Ariana Grande’s Vocals Are Knockouts, But Personality and Sound Quality Are Lacking

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Ariana Grande
American Airlines Center, Dallas
Sunday, April 9, 2017

In terms of pop stars who have graced the stage at American Airlines Center, if Adele is the chatty next door neighbor who popped in for tea and biscuits and a couple of laughs, Ariana is the boardroom executive – all business and mature beyond her 23 years.

Her performance on Sunday night at AAC to promote Dangerous Woman was much like a business transaction: She got in, delivered the goods and got out. Despite having more than 20 songs in her set list, Grande made efficient use of time, packing everything into under an hour and a half.

She favored quick transitions between songs (except during the four costume changes), and she kept the banter with the crowd almost non-existent, only shouting sweet nothings such as “I love you, Dallas!” at the top of some songs. Tell us why you love us, Ariana, otherwise it sounds a bit like a line – you probably say that to all the cities.

It would be hard-pressed to call Grande personable on Sunday night, but if her show at AAC proved anything, it’s that she doesn’t need a great personality to fill up an arena. She has the vocal abilities, catchy pop anthems, and the looks that have shot her into superstardom, and apparently that’s all people needed. Surprisingly, Grande is a great unifier – the crowd varied in ages from infant to retiree, included various races and demographics, and everybody seemed to be into it.

Despite the maturity that belies her years, the concert itself was a bit of a juvenile extravaganza. Show producers pulled everything out of their bags, and bags, and bags of tricks, including: confetti guns, a balloon drop, pyrotechnics, fog, steam cannons, lasers, portable LED bars and hydraulic lifted platforms. Hopefully they’ll learn you don’t have to work that hard to be popular. Just put on a good show with a couple of fun surprises and people will like you.

Ariana Grande was at her most vibrant when she was interacting with her backup dancers.
Ariana Grande was at her most vibrant when she was interacting with her backup dancers.
Mike Brooks

While they focused on a cornucopia of visual stimuli, someone forgot that a concert is supposed to sound good too. At the risk of coming off as old and crotchety, the arena was ear-blisteringly loud – too loud even with ear plugs in. It was the kind of loud that vibrates your skull and makes your hair stand on end. It’s that kind of loud that should come with a disclaimer for those with heart conditions and pacemakers because the bass was intense enough to knock your ticker out of rhythm.

And aside from potential health ramifications – hearing loss notwithstanding – it just plain didn’t sound good. The overtaxed the sound system left the arena sounding like the shitty blown-out speakers in your first car when you tried to turn up too many times.

The elaborate set design worked in Grande’s favor during perhaps the best number of the night, “Side to Side,” her collaboration with Nicki Minaj that chronicles the trials and tribulations of riding dick so hard that she can’t walk straight.

The stage mirrored the video design with Grande and backup dancers on a fleet of stationary bikes at the top of one of the raised platforms. The army of other backup dancers enacted typical gym rituals until Grande descended from the platform to prance around them in her “gym attire” – stiletto thigh-high boots, a mini skirt and crop top.

The song was an exercise in her amazing vocal capacity. She was able to sing the song powerfully and steadily, despite the commotion of riding the stationary bike. For those who don’t realize how hard this is to pull off, try singing on your next jog.

One of the funniest moments of the show came when one of Grande's dancers accidentally whipped her in the face with the drawstring from her jacket.
One of the funniest moments of the show came when one of Grande's dancers accidentally whipped her in the face with the drawstring from her jacket.
Mike Brooks

As removed as Grande was from her audience, she was fun and flirtatious with the backup dancers, popping them with towels and all the other scripted bits of the performance. It was endearing when one of them accidentally bopped her in the face with a drawstring from her own jacket and they laughed so hard she couldn’t keep singing. It was a refreshing crack in the façade of the “performer Ariana.”

The dancers were good at their jobs, serving to add some bits of rhythm to a performer who is strong on vocals, but not particularly on the dancing. Keeping the moves to a minimum is probably a safe choice. With her predilection for stilettos at least 5 inches high – a consistent theme in various iterations – who could dance effectively, let alone walk? She did try, moving in sync with the dancers even if they weren’t the most athletic moves, and we appreciated the effort.

Whether to give her feet a break, or for dramatic effect, young Grande favored sitting on the stage for several of the more ballad-y songs, such as “Moonlight,” which filled the stage with fog, or “Sometimes," one of the rare moments when she interacted with the crowd – letting people in the audience grab her hands, and looking very uncomfortable doing it.

If there’s one thing Grande is good at – it’s, well, mostly everything. She may not win Ms. Personality, but there’s no denying she sparkles even without the glittery eyeshadow. It helps that she’s gorgeous. It helps that she’s a bit of a diva. It also helps that her vocals can knock you out cold.

She put on a consistently strong and enjoyable show despite the missteps in production, which she can’t be totally blamed for. Here’s hoping that as she matures, her team works out the kinks and elevates her show to where it could be – raised platforms included or not.

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