Ariana Grande American Airlines Center, Dallas Wednesday, April 1, 2015
I'm not exactly the target demographic for an Ariana Grande show. I'm a 23-year-old male who's been listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett and Chilly Gonzales lately. Out-of-touch record executives can't plan marketing campaigns around a guy like me. Ariana Grande isn't for me. But when I saw her play at American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, she made a fan of me anyway.
Before Grande hit the stage, a back stage video hit the big screen in the stadium. Some man asked her how the tour should be, and she remarked that it's simple: "Good music, good choreography and a great time." Grande wanted her fans to have the best night of their lives. Since the median age was around 13 to 15 -- in fact, when I arrived I saw a pink stretch limo pull up out front that was almost definitely part of some Highland Park girl's Super Sweet 16 -- it's safe to say that this could very well have been the best night of many attendees' lives.
Grande opened up with her Jessie J and Nicki Minaj collaboration, "Bang Bang." Throughout the night, guest rap verses from Grande's beau, Big Sean, Mac Miller and Childish Gambino all appeared, pre-taped, on the big screen. Sadly, we didn't get that on our first song; no pre-taped Nicki, which is a shame.
The first two songs of the night had a bouncy, grating, but if-I-hear-this-song-three-times-in-a-24-hour-span-I-might-begrudgingly-like-it effect that comes with pop music. And, once "Hands on Me" appeared as the second tune, it would quickly become the recurring theme of the night.
Grande had a production that was both minimalist and extravagant. There wasn't much going on save for some dancers and what was a mostly bare stage. The wildest shit happened when Grande was changing her outfit and they had to find a way to entertain thousands of people for 90 seconds. At times, she came flying on massive objects like the massive cloud she buoyed on during her third number, "Best Mistake."
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At one particular point, the DJ headed to the middle of the stage and started talking. The crew began putting tables on the stage and before you knew it flappers were running around and the DJ was tap dancing. The DJ made a joke about "putting some bounce in it, since we're in Dallas," but the joke didn't go over well. Know your audience, Mr. Tap Dancing DJ. Can't make references to things from when your audience was yay high.
Then we got Grande floating on what we'll refer to as a big-ass chandelier, singing "Right There," a song that features her goofy boyfriend, Big Sean, and a Jeff Lorber Fusion sample that you'll recognize as being used in the Lil' Kim classic "Crush on You." The song was one of the evening's standouts, striking a happy middle ground between full-on ballad and the bouncy bubblegum stuff. This was the greatest sequence of the evening, even if the set looked exactly like the latest big screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby. This was Baz Luhrmann copyright infringement I can stand behind.
The most fascinating part of the show was ushered in by Imogen Heap. Grande was changing and Heap appeared on the screen beat boxing. It's hilarious that as she was beat boxing and her face wasn't clearly visible, the screams were so-so. After she introduced herself, however, there was perhaps the quitest moment of the entire night. The screaming, otherwise nonstop, came to a standstill; no one knows who Imogen Heap was. She explained a new technology called Mi.Mu gloves that allows a singer to manipulate her voice easily with a glove. It's a cross between a vocoder, autotune and pure witch craft.
But for all that, Grande was absolutely at her best when she stopped bouncing around and just sang, because hell, she has an amazing voice. It's wonderful that this generation (Millennials? Post-millennials? Part cyborgs because phone never leaves hand?) has someone who can occupy the space that Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey once did. Grande is a pint-sized vocal dynamo, and when she really lets her pipes do the work is when she' truly sets herself apart. Through all the technological distractions and teenaged code that we old folks can't help to understand, Grande's appeal to her fans remains surprisingly and refreshingly simple.
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And there were plenty of distractions at the show. There was all of the screaming, all of it, which I will hear ringing in my head for days to come. Teens called Grande MOMMMMM!!!! (teens call people they like mom these days) incessantly. We were told at one point that we had the opportunity to purchase a "special" glow-in-the-dark version of Grande's signature style item, cat ears, that cost $40 (chump change, perhaps, if you're arriving in a pink stretch Hummer limo, but whatever).
Amid all of this bullshit, seeing Grande proved well worth it. Her voice is truly remarkable and you're heartless if it doesn't make you smile that she gave her fans the best night of their lives. Well, that is until they French kiss for the very first time.
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