Ariana Grande review: The ideal intersection of dancehall dirtiness and soaring euro-pop

The pop starlet delivers a live show of formidable efficiency

Artist: Ariana Grande

Venue: Three Arena, Dublin

Date Reviewed: May 19th, 2017

We are entering a new phase of consciousness in pop, in a post-Lemonade world there is a distinct emphasis on the political. Starlets like Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus have recently offered up their heavy handed metaphors through their new music and in interviews have chastised their former solipsistic ways. The “woke” Teen Vogue effect has trickled down throughout the pop world and is causing some clunky contemplation among the usual capitalistic clutter of celebrity social media.

So when Ariana Grande begins her show with an eight-minute video of her flicking her hair and touching her slight shoulder blades like a bored Youtubing teen it feels quaintly sweet. The decision, however, to soundtrack this with Beyonce’s ball-crushing Hold Up is ill-advised. Surely it’s sacrilegious to have Bey act as a hype-man for anyone other than her sister?

The Dangerous Woman show doesn’t have a “message”; there is no lofty theme apart from Ariana Grande is a very good singer. When she does attempt to make some kind of statement that isn’t “Aren’t all these songs great?” it falls disastrously flat. At one point words like “Empowered”, “Sexual”, “Hard” and “Female” flash across images of a very sweaty gym bunny Grande like a deodorant ad.

This lip service to feminist thinking is laughable and completely at odds with the straightforward pop show that the Dangerous Woman tour is. There is no shame in the quicksilver fun and joyousness of pop; a pop show does not have to be a musical Ted Talk to resonate with an audience.

Grande’s brand of featherlight pop is a beautiful concoction to be enjoyed like the first cheeky cocktail of a Saturday night. She is from the classic showbiz mold of Mariah and J Lo, a mini-diva who thrives on perfection.Her professionalism runs right from the top of her trademark high pony to the heel of her thigh-high boot. Strutting onstage to the electro buzz of Be Alright she whirs into life under the lights, her pitch-perfect delivery causing the sold-out crowd to erupt like a human volcano.

The grind of the sizzling Everyday bleeds into Bad Decisions, songs that are the ideal intersection of dancehall dirtiness and soaring euro-pop where Rihanna meets Britney in a Dubai nightclub. Barely a breath is taken before the staccato stutter of the sensational Let Me Love You begins with Lil’ Wayne’s grinning visage like a buzzed up dictator filling the giant screens bathed in red.

After the briefest of interludes, she ploughs through the majority of her latest album without as much as a cock of her head, every so often punctuating the applause with a cry of “Dublin” or a request to “Sing” as if someone is holding up cards to remind her where she is and what she’s doing. There are no grand(e) pronouncements, no hiccups or mistakes, no pause for thought, no real audience interaction.

This can make her seem terrifyingly robotic, a blank Stepford star rather than a living, breathing pop icon. This lack of personality make her ballads sound rather cold, singing the karaoke of affection, a facsimile of emotion copied into songs like Moonlight rather than the ache of the real thing. Grande’s musical theatre and acting background adds a surface level sheen where there should be a human depth and rawness.  Not that it seems to matter to the crowd who never have a chance for their attentions to wander such is the speed of the set.

Grande is at her best with the more breezy, cheeky side of her catalogue. The throwaway innuendo laden Side to Side is a campy slice of brilliance with the singer and her dancers working up a sweat on spinning bikes and engaging in sexy boot camp drills under the watchful gaze of an on-screen Nicki Minaj. The bombastic Bang Bang replete with a laser show becomes the song it should have been before Greedy kicks into life as the audience are covered in Grande branded dollar bills.

Finishing with the seductive genius of turbo-banger Into You and an encore of Dangerous Woman she exits the stage in her PVC ball-gown with a coy glance over her shoulder looking like Fievel the mouse lost in the Playboy mansion. It is perfunctory premiership pop, slickly homogenised but no less tasty than its more organic counterparts.

Ariana Grande is the treat you can have between meals and that is something to relish in a pop world that is now forcing you to eat your vegetables.