Vocal Powerhouse Ariana Grande Enthralls Q Crowd

click to enlarge Ariana Grande rocked the Q Sunday night. - Scott Sandberg
Scott Sandberg
Ariana Grande rocked the Q Sunday night.
As her career unfolds, it’s becoming harder and harder to write Ariana Grande off as simply a pop star. Her songwriting can run a bit cliché at times, but her vocal range and ability to perform is basically unrivaled by other contemporary pop singers.

Last night, as the Academy Awards presentation was taking place simultaneously in Hollywood, Ariana Grande delivered a blissfully fun and engrossing set in Cleveland, buoyed by some impressive stage production and a live backing band. The audience, which comprised mostly teen girls and accompanying parents, was at high energy for the entire show.

Opener Little Mix didn’t do much to thrill the crowd — the group’s biggest applause came whenever they asked if the audience was ready for Ariana Grande. The girl group, which formed during a season of UK’s The X-Factor, lip-synced their way through most of their corporately constructed set.

Grande played about two dozen songs, showcasing every track from her new album Dangerous Woman and a few hit singles from earlier in her career. Her show was essentially broken into four mini-sets and an encore — each set was marked by a costume change and a change in the stage setup. There were pyrotechnics, lasers, a balloon drop and, at one point, Grande blasted dollar bills with her face printed on them into the crowd.

The show began with Grande flanked by a cadre of dancers, all wearing black. Midway through her opening song, the giant curtain in the back of the stage dropped down, revealing an enormous video screen spanning the width of the entire arena. Throughout the show, the screen showed close-ups of Grande singing and played videos of the guest verses that are featured on her songs.

The stage transformed multiple times; two sets of stairs lifted out from under the stage for the first half of “Knew Better/Forever Boy,” and during the second half, her dancers were lifted on glowing pedestals that pulsed in time to the song’s beat. For her reggae-infused single “Side-to-Side,” the four piece backing band moved to the front of the stage while the dancers and Grande built a neon pink-blue gym, complete with stationary bikes and a punching bag.

The show was almost all high energy, with the crowd screaming, dancing, and singing along to every song. Luckily, though, some sections of the concert were slowed down and visually sparse, giving Grande space to exhibit her top-notch singing ability. Before playing “Moonlight,” the opener on Dangerous Woman, fog filled the stage, Grande moved down the stage extension and took a seat near the audience. Grande told fans that “this is one of my favorites” before launching into a soulful reverie.

The show also featured a feminist message during an interlude. On the video screen, clips of Grande dancing played while hashtags such as #notaskingforit flashed in the foreground.

The downside to large pop productions have a lot to do with the timing involved with the props, stage setup, and costume changes; there’s rarely an organic moment, because so much of the show has been rehearsed and performed to death. Grande is talented enough as a performer and vocalist that she doesn’t just go through the motions, but it’s hard to deny that some sections of the production felt like they were on autopilot.

All in all, though, both the big-money stage production and Ariana Grande’s incredible singing kept the audience engaged and thrilled for the entire show — usually, for major pop artists, it’s either spectacle or talent, but Grande seamlessly pulls off both.

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