REVIEW: Ariana Grande sets Cleveland ablaze with ‘Dangerous Woman Tour’

Michael Nied

2016 saw Ariana Grande emerging as a driving force in pop music.

The youthful songstress moved in a new sonic direction with the release of her third studio album “Dangerous Woman,” transitioning into a more mature direction with the soulful musings on the album’s title track.

“Don’t need permission / made my decision to test my limits,” she boldly declared over a moody production in the track’s opening lines. Her declaration of independence and control set the scene for a new era of music that saw Grande move from a culture consumer to a true pop creator.

Now a driving force in pop music, Grande is kicking off 2017 on the road with her “Dangerous Woman Tour,” and Sunday evening she brought the show to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.

The tenth stop on her tour, Grande tackled the performance with abounding professionalism and energy.

It was truly an evening of female empowerment as Grande took the stage following performances from singer-songwriter Victoria Money and British girl group Little Mix.

Monet, who wrote on seven tracks for “Dangerous Woman,” delivered strong choreography and commanded the stage with a presence that promises big things from the up-and-comer.

Little Mix delivered an equally striking performance. Supported by four dancers, the girl group performed their breakout anthem “Wings” along with singles off their 2016 release “Glory Days.”

The ladies surrendered the stage after delivering a high octane kiss-off to their ex-lovers on “Shout Out to My Ex.” It was a highlight from their set that left them bounding across the stage and discovering joy in their newly single status.

The energy was palpable in the arena after Little Mix exited the stage. The audience broke out into uncontainable cheers as the clock approached zero and Ariana Grande took to the stage.

Ascending the stage from a hidden staircase, Grande kicked off her set with the twinkling “Be Alright.” Dressed in all black with her signature ponytail tumbling down her back, she and a crew of dancers vogued in perfect syncopation before moving into her Future-assisted single “Everyday.”

Grande went on to work through a 21-song setlist comprised of chart-topping hits and deep cuts from the “Dangerous Woman” album.

After a quick costume change — the first of four throughout the show — Grande channeled the ’90s and transformed the stage into a dance floor before her live band floated in from behind a curtain for a more stripped back set.

Visually, the “Dangerous Woman Tour” was stunning. Grande’s lighting and visual designers should be commended for transforming a relatively simple stage into a lush garden of possibility. Light was used as an architectural element to add dimension, while a screen behind Grande and the stage were transformed via a series of beautifully designed projections.

One particularly striking moment was a transition between “Leave Me Lonely” and the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Side to Side.” Grande was projected onto the screen with a collection of words superimposed over her body. She moved organically to a compelling instrumental track as she declared her femininity and found empowerment in her sexuality.

“Not asking for it,” the screen read in a declaration to her sexual autonomy.

As the video concluded, Grande returned to find the stage transformed into a colorful gym that paid tribute to the “Side to Side” music video. Delivering pitch perfect vocals while riding on a stationary bike is no easy feat, but Grande accomplished it and proceeded to rap along to Minaj’s verse to their second collaboration “Bang Bang.”

Later in the set, pink balloons rained from above while she performed album cuts “Sometimes” and “Thinking Bout You.” Speaking to the audience, she explained that the two songs were personal favorites on the album, injecting their performance with a sense of weight and importance.

Following a performance of “Problem” and the criminally underrated “Into You” (seriously, go listen to “Into You”) Grande exited the stage to a bout of applause. The energized tracks capped off the main portion of the evening, but Grande wasn’t finished just yet.

Grande flirted with the dichotomy between purity and wild abandonment during her performance. “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” she confidently sang during “Bad Decisions.”

Grande fully embodied her wild side during an encore performance of the album’s title track “Dangerous Woman.”

Dressed in a luxurious black gown, Grande performed the final track as the stage erupted into flames around her. The contrast between her pristine dress and the brilliant flames were the perfect embodiment of the smoldering performance and effectively ended the night on a (literal) high note.

Vocally, Ariana Grande continues to exceed expectations. Her voice seemed to know no bounds. She belted along to tracks like “Break Free” and showcased her gentle, upper register on a collection of ballads throughout the show. Every track showcased Grande’s versatility as a performer and proved that she is in a class of her own amongst her contemporaries.

If 2016 saw Grande ascend to the top of the pop game, 2017 has officially cemented her status as a defining hit-maker of the generation. The “Dangerous Woman Tour” proved that the 23-year-old is capable of delivering the whole package.

Visually and vocally, Ariana Grande is a force to be reckoned with, and her tenure in Cleveland left the city ablaze.

Michael Nied is the entertainment reviewer for the Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]