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."