There are many reasons that Ariana Grande fans bond over their love for the 25-year-old singer, from her catchy music to her iconic ponytail to her infamous “yuh” catchphrase. But one aspect of Grande's persona triumphs all the rest when it comes to bringing a community of Arianators together: her authenticity and vulnerability, as shown recently when she cried on-stage during her "Thank U, Next" tour stops.
On March 18, Grande opened her world tour for her two latest albums — Sweetener and Thank U, Next — in Albany, New York. As an Albany-native and Grande fan, I'd long before bought tickets for the show, and was excited to finally get the opportunity to see Grande live. But I didn't expect that the night would turn out to be such an emotional one, with Grande choking up during her performance of “Goodnight n Go," a song that feels like an ode to her late ex, Mac Miller. A few tour stops later in Washington, D.C., Grande also choked up while performing “Thank U, Next,” a track that references Miller's passing directly.
Many fans have expressed their surprise that the singer decided to perform those songs at all, considering how difficult it must be for her to sing about Miller after his death in 2018. And Grande acknowledged the issue herself, telling her fans after the D.C. show on Twitter, “thanks for accepting my humanness. it’s super emo and difficult singing some of these songs. but you make me smile.”
If they're so difficult, then why the choice to perform “Goodnight n Go” and “Thank U, Next,” songs that clearly stir up tough emotions, in the first place? The answer is simple: because Grande is, and always has been, brave enough to show her vulnerability. On last August's Sweetener, for instance, songs like "No Tears Left To Cry" and "Get Well Soon" displayed the singer's raw feelings around events ranging from the Manchester bombings to her then-new relationship with Pete Davidson. And on February's Thank U, Next, arguably Grande’s most emotional record to date, she chronicled how she was managing life post-breakup with Davidson, while also trying to recover from Miller's sudden death and deal with PTSD related to the bombings.
With her music, Grande reveals everything she's feeling, thus teaching her fans how to love, how to thrive, how to recover, and how to say goodbye, no matter how hard it might be. Some of the songs are more personal than others, and understandably, the singer finds it painful to sing them live; she purposely left “Ghostin” and “Imagine” — songs directly about her relationship with Miller and his death — off her tour setlist, explaining in a February tweet, “if I can get thru [‘Ghostin’] yea but right now it’s not on the set list. i jus want to have a good time with y’all and like .... make it thru the show lol.”
Yet the fact that Grande can sing any of those tough songs live — and write about her life's hardest events at all — is impressive and inspiring. And when she breaks down on stage, it's not a sign of weakness, or a sign she needs to take a break, or a sign that she needs to remove even more songs from her setlist. No, Grande becoming overwhelmed with emotion during her performance is why audiences pay hundreds of dollars to see her. That’s the artist they’ve come to know and love: a strong woman with a wicked ponytail who’s going to give you whatever’s left of her heart, every time she releases an album or steps out on stage.
In an industry that too often lacks authenticity, a star who comes across as truly authentic, showing off all their scars, is bound to succeed and resonate with the public. Grande's willingness to cry and let it out tells her fans — many of them young girls and boys — that showing your feelings is not just OK, but powerful. The singer has a massive fanbase; the arena at the Albany show was nearly sold out of its 17,500 seats. Watching her live, it's clear that an entire community has been brought together by the emotions the star has shared, and it's impossible to not feel connected to her, even if you’ve never before seen one of her shows.
The pain and humanity Grande shows on-stage each concert brings us all together, helping us bond over and process our own struggles and vulnerability. Including songs like “Goodnight n Go” in her setlist was never a mistake, but the best choice Grande could have made.