The tragedy that struck the city of Manchester, U.K., on May 22 when a suicide bomber attacked Manchester Arena — killing 22 and injuring several others, following an Ariana Grande concert at the stadium — shook music lovers around the world. Grande’s fan army, referred to as “Arianators,” were particularly impacted, as the 23-year-old superstar has built an extensive family and online community amongst her fans – one that banded even closer in the wake of the attack.
“The only thing we could do was come together and be there for each other… with nothing but love, kindness, and consolation,” Justin D, an Arianator since 2013, tells Billboard. “Her fans created this family and atmosphere that brings us all closer, and all we wanted was to make sure everybody was safe.”
Justin, 17, is the founder of Ariana Grande Today, a fan site with a Twitter following of more than 180,000. The Canada native has operated the site since he became a fan of Grande’s through her role in the Nickelodeon show Victorious, and wanted her to show the world what she had to offer. Her response to the tragedy — most recently involving a massive benefit concert, One Love Manchester, which has raised more than $13 million for victims of the attack — further proves what Justin saw in her four years ago: “Ariana epitomizes the fact that love always wins.”
Although Justin wasn’t present near the Manchester Arena attack himself, he did know several people who were at that show. And while those fans went fortunately unharmed, as the admin for a popular Grande fan account, Justin felt a responsibility to make his fellow Arianators feel safe and loved.
As fans continue to support each other following the tragedy, Billboard asked Justin to share some of his experience and how it affected the star’s social community. Read our discussion below.
How did you personally process the news of the Manchester Arena bombing initially?
It was truly devastating. I was in shock, confused, with mixed emotions. I didn’t know what happened at first, but a bunch of my friends in the fandom attended the concert, which made me very anxious and worried. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know who was affected.
Were you eventually able to get in touch with those who were at the show that you knew?
One of my friends Elle went to the show, and she was live-tweeting the whole night about this traumatizing event. We didn’t want to get too personal with her, as we only cared for her health and safety. We had a fan take over our Snapchat to show the live experience to our viewers, and we contacted her to ensure her safety.
Would you say the content of what you shared on both the Ariana account and your personal account changed after the tragedy? What about what you were seeing being shared by other Arianators?
It definitely changed the content that was shared on our fan page. The admins and I did as much as we can to assure everybody that it’ll be all right. We did nothing but retweet celebrities spreading light and positivity, post missing children, hotlines, the list goes on. We didn’t want to feel that the feelings of anger, hatred and fear alter the decisions of what we wanted to tweet. These feelings will not overtake the general public, especially the family Ariana has created.
Were there any support groups formed that you knew about?
A bunch of Arianators formed meet-ups to come together around Europe and merely reflect on the Manchester bombing. Together, they flew pink balloons in the sky as a symbol of solidarity and unity, much like the pink balloons dropped during Ariana’s show. Online, everybody on Twitter joined in a 25 minute Twitter silence for Manchester.
How do you feel like your connection or the general connection between fan groups of other artists and Arianators has been impacted by the tragedy?
Arianators have been close before this tragedy, and we are much, much closer [now]. Many other fandoms of other artists were very supportive of this tragedy. They understand how heartbreaking it is that something so ruthless and inhumane could take place at a concert, a happy place for everybody to be free, and meet people who are just as touched as other concertgoers by the performer right in front of their eyes.
Did you watch the live stream of One Manchester? What did you think of Ariana putting something like that together, especially so soon after the attack?
Yes, it was something so beautiful, I couldn’t stop crying at one point. Ariana never disappoints the public, especially doing something voluntarily and not asked for.. she wanted to do something. This is why she is extraordinary and has the biggest heart. She is so strong and brave, and all she wants to see in this world is peace, love and unity.