No matter if Ariana Grande performs for a few hundred at Irving Plaza during her Sweetener Sessions, for a few thousand at Coachella during her headlining set, or for a crowd that falls somewhere in between during her world tour, the impact of her vocals — and height of her heels — never fails to stun.
On Friday night (June 14), Grande brought her Sweetener World Tour to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for her first of a four-night run (two dates there, two at Madison Square Garden). And while Irving Plaza was intensely intimate and Coachella larger than life, her stadium set is where she appears most at home. She’s practiced, in control, and able to deliver a clear and potent message: you matter. From the semi-circular stage that snaked around a small pit of very fortunate floor seats to the pride parade of her own making that ended the show, Grande made sure fans could see — and felt seen.
But still, the most impressive part of Grande’s performance isn’t in what she gives to fans, but the way in which she revisits some of her most bitter and sweetest moments night after night. It’s a rollercoaster of a set, for sure, but through it all she hits every note — and knows when to go easy on herself. Following set opener “God Is a Woman” and “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” Grande performed Sweetener track “R.E.M” on her knees, without her backup dancers in sight. It was the first of a handful of such moments that showed, despite her unwavering strength and ability to bounce back, that at times, she’s still just trying to stand on two feet.
She followed the vulnerable moment with an anthem that never tires, “Be Alright,” and later segued into “Successful,” “Side to Side” and “7 Rings” (yes, her now signature graffitied pink car was there and yes, it was spray painted to say New York). The transition best illustrated how Grande’s music not only hits home with her fans, but gets her through her own shit, too. Seconds into performing the chilling Sweetener closer “Get Well Soon,” Grande said “actually…” and spontaneously asked fans to turn on their phone lights — not because it was the part of the show during which she typically asks, but because in that moment, she seemingly needed to see that support.
Elsewhere, career-defining hits like “Love Me Harder,” “Dangerous Woman” and “Break Free” offered Grande just that, a break, from the more emotionally fresh material off Sweetener and Thank U, Next; the two albums chronicle her very public highs and headline-making lows of the past year, and were released within a shocking six-month span of one another. Ahead of her encore track “Thank U, Next,” the beginning of which she sang with her eyes closed, some of those headlines — from being named Billboard’s Woman of the Year to breaking off her engagement to Pete Davidson — were plastered on the screen before showing footage of Grande surrounded by family and friends. The brief montage forced fans to relive her whirlwind of a journey; and, more importantly, encouraged them to move on with her.
No song from Grande’s catalog better illustrates that mutually beneficial relationship she has with her fans than “Needy,” during which she sang: “I know it feels so good to be needed.” The best part? Grande has become such an essential voice not only in the realm of pop stardom but in popular culture — from registering fans to vote at her shows, to being open and honest about mental health and the rocky road to healing, to strutting down her stage with rainbow flags waving high — that she always will be.