The 02 Arena is London’s best fit for elaborate bubble-gum pop acts, and tonight proved no different, serving up pop princess Ariana Grande with fun-loving Brit pop-rockers Rixton in support.
Shows such as this are as much about the sense of occasion as the music itself, translating the Youtube videos and social media updates into a tangible real-life experience. And there’s no doubt Grande has many loyal followers, gladly donning glow in the dark cat ears at her request (and at £25 a pop to the shuddering dismay of many parents), but also desperate to release their excitability.
Rixton’s Jake Roche plays this mood to perfection, his cheeky rapscallion charm going down a storm. Tracks like ‘Wait on Me’, ‘Appreciate You’ and the international hit ‘Me and my Broken Heart’ are perfect boyband material, offering strong enough pop hooks to stay memorable. Half-way through the set Roche stops to playfully chat with a young fan – asking to take a selfie and wear her cat ears. Young hearts swoon. Signed to Scooter Braun’s label, the man behind Justin Bieber, the four piece’s debut album is released this weekend and features a collaboration with Ed Sheeran – who the band playfully introduce on stage for Hotel Ceiling. Screams of excitement turn to bemusement when no shock of ginger hair appears. “Only joking!” Roche quips.
Teasing with confidence, dance moves and a big new single ‘We All Want the Same Thing”, which takes the best of Maroon 5 and drapes it in a Union Jack, there’s every chance they could become rock’s One Direction.
As anticipation reaches fever pitch, the pretenders vacate for Grande to stake her claim to pop royalty - finally making a dramatic entrance to deafening squeals via a minute long countdown. The pint-sized star is initially difficult to spot behind a troupe of dancers, violinists and general distraction, but when ‘Bang Bang’ throttles into a glittery pink overdrive, with pyrotechnics shooting across the stage it’s impossible to ignore, and sets the very loud, attention seeking tone.
At 21, the former Nickelodeon star is only two albums into her pop career, but has the sex kitten looks and sickly sweet voice to, potentially, make it to the very top. In a world where marketing is everything, she’s crafted a space more successfully than contemporaries such Jessie J, by mixing smooth 90s R’n’B jams with balladry and the occasional dancefloor smash. ‘Best Mistake’, featuring her rapper boyfriend Big Sean, is particularly well rounded, and sees Grande flying across stage on a cloud. It highlights the well-crafted balance the show holds between mixing Barbie fun and more mature sultriness.
The Mariah Carey flashback ‘Be My Baby’, taken from Grande’s most recent My Everything LP, strikes a more mature chord and shows how easily she can switch demographic when the time is right. For tonight however, the main emphasis is on fun. In the blink of an eye the stage is transported back to the 1920s, Ariana flying on chandelier. A reason isn’t needed. When it isn’t props perking the interest she rattles through numerous collaborative efforts, including bouncy number ‘The Way’ with Mac Miller. Unusually for a showpiece tour dates such as this, no guests join her on stage.
Still, when you can fall back on four big singles to end the night, including the Zedd produced ‘Break Free’ and much loved ‘Problem’ – minus Iggy Azalea and her cancelled tour – it matters little. This crowd is happy to dance to anything that’s loud and bright enough.