By all accounts, pop singer Ariana Grande started her show at the Allstate Arena Tuesday night with a “Bang Bang.” After a prerecorded video message wished her fans “the best night of their lives,” dancers began shooting out from the underbelly of the stage like human comets while shockwaves of fireworks shook the walls of the venue. Behind the singer there were Oscar-worthy video projections and personnel dusted with enough sequins to litter a red carpet; in front, a thrust stage begged for the singer to step out into the spotlight waiting for her.
Yet by the final song, the pressure of the megawatt production posed a big “Problem” for the young star who did not seem ready for it.
The Honeymoon Tour has been plagued with issues since it kicked off in Missouri on February 25, ranging from less than stellar reviews to a production mishap on opening night that Grande alleged “almost killed” her. It’s the 21-year-old’s first major headlining tour after opening for Justin Bieber and assembling a brief listening room series in 2013.
In those two years the singer/actress has moved at lightning speed, releasing two albums, “Yours Truly” and “My Everything,” and disenfranchising herself from the Nickelodeon brand that first made her famous. She’s dating rapper Big Sean, working with big name producers (The Weeknd, Zedd) and female contemporaries (Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj) and has become the face of the commercial music award season fueled by frequent comparisons to Mariah Carey.
But Grande is not Mariah. Or Whitney. Or Britney. Or Katy. Not yet, anyway. Her stiff stage presence and unrehearsed dance moves still need attention as does her synergy with overlay tracks. Though there is no question Grande possesses the same incredible vocal power, which was flexed on polished ballads like “Tattooed Heart,” “My Everything” and “Little Bit Of Your Heart.” In stripped-back moments like these, standing solo in the middle of the stage or sitting atop a grand piano, Grande outvalued the show’s top dollar flair such as the needless moving cloud and chandelier she rode in on for “Best Mistake” and “Be My Baby,” respectively.
If Grande could have been trusted to stand on her own more in the 90-minute set, we might have had a different show. Instead she was nearly swallowed by a congested stage trafficked by 10 dancers and 8 musicians and eclipsed by larger-than-life video cameos from Big Sean and singer Imogen Heap. The latter used the time for a very strange advertorial hawking her beat-making Mi.Mu Gloves, which fan Grande demonstrated on a performance of “Why Try.”
It was one of the few modern contexts in a show that often felt older than Grande herself helped by a slew of ‘90s reference material (B Boys, flannel, Diddy and Biggie samples) that intersected with 1920s Gatsby visuals on songs like the “oldie” hit “Pink Champagne” and the Lana Del Rey-esque “Hollywood Avenue.”
Not that the young fans in the near-capacity audience ever minded or even noticed any of the missteps. A sea of them floated with illuminated versions of Grande’s trademark rabbit ear headbands and threw out futile waves and uproarious applause that led the singer to deem the show “the loudest so far” of the tour.
Grande certainly proved to serve her own niche, and while sheer volume alone could have justified her arena tour — in today’s increasingly complicated pop paradigm the question remains: Is that enough to warrant the same stage?
Hands On Me
Break Your Heart Right Back
Be My Baby
One Last Time
Little Bit Of Your Heart
Love Me Harder
All My Love
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.