a review by the Raven.
Sweetener World Tour
Hello readers! I’m currently in London, on an unexpected little holiday – so you can imagine how excited (and high pitched) I was when I realised one of my favourite singers was going to be in town at the same time. Ariana ‘yuh’ Grande. Damn right! The instant I realised there were still some seats up for grabs, I scrambled onto the booking website and bought (very expensive) tickets in under 5 minutes. Needless to say I was pretty ecstatic about my travel dates coinciding with the last few shows of the Europe leg of the ’Sweetener Tour’. She’s been on the road with her crew since March this year and will be until December the 22nd. Now thats a long, sweet tour alright.
Ariana has had an amazing, yet rocky, few years so far. 2019 is particularly special for her because it marks her first Grammy win for Best Pop Vocal Album (for Sweetener). She was also nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance this year (for God is a Woman) but lost to Lady Gaga. She’s been nominated before (in 2015 for Bang, Bang and in 2017 for Dangerous Woman) but finally bagged a win this year. 2017 and 2018 were hard for her – a trajectory of heavy milestones started with the tragic bomb blast in 2017 at one of her concerts in Manchester, followed by the very untimely and sad demise of her ex Mac Miller in 2018 (who also happened to be an insanely talented musician); after which she had a broken engagement to Pete Davidson (of SNL fame) just a few months later. So 2019 was the year she hoped to heal her anxieties and PTSD, to be single and strong, and to create music in the safety and the comfort of her family, close friends and of course – her 9 dogs (Toulouse is my personal favourite). And she did just that, and so much more. Which makes me proud and gives me a sense of kinship with her. As an Ariana fan, her victories felt like small vicarious ones for me too, and that’s exactly what music does – it connects you to other humans who are oceans away, and makes you feel real, deep things. It hits home in such a core way that it’s just super strange yet oddly magnificent. This same connection is what makes fans come to watch superstars live, even if they’re one of 20,000 people in a stadium.
As for her setlist, it was a fun medley of songs from her older albums and newer albums, and was definitely aimed to make her hardcore fans happy. She tweaked the list a bit depending on the city she’s in, but this has mostly been the set for the whole tour so far.
Here is the setlist:
Act 1: Raindrops (An Angel Cried), God is a Woman, Bad Idea, Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored
Act 2: R.E.M. (Shortened), Be Alright, Sweetener, Side to Side, 7 Rings
Act 3: Love Me Harder / Breathin’, Needy, Fake Smile, Make up, Right There / You’ll Never Know / Break Your Heart Right Back, NASA, Tattooed Heart
Act 4: Every time, The Light Is Coming, Into You
Act 5: Dangerous Woman, Break Free, No Tears Left To Cry
Encore: Thank U, Next
The stage was designed in a rather basic but pretty way compared to the usual big concerts held at the O2 Arena. It was subtle, yet strong, but acutely feminine. The central stage was flanked with two smaller screens (called IMAGs) on either side – one of which showcased a big orange star reminiscent of the Sun and on the other side, the Moon. The central screen was fitted with a large hemisphere to add to the projected effects that were being used. Lastly, there was a 28-foot wide sphere that hung above the stage area, which was projected with different visuals based on songs or the colour palette for that particular act. A curved catwalk that extended into the audience with a gap where fans could gather was the final touch in terms of set design. LeRoy Bennet, the production designer for the tour, mentioned that getting the inflated sphere up and running is the hardest part of the show. It descends completely for one of the songs but moves up and down for the rest of the show.
The entire show, Ariana just comes on stage and does her own thing. No fancy tricks, no overly romancing the crowd, no big spectacles. Just her voice and her moves. This is a bit of a relief in a time of pop stars trying to out do each other on stage with ludicrous antics – whether it be Coachella or big award shows. But it also means a lot of fans will probably miss the usual ‘spotlight on the superstar’ moment(s) since she’s always merging into the rest of the environment on stage. Which was what she wanted – to be ethereal and one with the colours and dreaminess of the ambience. The iconic cat and bunny ears from previous years have been replaced by her now even more iconic ponytail, which looks like its getting longer every time I see it flip. And gosh, the fans went mental every time she whipped it. Which she did. A lot.
