It's been a second since I've been on the concert scene, hasn't it? I remedied that last night with a little dalliance with the modern incarnation of "tiny female popstar with a voice", your girl and mine, Ariana Grande, via her second official headliner bill dubbed The Honeymoon Tour at Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- the second of a two-night run. The home of the Brooklyn Nets was sold out, a literal sea of Cat Ear headbands, winged out eyeliner to the Gods, lots of black and faux leather, and the ever-present high ponytail. And we're not just talking about Ariana's current core fanbase -- tweenage and teenage girls -- but their moms, the gay boys, and grown ladies like moi.
Despite tickets advertising the show starting at 7:30PM, the show officially began at 7PM with a far too short set by Who is Fancy, a beyond talented vocalist in his own right. Dressed in a silver glitter jacket, Fancy didn't need anything...well...fancy to impress. If you haven't heard his single, "Goodbye", and you love ardent, yearning vocal performances, you need to check it out. At one point, he pulled out an acoustic guitar and whipped out a well-crafted acoustic mashup cover of Beyonce's "Baby Boy", Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)", and Christina Milian's "Dip It Low". Perhaps the crowd at Barclays that night was just too young to feel its brilliance (pretty safe bet, to be quite honest) but it definitely won yours truly over (reference!).
Ariana's older brother Frankie J. Grande jumped on stage during Fancy's set and the two shimmied around, getting the crowd worked up and off their seats. The two seemed like legitimate friends.
Who Is Fancy closed his set with new, upcoming single "Boys Like You", which was later announced on stage to be coming soon with a featuring tag by Ariana herself. His debut album, which is slated to have an additional big diva duet/feature (currently kept secret), is set for early 2016.
At 7:30PM, bachata king, impressively decorated-in-awards-outside-of-the-Top-40-Mainstream, latin popstar Prince Royce took to the stage. Despite having released a handful of albums, he mostly stayed within the lane of his latest, Double Vision, which noticeably strays from his prize-winning latin pop sound and is instead more in the urban/R&B lane. He entered to the tune of "Stuck on a Feeling" (which features a not-present/only-in-pre-recorded-vocal Snoop Dogg) that sounds very 112's "Peaches & Cream". Try and tell me I'm wrong...
Other highlight's from Royce's set include "Lie To Me", a Tyga-less "Double Vision", and his Spanglish cover of the classic "Stand By Me". At one point, he plucked a female (Royce) fan from the audience and serenaded her on stage to the tune of his song "Lucky One", in the end handing her a rose and kissing her hand while on bended knee.
Royce is too cute for his own good and he sure knows it -- it's clear they are trying to push him as latin Usher. Whenever he removed an article of clothing, the cliche of screaming women was omniscient. What can I say? He does look good.
In an attempt at "throwing things back a bit", wayyyyyy back to 1998 (read: wayyyyy before some of the girls in the audience were even born), Royce covered a bit of Usher's "Nice & Slow" to a lukewarm response (can you believe?). Deeming that 1998 was "too old school" for the crowd, The Weeknd's "Earned It" was cued up and the Barclays Center erupted in screams. This is the world we now live in, people. Not that there's anything wrong with "Earned It". It's a great song. But still...
I enjoyed Royce's set but given the number of covers and cue-ups to songs that weren't his, it wounds me that he got a forty-five minute set while We Are Fancy got a paltry fifteen.
After Royce, it was a solid half hour of waiting for Ariana. While we did, a "commercial" came over the screen featuring Ariana's voice asking the crowd if they loved Cat Ears as much as she did. The answer was an overwhelming yelp of tweenage/teenage approval. She then eagerly told the crowd that if they hadn't already purchased their "official #TheHoneymoonTour Cat Ears" at the merch stands, they should get them now. The cute Cat Ear headbands lit up and when tethered to the Fahlo smartphone app via a QR code on the headband themselves, they would light-up and blink in tandem to Ari's set list. A great gimmick to be sure -- more bands need to get on this idea. (No, I didn't buy the Cat Ears. I brought my own, kthanks.)
At quarter to nine, the lights went out and Ariana came to the stage to the tune of a solo version of her girl brigade hit "Bang Bang". Ari sang both verses and even attempted part of Nicki's rap. Dressed in an all black outfit with thigh-high stiletto black boots, trademark high pony and those darn Cat Ears, Ariana was all guns blazing with her incredibly impressive voice of hers, playing vocal gymnastics on her runs and adlibs with seeming ease.
The first real highlight came with My Everything b-side cut, the Diana Ross-sampling "Break Your Heart Right Back" (above). Why this wasn't released as a single, I'll never know. Even the rap bit -- supplied by Childish Gambino via a pre-tape film -- is super catchy. The rapper pre-tapes became a trend since so many of Ariana's songs feature tacked on hip hop bits, but the strange part was some songs had pre-tapes (including one with her "ex" Big Sean) while others, like her single with the aforementioned The Weeknd, "Love Me Harder", simply excluded his voice almost entirely. I'll never get why popstars don't just use versions without the feature artist for when they perform live and the other artist isn't present. Maybe it's a pet peeve of mine.
Her "big" singles were obvious highlights. "One Last Time" was a sing-along crowd favorite. "Break Free" got a lot of folks dancing. She closed the night sans encore with "Problem" (with Iggy again via a pre-tape). Unfortunately for me, previous single "Baby I" was completely omitted for reasons unknown. Yours Truly non-singles "Tattooed Heart" and "Honeymoon Avenue" were included, however, and thankfully so. Homegirl is really at her best when she's just staying still and singing her little heart out.
Ariana's vocal prowess is the reason for her fame and it was put on full display during the show. That being said, the flow and feel of her set felt incredibly disjointed and off-putting. Almost every song ended with a total black-out and Ariana exiting the stage, only to return seconds later from a different area of the stage. She only had one big costume change -- to a glamorous blush flapper-style mini dress and sparkly pumps, complete with a feather boa -- but after that setup finished, she returned to the stage in the same black costume attire she entered in and never strayed from that look until the finale.
I think it's fair to say all of this contributed to an overall lack of forward momentum. At several points during the night, Ariana kept encouraging the crowd to scream louder, implying they were growing restless. Perhaps it was just an off-night? Considering the tour has been rolling since February, you'd think she'd have the kinks already well worked out.
All in all, it was a fun night and Ari's voice really is something to behold and I'm excited to see where her next era will take her. I can only hope her upcoming Moonlight album will rely more on her pipes and less on a string of hip hop friends and collaborators. #FingersCrossed.