of her four “Sweetener” tour concerts in New York City — were made before the ponytailed popster even sang a note at Barclays Center on Friday night.
First, there were the seven rings, with gemstones representing the colors of the rainbow flag, that greeted you before you even got into the building. As you got off of the subway or Long Island Rail Road, one thing was clear: No matter how you identified yourself, you were welcome to let your gayest self break free on this night of Gay Pride Month. And for many, taking pics by those giant gems, also symbolizing Grande’s recent No. 1 hit “7 Rings,” already made the whole night from jump.
But then when you entered the arena, another thing was clear: There would be no fear of any repeat of the terrorist attack at Grande’s concert in Manchester, England two years ago that left 22 people dead because you were not allowed to bring in any bags unless they were clear. Concert security everywhere has been ratcheted up on high, but this was another level.
The policy — which has been adopted throughout Grande’s “Sweetener” tour, which will also also hit Barclays Center on Saturday night before shows at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Wednesday — was a sobering reminder that, in the times that we live in, this would be a safe place. So the only thing you would have to worry about was if your bunny ears — which Grande famously wore on the cover of her 2016 album “Dangerous Woman” — were on straight.
Once the music started — with Grande delivering an a cappella opening from offstage before launching into “God Is a Woman” – it was all about the voice that somehow comes out of this diminutive diva. Seriously, what the hell is in that ponytail that can make her blow like this?
Even when, on “Be Alright,” her voguing was not up to the standards of her idol Madonna, it ultimately didn’t matter: The crowd came more for the vocals than the choreography that Grande did in her thigh-high boots.
That was clear when, under a makeshift moon, Grande descended into the pit in front of the main stage to sing the “Sweetener” album closer “Get Well Soon,” as cell phones lit up throughout the arena bathed the singer in even more light.
Another highlight came when Grande performed the title track of “Dangerous Woman,” belting full-throated high notes seemingly at will as the audience sang along. Whether you were a chaperoned young girl or a crop-topped gay man, everybody was a dangerous woman at that moment.
One notable omission was “The Way,” Grande’s 2013 breakout hit with her ex Mac Miller, who died last year from an accidental overdose. But while she may have avoided what would have surely been an emotional moment there, she confronted the Manchester Arena bombing with her 2018 hit “No More Tears Left to Cry.”
With umbrella-wielding dancers making it her own version of “Singin’ in the Rain” — a reference that was no doubt lost on the majority of the audience — Grande bravely sang past her own tears.
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