Ariana Grande's Rodeo Debut Is Just Plain Weird

Ariana Grande NRG Stadium March 17, 2015

Ariana Grande has a great voice. Add to that some well-produced pop songs with some talented collaborators, and it's not exactly a mystery as to why she's so popular. Judging by the crowd at NRG Stadium Tuesday night, people freaking love Ariana Grande. Now that that is out of the way...

What's worse: a bad show or a mundane one? This is a hard question to answer, because there are arguments for both. And it's worth considering here, at the start, because Grande herself did not put on a bad show. There were things about how that show was put on that were bad, but she herself was, at worst, OK.

This is not an attempt to damn with faint praise. There was never a moment when Grande was onstage where you would think, "this sucks." But is that enough to make a show good?

And when you're this insanely popular, does a good or bad show even matter?

Costume changes are a necessary evil in the world of big-time pop-music concert production. Fans don't just accept them, they've grown to expect them. Why shell out major bucks for a concert ticket and not get to see Katy or Miley or Gaga wear increasingly silly outfits as the show progresses? Sure, those breaks could have been used for more music, but it is what it is.

So the fact that twice Grande walked offstage Tuesday to step into a black box with a mirror hanging in it and twice walked out without changing costumes was just plain weird. Like, these breaks just stopped the show dead in its tracks while she went to do... something? Meanwhile, her DJ was filling time by being awful out loud. It's never a good idea to give someone with the personality of a pizza box (hat-tip to Marco Torres for that apt description) a live mike.

Ariana Grande, as previously established, has a great voice. Her studio work proves that she can use that voice to make listenable tunes. She, at times, is very impressive vocally.

So the fact that there are times live where you get the impression she doesn't know how to sing is just plain weird. When she sticks to the songs as written she's golden, but sometimes she tries to do these vocal flourishes that seem like a good idea but sound more like someone needs to spend time with some music theory classes.

Collaborations can be a double-edged sword. They can introduce you to new audiences. They can take a kind of boring song and make them more interesting. They can play to your strengths and hide your weaknesses.

Now, make no mistake: it was cool as hell to hear A$AP Ferg and Childish Gambino and The Weeknd at RodeoHouston. Absurd, because there's no way in hell any of those three get booked at the rodeo ever, but cool as hell.

Story continues on the next page.

But again, the presentation was just plain weird. In an arena, where you have video walls front and center behind you, you can do that thing where a collaborator appears via video and does his or her thing and the real live star of the show steps to the back of the stage for a minute. That doesn't really work on the rodeo's revolving stage, so disconnected from the audience, without that big video-wall focal point. So instead, you just sort of get Ariana dancing or standing around awkwardly waiting for her part of the song. When you add in the fact that so many of her songs have guest performances well... it was just plain weird at times.

Now, I get it. If you're a ride or die Arianator, it's easy to look at these critiques, roll your eyes and say, "Yes, yes, but she is awesome, therefor the show was awesome, therefore stop being a hater." And there's no real arguing with that.

But what if you have no dog in the fight? What if you just watched the show with no emotional investment?

How would you answer the question of, "What did you think of the show?"

I don't know, and that's just plain weird.

Personal Bias: Ignoring Iggy, I tend to like the people Ariana Grande works with more than I like her.

The Crowd: Not quite a sea of green and cowboy hats, although there were plenty of both; lots and lots and lots of screamers; 75,068 folks in total, which made it the 10th largest crowd for a Rodeo performance.

Overheard In the Crowd: "It makes it extremely more disturbing," said my plus one. This was in response to the question, "If she thinks she's a baby, does the fact that she wears those cat ears make her a cat baby, and does that make things more or less disturbing?"

Random Notebook Dump: One of the kids competing in the calf scramble got taken out on a stretcher. Be warned: the calves are not messing around in 2015.

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