One reason “thank u, next” was so groundbreaking as pop is it did away with at least one binary: provocative vs. tame. This was a calm song; certainly not Ariana Grande’s most emotional, but not one that could’ve existed without the tears cried before it. However, as her other biggest hit proclaimed, there aren’t any of those left.
Along with several gigantic ponytails, only clear plastic and vinyl bags were permitted past the metal detectors at the Wells Fargo on Tuesday. We don’t yet live in a much safer time than when 23 people were killed by a bomber at a May 22, 2017, Ari concert in Manchester, England. More than half of the 139 others wounded were children. It had to have affected Grande’s music, which is some of the least belligerent ever to storm the Top 40 and which these days is often about prevailing. A four-octave virtuoso who almost never shows off, Grande has to be the most modest diva ever to possess a whistle register.
Grande’s Sweetener tour stop in Philly confirmed that she’s comfortable in her own songs; she never gets that constipated look when something particularly impressive twirls out of her larynx. And she loves her deep cuts: The excellent “Sweetener” and stirring “Fake Smile” were showstoppers equal to such radio juggernauts as “No Tears Left to Cry,” (given the Mary Poppins treatment with choreographed umbrellas) and her audacious opener, “God Is a Woman,” which found Ari and her dancers in a Last Supper-style tableaux.
A model of ease and relief, 2019’s biggest pop star and her dancers spent a notable portion of the set lounging or sitting. Grande doesn’t come off like she works her employees or herself harder than necessary, with no held-note showcases or even much talking to the crowd, which she still interacted with heavily, walking around the pit on a catwalk-like stage extension. Screams were plenty.