Ariana Grande’s last visit to Glasgow’s Hydro in 2015 seems light-years from the pop culture icon she is today. While her last show at the 13,000 capacity Hydro was mostly full, her concert tickets are now some of the most coveted in pop music. The tragedies and triumphs surrounding Grande, as well as her towering voice, have made her the most discussed and scrutinised pop star in the world in recent years.
Grande did not visit Glasgow on her Dangerous Woman world tour, meaning that a number of fans here tonight will have attended the 2017 concert at Manchester Arena where 22 people were killed by a suicide bomber. The heightened security measures, which include a clear bag policy and a visible police presence, serve as a reminder of the horror, but the atmosphere is convivial and uplifting.
The show opens in darkness with Grande singing Raindrops (An Angel Cried) a cappella, before rising through the floor with her backing dancers against a celestial-themed backdrop. All of them are arranged at a long table in homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, with Grande at its centre, singing God Is A Woman. The visual is an effective allusion to female power as well as Grande’s Italian heritage, but it is also one of the standout performances of the evening; as well as being seamlessly choreographed, Grande is given free rein to deliver vocal runs that are unparalleled in modern pop music.
One of the biggest challenges of this tour must have been to condense Grande’s back catalogue into one show. As well as her first three albums, Grande only released the Grammy-winning Sweetener last year, while Thank U, Next has been so ubiquitous that it’s hard to believe it was only released in February this year. Grande pulls off a slick balancing act by performing shorter versions of songs from across her back catalogue, making full use of the circular stage in the middle of the arena floor.
Grande does not say much beyond thanking the crowd repeatedly; her reported struggles with anxiety have caused her to recently cancel meet and greets, but she interacts with her fans by crouching and extending her hand to them at several points.
Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored receives one of the biggest responses of the evening, while her performance of 7 Rings perched atop a pink limousine covered with graffiti is one of the tour’s signature visuals. The Light Is Coming features Grande being followed around the stage by a backing dancer with a camera phone, projecting close-ups of Grande onto the screen behind her in real time. Into You is a particular highlight, with the crowd becoming unified by jumping and singing along. Break Free is performed against a pride flag backdrop, acknowledging how it has been embraced as an anthem for the LGBTQ community.
The show ends with Thank U, Next – already one of Grande’s signature hits – before Grande and her backing dancers leave the stage in procession, each of them waving a mini pride flag before disappearing through the floor. It feels like an act of defiance as well as support, but above all, it appears triumphant.