Ariana Grande came into the Erwin Center ready to put on a high-energy show that didn’t hold back. She started with a video talking about the show she wanted to give, which lead to a countdown to the start of the show. The crowd of mostly preteen/teen girls and their moms went wild. Then she appeared, rising out of the stage to a screaming crowd singing the hit she shared with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj “Bang, Bang.”
There were fireworks, there were well-muscled male dancers. It was a spectacle of dance, music and pyrotechnics.
Throughout the night, Grande and her dancers constantly appeared and reappeared in what could have been described as a giant game of Whack-A-Mole or Hide-and-Go-Seek. Her fans loved the surprises. For “Best Mistake,” she appeared on a giant cloud. For “Right There,” she arrived on a chandelier that dropped her down onto the stage and rose back up. For “My Everything,” she in a black dress sat on a white piano with a pianist, all of which rose from beneath the stage. For “Love Me Harder,” she stood on a platform above the stage. She created a night club scene, a haunted romantic castle and more.
The former Nickelodeon star was out to prove that she was all grown up and could mount a large stage show. And she did, through 19 songs including an encore. The crowd sang and screamed along with her. They also became part of the show.
Grande, who is known for wearing headbands of cat ears, had light up cat ears for sale for $40 a pop. Buy them, download an app and scan in a code, and your headband and the headbands of the girls around you would change colors in rhythm to the music. About a half-hour before the show started, a video played of Grande explaining that she wanted to involve the audience and that they should all go out and get the ears before the show.
This created an uncomfortable moment during which parents had to decide if they would get back in the merchandise line and shell out another $40 or if they would leave their kids feeling not part of the show. It ended up being a pretty cool effect visually, but $40 is a lot to ask parents to shell out when they already paid for tickets to be part of the show.
Grande is known for two things musically: singing runs in the upper register of the human voice and dance music that includes large rap sections.
She provided both, but, even the young 12-year-old fan that I brought was disappointed by the music quality of the show. Instead of bringing on a live rapper to rap the songs, Grande relied on videos of the raps. She hit the upper register often, but at the expense of singing the songs. She relied too heavily on her backing track instead of performing the songs.
While this was a grown-up show visually, especially in her costume and dancing, for Grande to really prove that she has staying power the likes of icons Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, she’s got to ditch the backing track, hire a full band and backup singers to fill in the gaps of the songs when she wants to run vocal riffs.
Slower songs like “Tattoo Heart,” in which is was just her singing without the spectacle, proved that she has a voice. It’s a voice she needs to protect to avoid the thin, strained sound that happened from time to time from overuse.
Still fans could not get enough of her energy, her staged modesty, and flirtations in every wink, kiss blown and tilt of the head. They were with her from “Bang, Bang” to the encore “Problems” and every “The Way,” “Break Free,” and “Love Me Harder” in between.
The night started with Latin music sensation Prince Royce, who is supporting his English-language album “Double Vision” and the single “Back It Up,” which features Pitbull. Royce didn’t act like he was the opening act. He gyrated around his four female dancers, who were pleasantly not stick-thin. He brought on a young fan to sing to her “Lucky One.” We worried she might pass out right there.
He took multiple opportunities to show off his sculpted abs and arms, explaining that Texas is so hot, he just had to take off his jacket, then his shirt. His fans, of which there were many in the audience, ate it up. He has that star quality as well as the voice to back it up, but the voice, like Grande’s, gets lost in the spectacle. It was a high-energy prelude to what would be the tempo for the rest of the night.
Super fan 12-year-old Zoey Gordon contributed to this review.