powered. Strong. Grounded. Ladylike. Irreverent. Playful. Willful. Ferocious. Sensual. Soft. Human. Female. Ariana Grande‘s current Dangerous Woman Tour is framed around attributes which speak to female anguish, objectification, rape culture and the tireless struggle against the patriarchy, a system put in place as a way of controlling equally strong, independently-minded women. Sexy but not scandalous, commanding but not overwrought, Grande stormed Madison Square Garden on Thursday evening (Feb. 23) with her microphone firmly gripped in her hand and a message of love profoundly etched onto her heart. “You’re beautiful and your differences are beautiful,” she spoke pointedly before plopping down center stage for the timely “Thinking Bout You,” as rainbow-fused images of same-sex and straight couples embracing splashed the sheer white curtain behind her.
When she wasn’t displaying her support for LGBT youth, Grande upheld the resolve of the fierce womanly spirit through painstaking commitment to the music. Her titanic voice was as precise as the dozens of green, blue and red lasers which shot across the arena, adornments to heighten the rave-like atmosphere she created onstage. Such vibe-y songs as “Knew Better” (featuring rising pillars and Grande’s turn at percussion with oversized, glowing drumsticks) and “Problem” (which included an Iggy Azalea-absent arrangement fit for the underground club circuit) were monstrous inventions, utilizing top notch theatrics to send thrills and chills onto the crowd. But she did not rely on such tricks as a crutch; they were simply extensions of the inspiring story she threaded together.
She locked and loaded most of her latest studio record, 2016’s provocative statement piece Dangerous Woman. One of the year’s most underrated releases is as much a conversation on feminism as it is about a 20-something navigating a tumultuous world in which her every move is dissected underneath a microscope. “Bad Decisions,” “Into You,” “Side to Side” (with a video appearance from Nicki Minaj) and “Greedy” discuss her sexual appetite and her predilection for bad boys–“ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” she proposes. She owns her right as a human being to explore, recalculate and even flaunt her sexuality without fear of degradation. Following a recent fan encounter–“Ariana is sexy as hell, man, I see you hitting that!” a fan, reportedly, told Grande’s boyfriend Mac Miller right in front of her–Grande wrote an impassioned letter on Twitter. “I am not a piece of meat that a man gets to utilize for his pleasure. I’m an adult human being in a relationship with a man who treats me with love and respect,” she said. “It hurts my heart that so many young people are so comfortable enough using these phrases and objectifying women with such ease.”
The singer’s statements were underscored by her confidence and ferocity in the spotlight. During the 90-minute set, she worked the main stage and catwalk with pinpoint execution. Make no mistake, while her poignant declarations bubbled up into her music, the night was about celebrating her youth and calling for everyone in the crowd (regardless of political affiliations, sexual preferences and genders) to unite. From the surprising selection of “Be Alright” as her show opener, it was evident the tone would be one of feverish midnight escapes, electric club bangers and alarming intensity. Her flamboyance spilled over into crowd pleasers like “One Last Time,” “Break Free” and “Bang Bang,” a collection of her most well-known chart hits. The well-planned setlist gave casual fans enough sing-alongs to feel the high but treated diehards with deeper Dangerous cuts–“I Don’t Care,” “Leave Me Lonely” and “Sometimes” were among her finest triumphs.
Her prowess was best utilized, however, for the intimate moments, including the magical “Moonlight.” Knelt down at the end of the catwalk, she held the Garden in the palm of her hand. “He’s giving me Elvis with some James Dean in his eyes,” she coos. And later, “I never knew you could hold moonlight in your hands ’til the night I held you.”
Later in her set, Grande brought out her primary opener, a saucy newcomer named Victoria Monet for the on-the-nose “Better Days.” Seated center stage, Monet began the song with eerily familiar observations. “Baby, there’s a war right outside our window. Don’t you hear the people fighting for their lives? Baby, there’s a war right outside our window, but it’s gon’ be alright ‘long as I got you with me.” Grand then joins in on the hook, “Hoping for better days, better days, need some better days.” At a time in history, when the lives of marginalized individuals are coming under fire (again), Grande’s message was clear.
When she returned for her encore, Grande had made a considerable costume change, donning a Maleficent-worthy gown which took on a powerful new meaning. She shed her princess-like exterior for the fortitude and brilliance drawn from Disney lore. Princesses are often manifestations of damsel-in-distress syndrome, in which a woman needs a man to escape, and sinister villains take on a more dominant role. The mood shifted, too, and she quickly launched into “Dangerous Woman,” the centerpiece to her new aesthetic. “Don’t need permission, made my decision to test my limits…cause it’s my business, God as my witness,” she clutches the reigns tighter, ripping them away and re-writing the rules. Reds and oranges began to permeate the stage and it was as if she was scorching the earth on an uproarious and deadly mission. Pyrotechnics and flames lapped up from the stage and licked the arena ceiling. She made her way back down the catwalk for the rousing crescendo, and it was then Grande was truly an empowered, strong, grounded, ladylike, irreverent, playful, willful, ferocious, sensual, soft and human female.
Monet’s set touched upon such influences as Shakira, Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys and proved to be an appropriate primer for the evening. Her sauciness and exuberance showed in every flick of her hair or hips, embodying whatever she happened to be singing. “Do You Like It,” “High Luv,” “More of You” and “Made in China” were slinky and culminated in an impressive lineup. In most hands, making a statement in only 20 minutes can be a daunting task, but Monet more than cemented herself as entertaining and worth remembering.
U.K. pop group Little Mix–who are currently enjoying a rather deserved hit with their new single “Shout Out to My Ex”–hit the stage with such force, the crowd was first taken aback. Armed with propulsive club anthems like “Wings,” “Salute,” “Hair,” “Move,” “Touch,” “Shout Out to My Ex” and “Black Magic,” the group were mighty and made good on their promise to perform a razzle-dazzle show packed with unrelenting fury and energy. But their shining moment came with “Secret Love Song,” which has become a bit of an LGBT manifesto. Stepping out from behind the boisterous and sometimes heavy-handed production, they delivered the performance of their lives. Trading off various lines, Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, and Jesy Nelson twinkled underneath the glow of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cell phones. The performance is significant for many reasons, and if you had any doubts about their talent, those were forever shattered.
Victoria Monet setlist
“Made in China”
“More of You”
“Bad and Boujuee” dance break
“Do You Like It”
Little Mix setlist
“Secret Love Song”
“Shout Out to My Ex”
Ariana Grande setlist
“Let Me Love You”
“One Last Time”
“Leave Me Lonely”
“Side to Side”
“I Don’t Care”
“Love Me Harder”
“Thinking Bout You”