Ariana Grande spent much of her debut as a Madison Square Garden headliner overwhelmed by the moment.
“I’m going to stop [talking] before I cry again,” the 21-year-old said before she launched into one of her 90-minute set’s highlights, the doo-wop-meets-hip-hop ballad “Honeymoon Avenue.” “I’ve cried 65 times during this show so far.”
Some of that was understandable. Following audio of her late grandfather, Frank, talking about how she should fight for career, she broke down in tears as she sang the ballad “My Everything,” leaving it to the crowd to continue the song while she composed herself.
Too often, though, Grande seemed overwhelmed by design. Her powerful voice, with its impressive range and depth, should be the centerpiece of the show, as she showed on the gorgeous version of the ‘50s-styled ballad “Tattooed Heart” and her recent R&B-leaning dance hit “Love Me Harder” with The Weeknd.
Instead, in a nod to the short attention spans of her youngest fans – many of whom were decked out in $40 cat ears that would glow as part of Grande’s light show – the focus of the show became odd distractions. During “Pink Champagne,” Grande handed off her microphone so she could be lifted into the air by her troupe of 10 dancers, only to be put down seconds later for no reason. Because so many of her hits feature raps, videos of Big Sean, Childish Gambino and Mac Miller are projected on a video wall behind her, leaving her to wander the stage until it’s her turn to sing again. To fill time during one of Grande’s costume changes, her emcee actually started tap dancing.
The bigger problem, though, is that Grande chooses to sing so much of her songs at the top of her range, where her voice is tinniest and doesn’t mix well with arena amplification.
These are relatively easy fixes that Grande, who plays another sold-out show at The Garden Saturday night, should be able to make on her own. After all, the former Nickelodeon star knows how to hold an audience’s attention. Fans may accept this kind of show for now, but soon her “Honeymoon Tour” period will be over.
SETLIST: Bang Bang/Hands on Me/Best Mistake/Break Your Heart Right Back/Be My Baby/Right There/The Way/Pink Champagne/Tattooed Heart/One Last Time/Why Try/My Everything/Love Me Harder/All My Love/Honeymoon Avenue/ Break Free//ENCORE: Problem