Which brings us to the main theme of the show (and the overarching tour): the cosmos! The use of motifs and aesthetic pertaining to all things celestial are numerous when it comes to Grande’s world. Whether it’s the lyrics of her songs, her Instagram feed, her outfits or her merchandise – be prepared for all things spaced out. It’s no surprise that this show was a visual delight for fans that are into all things ethereal (ahem – moi) and the use of purple, pink, yellow, blue, black and white were super apparent; and every song had a different set of mixed and matched colours from that palette in a new style. Finger lights were given out to fans prior to the show, which suddenly burst to life in a myriad of colours to match the song playing. This added a fun element of personal interactivity. Projection-wise (and boy it was projection heavy), we got to experience gorgeous purple sparkling galaxies, many vivid black and white moons, showers of golden yellow and white fallen stars, all while Ari was clad in extra-terrestrial costumes to boot. It almost felt like she was taking the audience for a warm, guided tour through her own little Grande galaxy.
Vocally, Ariana was effortless and left you wanting more. I couldn’t believe an hour and a half passed so fast, and it was impressive to see how much lung power and stamina she brought to her 80th show. Nothing was lip-synced, very few of the tracks had backing tracks, and she smashed the high notes with exquisite prowess. Contrary to what most might expect, the track breathin garnered more applause and love than any of her other chart toppers. This is probably because the song is about overcoming anxiety, and happens to be her most famous self-help chant. And when I say chant, I mean it – the whole stadium was singing the chorus in unison, almost like a mantra. As was I. That song has been there for me when I was low and I would bawl my eyes out. So when I heard it live, that first note felt electric and struck a deep emotional cord for me – and all the other fans – girls, boys, men, women and aliens alike.
Oddly though, my personal favourite track of the night was Dangerous Woman – a song she absolutely nailed, note for note. God is a Woman came on early on itself, minus the gopher from the video (to many boys’ dismay) and was punchy and strong. I felt like she could’ve done more this with track, especially in terms of the visuals, considering how powerful the music video was in comparison. But she made up for it with NASA – my current favourite AG song – followed by Needy, during which I did well up a bit. I don’t feel as though the vast size of the O2 Arena did justice to the more soft, breathy songs like REM and (her opening track) Raindrops – An Angel Cried, simply based on the venue’s acoustics. Also, Ariana is known to bring guest stars onto stage as a surprise, so I was hoping for a guest appearance on the track Side to Side. We didn’t get any cameo performances, but we did get a lot of incredible singing from the songstress herself, especially on her positive, throaty ballads like Break Free and No Tears Left To Cry.
There was a sense of maturity in her voice, she wasn’t trying to show off her pipes every chance she got, and was conservative with belting those high notes and hugely impressive falsettos. It felt striking, even for friends who just tagged along to keep fans company – and that, my friends, is the mark of a subtle yet stellar singer. The end felt a tad bit abrupt, and I do wish she had done an encore, but on coming home and reading up about her tour – it turns out the last song Thank U, Next IS the encore track of the night. And no, Kris Jenner wasn’t there. Video interludes of her Nana, Mac Miller, and out of the blue clips from movies like The First Wives Club and her own home videos from when she was a little girl, were crowd pleasers, but left me rather confused, and then in splits. Regardless, the group of people I went with were heavily varied, and by the end of it, they all genuinely had fun. I have no idea how that happened, but it did. Well done, team Ari.
Overall, I would highly recommend going for an Ariana Grande concert, because it’s really quite mellow compared to other pop concerts (I’ve been to a fair few, and I think my left ear is still recovering from Rihanna’s show at Twickenham six years ago). This show was purely about the music and nothing else. Sure, there might be a giant pink graffiti-covered limousine on stage Last Supper style during her intro and outro; and there are more latex outfits and massive hoodies that you’d usually find at a hip-hop show – but, it was still very… nice, safe, warm.
The crowd was just lovely, there was no stress or bouncers around – everything felt rather free and fun. Whimsical, if I may. Which really encompasses what Ariana’s music is all about. I guess all in all, it was really (wait for it) sweet as hell.
— till next time.
THE RAVEN: 8.5/10
Here’s one last picture from the night:
Here’s the official poster: