Pop

Ariana Grande Prepares to Return to Stage After Bombing: Experts Talk Trauma & Healing

 Ariana Grande performs during the Dangerous Woman Tour.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

 Ariana Grande performs during the Dangerous Woman Tour.

As unimaginable as it was that a suicide bomber would blow himself up outside of an Ariana Grande concert two weeks ago -- killing 22 people and injuring more than 100 -- it's also hard to fathom how the 23-year-old singer was able to summon the strength to announce her return to the stage this Sunday (June 4) for an all-star benefit concert in honor of the victims.

What are the benefits, and potential pitfalls, for an artist getting back up on the horse so quickly after such a shocking event? And what about the fans? What feelings might they experience when they queue up for the show featuring ColdplayJustin BieberKaty PerryMiley CyrusPharrellUsherTake ThatNiall Horan, the Black Eyed PeasRobbie Williams and Little Mix at Manchester's Old Trafford cricket ground? Billboard spoke to a number of mental health and trauma specialists to find out what they might experience on Sunday.

"You have to differentiate between something 'bad' and 'traumatic,'" Dr. Philip Muskin, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Scientific Program Committee, told Billboard. "We can have a bad experience in our lives that isn't necessarily traumatic. Trauma is something out of the ordinary. Getting fired is bad, but it's not trauma in the way in which a concert you performed at where there was a horrible terrorist attack where people died and were injured is."

Though Grande was not injured and was not in direct risk at the time of the suicide bomb attack, she was exposed to the terrible suffering of her fans, and that's what's meant by trauma, said Muskin, who -- like the others Billboard spoke to -- has no direct knowledge of Grande's frame of mind or experience and was speaking in more general terms about the impact and effects of trauma. 

"She can realize that this is a terrible thing that happened at her concert and though she was not injured she can feel sorry for her fans while understanding that she is not responsible for what happened," he said. "Anyone could have been performing and a terrorist would have made the same decision and that's important. 'This is not my fault. I feel badly, but I don't feel guilty.' You can feel victimized -- it ruined your concert, which personalizes it -- and horrified that people died, without personalizing it."

Most importantly, Muskin said, there is not, and should not be, a timetable for returning to the stage. It's up to the individual, and each person has to look at themselves and their fears and make the best decision for them. "I would never say it as a therapist, but as a friend I might ask 'why is this important to you?'" he said. "She might say 'this is important for my fans, they love our music.' But there's no magic that will make the horror go away. She can say 'this is what I can offer as a performer,' but the question is: 'is this good for you?' I would hope someone asked her before they announced this, 'is this right for you?'"

Both Grande and her manager, Scooter Braun, have spoken out about how important it is to them to carry on and not crumble in the face of fear and terror. "I remembered...we r free. We are all different but we r free to enjoy each other's company," Braun wrote in a series of tweets about the aftermath of the terror attack that killed fans as young as eight. "I will honor those that r lost by living each day full. Full of fun, full of laughter, full of joy. I welcome the differences of my neighbor, the wish of terrorism is to take away that feeling of freedom and joy. No. That is my answer. No. We cant allow it. Fear cannot rule the day." 

The singer posted a note four days after the tragedy, tweeting with chin-up spirit, "The only thing we can do now is choose how we let this affect us and how we live our lives from here on out...I am sorry for the pain and fear that you must be feeling and for the trauma that you, too, must be experiencing... We will never be able to understand why events like this take place because it is not in our nature, which is why we shouldn't recoil. We will not quit or operate in fear. We won't let this divide us. We won't let hate win.

"Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before," she continued. "Music is meant to heal us, to bring us together, to make us happy. So that is what it will continue to do for us. We will continue in honor of the ones we lost, their loved ones, my fans and all affected by this tragedy. They will be on my mind and in my heart everyday and I will think of them with everything I do for the rest of my life."

Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor in the Department of Psychology & Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine told Billboard that Grande and Braun's statements and approach remind her of the Boston Strong movement following the Boston Marathon bombing and the New York pride that grew after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. "This event appears to be billed as a sign of resilience with the message that we won't give in to terrorists and that's a very strong message," said Silver, who has done extensive research on how individuals and communities respond to large-scale traumatic events like terrorist attacks.

"It's saying, 'we won't let terrorism hold us back and in fact we're going to celebrate our commitment to go on despite terrorism,'" she said. Silver added that it might have been important for Grande and her team to host the show so soon after the attack as a way to take back control and send a strong message to terrorists. "It doesn't strike me as odd. It's appropriate and I give Ariana Grande and her management a great deal of credit for coming up with this idea and implementing it so quickly."

If Grande feels comfortable returning to the stage, the other part of the equation is whether her fans are ready. Will some of the ones who've been offered free tickets to the show -- which sold out all 55,000 seats in six minutes -- be terrified all over again? "She might say, 'what can I offer to these people who suffered to make them feel better?'" Muskin asked. "The bad answer is: this is what I have do to deal with it myself. How was I not killed? In that case, maybe you wait."

For some who were injured, going back to a big venue for another Grande show might create a renewed panic that they could die this time, which Muskin said means they're not ready for the experience. "For some of thousands who might go this is bad idea," he said. "They're not ready to be in a big crowd, even with what will surely be a huge police presence that means the probability of something happening is practically zero. For some they will go and it will be fine. Bad things can happen every minute of every day, but if you live that way you never leave your house." 

Julian Dorio, who played with the Eagles of Death Metal during the Bataclan attack, recently shared his thoughts on the Manchester attack with Billboard, describing the difficulty of, as Muskin put it, "getting back on the horse" and performing again. "I increasingly live in the present, free from the tyranny of that horrific day," he wrote. "This wasn’t true in the days and months following the shootings. Initially, it was as if the needle on a record was fixed in a groove so that the same music played over and over. I couldn’t move forward. I was stuck while the world moved on around me. I spoke to others but felt different and unable to experience life’s simplest pleasures. When I should have been exhilarated to spend time with my family, I replayed details of that night. Everything else seemed trivial. Some days I felt crazy and permanently damaged, as if this event would forever define my life." 

Then, slowly, things began to change and he relied on his wife, friend and a therapist as each day he began to feel more himself. "Paris is something that happened to me, but it is not me," he said. "This acknowledgement has been liberating, and helped me understand what others go through as they heal. After a traumatic event, there’s before and there’s after. We can ask ourselves 'Why?' again and again, something I’ve done during many sleepless nights. It’s futile. The real question is, 'What are you going to do with the ‘after’?' We strive for healing and harmony, not in spite of the attack but because of it. We choose love. We choose understanding. We only hate hate."

"If you become paralyzed, fear can set in and fester, causing you to seize up or run away and not face something traumatic, which is why the sooner you get back to doing what you do, the sooner you start coping with your feelings," said Dr. Ani Kalayjian, a board certified traumatic stress expert, integrative healer and founder of Meaningfulworld. Speaking to Billboard, the president of the Association for Trauma Outreach & Prevention said she uses a seven-step integrative healing process model that begins with asking "what am I feeling?," progressing to defining those feelings, then releasing them (like you would poison from your system) by crying, journaling or some other avenue, sharing the feelings and getting validation/empathy from a trusted parent or therapist and finding a way to connect with the earth in a meaningful way.

"By sharing your feelings you can transform that pain and sadness into a positive lesson," she said. "Some of our greatest lessons can come from the most challenging situations."

From the Eagles of Death Metal to Pearl Jam and The Who, a number of artists have had to deal with deaths at their shows due to terrorism and crowd crushes. Muskin said how an artist responds to a challenge like this has to do with their level of maturity, but also their ability to not assign blame to themselves for an event that was not their doing.

Fans, too, have to spend time thinking about why they want to attend Sunday's all-star event. "Some might think it will be healing for them because she's a famous performer who is giving something back and they might feel that even though they weren't injured it takes away some of the bad experience," he said. "And for some who are anxious, when nothing happens it might reassure them."