Singer Ariana Grande performs at the United Center, March 14, 2017.
When it comes to contemporary pop stars, Ariana Grande is near the top of the heap in terms of vocal chops. Yes, she may be petite, but this pop star has one mammoth-sized, shiver-inducing voice. She’s smartly deployed it at every turn of her ever-growing, chart-dominating career — there it is, all floating falsetto and magnificent melisma, on one chart-busting, genre-spanning hit after another. The question then for Grande heading into her Tuesday night concert at United Center, the latest stop on the 23-year-old’s "Dangerous Woman" world tour behind last year’s album of the same name, was whether that trusty instrument of hers was enough to bear the load of a full-scale arena show?
Results were mixed. Aside from a massive projection screen that lived behind the stage and stretched the width of the arena, the production seemed a bit cheap for a show of this scale. It was nothing if not ironic seeing dollar-store confetti fall from the ceiling during a song entitled "Greedy." And watching Grande stomp around in her massive stilettos, struggling to keep time with her cadre of backing male dancers, occasionally felt clunky and ill conceived.
But it doesn’t matter for this gifted singer: all Grande needs do to save any such awkward moment is dial back the bass and belt out some of her magnificent vocal runs. Such was the case on the mid-’90s Janet Jackson-feeling, bouncy "Know Better II." Or similarly on the saccharine "One Last Time," off 2014’s "My Everything," presented with Grande wearing a white jumpsuit and standing on an extended catwalk, the stadium before her bathed in violet hues. Even better? The singer stepping to the mic moments later to perform the show-stopping James Bond-style torch ballad "Leave Me Lonely." Take note: if Grande ever chooses to go the Lady Gaga route and get her jazzy lounge lizard on, expect killer results.
What surprised most about Grande’s concert was her decision to largely play it cool onstage. For a millennial pop star like her — who starred on a Nickelodeon show, toured with Justin Bieber (with whom she shares management), has been in high-profile relationships and regularly shares goofy, down-to-earth moments with her nearly 100 million followers on Instagram — in concert she eschewed the rah-rah motivational-type speeches of her peers like Taylor Swift and instead stuck to singing. This choice, while perhaps disappointing to the parents in attendance with their young children, will only serve to help Grande shed any remaining semblance of teenybopper runoff she had at the outset of her music career. (It must be noted, however: during one instrumental interlude, a video aimed at female empowerment displayed a series of adjectives, including "gentle," "sexy," and "sensual," followed by the phrase "NOT ASKING FOR IT.")
There were several outfit changes, dancers jumping into open pits and Grande’s four-piece band getting funky as the singer ran through the entirety of her latest album. But any good pop star knows most fans come for the hits, and Grande didn’t disappoint. She brought out a replica gym complete with stationary bikes, for her single "Side To Side". "Into You" throbbed and pulsated with dance-club drama, and on "Dangerous Woman," which she performed as her encore, Grande emerged from beneath the stage in a patent leather coat and gown, the stadium erupting in cheers as she closed with one of her most popular songs. Grande doesn’t have all the right moves in concert, but she’s a pop star who knows which ones serve her best.
Dan Hyman is a freelance critic.
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