There is nothing better than a gorgeous summer night when the heat and humidity cooperate and there’s no rain in sight. It’s weather you want to take advantage of and feel guilty about if you don’t. On this particular summer evening in Boston, we compromised. My nephew, Zachary, and I spent an hour and a half waiting outside the TD Garden for our Sweetener Tour to commence and three hours inside for what was essentially pop heaven.
While Social House, a pop duo out of Pennsylvania, got the crowd warmed up, it was Normani who left us stunned, dazzled, and thrilled she’s living her best life as a solo artist. The woman’s star is just too damn bright to share a stage. Her achievements are formidable and despite not having a solo album to her name, she’s topping the charts (sold approximately eleven million units worldwide) and opening for Ariana Grande. Normani gave the people what they wanted: tributes we could all get behind (Aaliyah and Rihanna!), Fifth Harmony hits that we just can’t quit (and never will!), dancing that channeled Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty!), and a sparkly bodysuit that would make Beyoncé proud. Backed by an army corps of impressive musicians and dancers, Normani showed us exactly who she is and what she came for.
Walking back to the car at the end of the concert, Zachary and I marveled at how Ariana Grande sings the way she does, night after night, without fail. Pop stars do not necessarily come with a good voice guarantee and only a few artists today come close to Grande’s vocal prowess. We are not, of course, among the elite and were completely hoarse from singing all night with our paltry, untrained vocal cords. It highlighted Grande’s skill as all the more impressive.
Grande seemed a little low energy but we were surprised to hear that she had been battling bronchitis throughout the week. It did not shock us, however, that she still performed (and performed well) throughout it all. This has become somewhat of her signature — no matter the circumstance, the show must go on. She’s had Manchester, she’s had Mac Miller, the broken engagement and all the scrutiny and criticism that comes for women during meteoric rises to fame. Time and time again, Grande throws herself into her music, getting stronger and better every time, much to our benefit.
Grande gave Boston over 20 songs (all the hits, one Marilyn Monroe video interlude with Grande singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”) in four acts and multiple costume changes. She gave us a scene from the Last Supper during “God is a Woman” and total twilight during “NASA” complete with moon, sun, and stars hanging overhead. Her team of dancers had a blast as did her sound technicians who choreographed movements to most of her songs. We loved those guys.
Sure, the interludes and transitions were a bit clunky and incohesive — ranging from home videos to the aforementioned Marilyn Monroe but you don’t go to an Ariana Grande concert for the intermission. You go to see her perform songs that literally shut down an entire womxn’s restroom at the Garden out of sheer excitement (this happens when one person starts singing “Thank U, Next” in one stall, and then the next stall joins in, and then the next, and so on). You go because it’s a total good-for-you body experience and simply put so much fun. For months you plan (or coordinate) outfits, make reservations for pre-show dinner and memorize every album with your friends so that you may sing the lyrics at each other (or at your parents because they gave you a ride! So nice of them!) during the show. It’s truly a whole thing so when Grande appears on stage with some tired but gracious energy, you buckle up your clear fanny pack and give three times as much energy and love back because she provides so much for her fans.
From giving us thousands of young people singing “Side by Side” during One Love Manchester (maybe my favorite form of rebellion against terrorism) to Jennifer Coolidge in a now classic music video, Grande’s sincere and often humorous disposition is not controlled by a constant need to be conceived as perfect or pure. Her fans adore her because she’s real. Long gone is the flawless, robotic pop star of the aughts. Real is selling out arenas in under five minutes. Real is an entire show marked by true emotion, laughter, and illness-laden snafus. Real is relatable and relatable feels right. Zachary said the show was lit, and honestly, that about sums it up.