Ariana Grande began the NYC leg of her world tour with an empowering celebration of her career.
On June 15th, Grande performed for the second night in a row at Barclays Center.
Before even stepping inside the venue, concert-goers were greeted by seven, pink balloon rings, each adorned with a different color gem to create a rainbow. The instagrammable set-up was intentional; for every picture posted with the hashtag #ArianaWithUS, T-Mobile would donate a dollar to the HRC in support of LGBTQ+ equality. Every person who took a picture in front of the balloons had to awkwardly grab their phones out of plastic bags, reminding everyone of the safe space they were entering. Grande enforced the clear bag policy to ensure everyone's safety after the attack at her Manchester show in 2017. Two years and two albums later, Grande chose to title her tour after her fourth album, Sweetener, instead of thank u, next. Transforming her pain into universally acclaimed creativity, Grande helped Sweetener become a balanced symbol of hope, weighing the dark with the light, the bitter with the sweet. Back in her natural element, the New York resident took the evening in stride— as if it were easy for her, even though she's disclosed how draining performing can now be.
The singing began off-stage, maybe to give Grande a moment to herself. Grande used that big voice of hers to introduce the event with "raindrops (an angel cried)." On stage, she broke into her transformative, compelling hit "God Is a Woman," recreating her iconic VMA's performance. On the vast stage, Grande was small and visually swallowed by her dancers. In contrast, her voice bellowed and washed over the crowd like a gust of wind and water so refreshing and revitalizing, you couldn't help but sit up. The personal songs were followed by the bangers. The simple stage design comprised of three spheres, which included visuals of the sun and moon, at times eclipsing one another. Meanwhile, the formal stage drew out into a semi-oval, so the performers could run and dance around the crowd. The schematic design placed her voice at the center of the show. Grande may be a pop star, but she's so much more, and in concert, she's in control. At times, one may not understand her mumbled cries of "I love you, New York!" but one doesn't have to in order to connect with the vulnerable star. She laid it bare on the stage for her fans to breathe and harmonize with her.
Unsurprisingly, the performer did not sing a couple of thank u, next's standout tracks. Prior to kicking off the tour, Grande revealed that she would not sing the ultra personal, devastating "ghostin." To the disappointment of some, the equally private and complicated "in my head" was instead used as a transition between performances. The exclusion of the two songs felt like a line drawn—Ariana Grande has boundaries now.
That doesn't mean she didn't end the night by tearing down every wall she could to try and let her fans in. Grande exquisitely ended the evening with "no tears left to cry," prancing around with an umbrella, referencing "Singin' in the Rain." When the hopeful, cathartic banger ended, the audience knew she couldn't leave without performing her iconic "thank u next."
The audience clapped and cheered for the encore they knew was coming. The encore began with a montage of the social media frenzy that surrounded the personal events that inspired "thank u, next." With supportive female singers on each side, she sang—for the first time that evening—like it wasn't easy. From her discography, "no tears left to cry" and "thank u next" are the most revelatory; the career-defining tracks were both born from the trials of love and loss. To follow one with the other was genius and pivotal.
Towards the end of "thank u, next," the male performers joined the women on stage, parading around with pride flags, waving them in unison—symbolically concluding this chapter of Ariana's career. Still recovering from the trauma of the terrorist attack in Manchester and the unexpected death of Mac Miller, the pop star's finale shone with hope and ended on a lasting, powerful "ye."
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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