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Ariana Grande lights up the night at JPJ

Set designs and choreography stand out from a show of career highlights

<p>Ariana Grande performed a slew of crowd-pleasing hits at JPJ Nov. 15 as part of her international Sweetener tour.&nbsp;</p>

Ariana Grande performed a slew of crowd-pleasing hits at JPJ Nov. 15 as part of her international Sweetener tour. 

Ariana Grande is currently embarking on her international “Sweetener” tour, and she stopped in Charlottesville Friday night for her second-ever time. She last performed at A Concert for Charlottesville in September 2017, where she and other musicians — including Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder — raised funds for victims of the white supremecist rallies in Charlottesville Aug. 11 and 12 in a night of music and unity. This second time around, Grande performed solo at JPJ arena in a night that was nothing short of astounding.

American musical duo Social House opened the night with a few of their biggest hits like “Love Me Back,” “Why You Always Gotta Start Something” and “Magic In The Hamptons.” After their performance, a short video played advocating for people in the crowd to register to vote. Every American venue of Grande’s tour has included voter registration booths — an admirable goal for Grande and her team, who seem to want to bring people in with music and help them change the world after they leave.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and the anticipation skyrocketed. The sold-out arena erupted into cheers, as Grande held one singular note to start the show. One of the first songs performed is one of the highlights of her career, “God is a woman.” The set design — which recreated Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” but replaced Jesus and his 12 disciples with Grande and 12 female background dancers — was impressive, which bolstered Grande’s performance of the song.  

The studio version of “God is a woman” displays Grande’s vocal range, intricately layering vocals to sound like a church choir. But performed live, it’s a completely different experience — almost like the sound waves hit the audience member’s own chest. No matter where you were in JPJ, it felt like Grande was right there. The choreography was incredible — taking influence from her 2018 VMA performance. She finished the song by saying “Charlottesville, Welcome to The Sweetener World Tour”.

Another highlight of the show was “7 rings,” a boppy ode to fame and fortune. Grande was able to recreate the music video — where she and several women are seen lounging and dancing on spray-painted cars — by bringing a car onto the stage, this time with “CVille” scrawled on the side. Ariana and her background dancers also threw money at the audience, similar to a strip club, in another nod to the music video. 

Once the crowd had settled in to Grande’s performance, she transitioned into “breathin’,” “needy,” “fake smile,” “make up” and “NASA.” Something only truly great artists can do is make a huge venue feel like a coffee shop. Grande made JPJ feel intimate when she slowed things down, pushing the background dancers to the side and standing by herself to belt out her emotions. Grande was clearly singing from the heart, which made some people in the audience cry. 

“make up” was more of an upbeat performance, as the song focuses on on-and-off-again relationships. The background dancers did a great job of not-so-subtly suggesting the best part of making up in a relationship. Grande’s performance of “NASA” was another instance of beautiful set design, as the display created a cold, isolated environment where the only thing giving warmth to the arena was Grande’s voice. A nice touch was the solar system shown on a globe hanging from the ceiling, which showed stars shooting through the sky and different planets, similar to a planetarium.

Grande’s triumphant show continued with spectacular performances of some of her older hits — 2016’s “Dangerous Woman” and 2014’s “Break Free” — and “no tears left to cry” from her 2018 album. Each song had its own unique style and aesthetic that stood out. “Dangerous Woman” was performed in the style of a 1960s Bond film opening, with Grande wearing a vibrant red dress and the whole stage drowning in red lights. She sang in a slow, sultry style with dance moves to match the vibe. “Break Free” had a fun, bubblegum pop feeling to it, with rainbows all across the stage. Everyone in the audience was dancing, jumping around and having a blast. “no tears left to cry” paid homage to the music video by having all the background dancers carrying umbrellas.

Grande ended the performance with the crowd-pleaser of the night — “thank u, next.” Before the performance, the screen on stage showed a montage of tweets, pictures and performances that had led up to the November 2018 release of the song. As in the pop culture reference-heavy music video, Grande and her background dancers wore Mrs. Claus outfits like the main characters of the 2004 film “Mean Girls.” 

Before leaving the stage, Grande said she was happy the audience brought so much energy to the concert because she and some of her background dancers had been feeling sick. She credited the audience with helping to keep spirits up within the team. It was a testament to how much effort she and her team puts into her singing, planning for the shows and the choreography that no one could tell anyone was sick. Ariana Grande put on an entertaining and wide-ranging show for Charlottesville — while making everyone in the audience feel a whole lot sweeter.

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