When I got tickets for my 14-year-old daughter to see Jeff Lynne’s ELO in July, I asked my older daughter, who’s 16, who she’d like to see perform.
“Ariana Grande,” she said with a hopeful smile.
I knew she was a big fan. And I knew tickets would cost a small fortune. And I didn’t know a single song by the artist, who has to her credit 13 top 10 hits (and she’s only 25). But I acquiesced, bought two tickets, and in an attempt to bond with my daughter, got Ariana’s albums to familiarize myself with the setlist and discover what I had been missing.
The concert was on Saturday. I’m used to small venues with 100 or 200 people enjoying some underground pop artist. The music may be loud, but the crowd claps and listens, some dancing and some singing.
It had been a while since I had been to a concert in an arena – especially one with screaming teens. I was overwhelmed by the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. The second Ariana stepped out on the stage, my daughter was screaming. I looked over, and she was wiping a tear from her eye, a look of utter joy on her face.
Then I knew. Then I remembered. My mind flashed back to my first concert (Styx in 1983, with my mother) when I marveled at witnessing the members of the group that I had seen only on album covers since 1977. It was surreal.
Ariana – and U2?
I also remembered seeing U2 for the first time on the same grounds as the arena I was in (the old Omni was demolished to make way for the present State Farm Arena in 1997). I shed a few tears as well during that concert, for this group spoke to me as no other group had. At the time, U2 was touring in support of their monster album The Joshua Tree and were beginning to become larger than life. But they were still serious about their craft (some say too serious), and their music had meaning.
That night in 1987, I, too, screamed the words to every song – “With or Without You,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Out of Control” and “Bad.” I’ll never forget the feeling I had.
Granted, Ariana’s lyrics aren’t as deep as U2’s (although some may argue that both artists’ lyrics are equally pretentious). In her song “Successful,” she sings, “Tonight, I’m a baller, babe / Even way beneath in, yeah, oh, woah. . . Say, bae, you should play with me, babe / Yeah, it feels so good to be so young and have this fun and be successful, yeah / I’m so successful.” But I have to admit that my favorite pop songs are a little lightweight lyrically: ” Cause we, could be happy, can’t you see / If you’d only let me be the one to hold you / And keep you here with me” (from “That Thing You Do!“)
I can’t tell you what my daughter sees or hears in Ariana Grande. Most may pass her off as a basic 2000s pop artist, although Mark Savage of BBC News said, “Ariana Grande is one of pop’s most intriguing and gifted singers – a magnetic performer with unrivalled vocal control.” Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote that Grande’s voice “can be silky, breathy or cutting, swooping through long melismas or jabbing out short R&B phrases; it’s always supple and airborne, never forced.”
But who cares? My daughter knew every word of every song, and at the end of the concert, her voice was strained from yelling//singing those words for two straight hours, along with 10,000 other people.
And when I periodically looked over and saw the huge smile on her face as she bounced up and down to the beat, I knew I had done a good thing, no matter whether I “got” Ariana Grande. She was experiencing her first concert, seeing an artist that she respected, and she’ll never forget it.
Passing the torch
I also felt a little nostalgic for my days as a teenager. I used to scoff at the baby boomers who still listened to their Simon & Garfunkel albums while there were such great artists in abundance during the 1980s – R.E.M., Prince, Springsteen. It was then that I realized that my generation had already passed the torch to a newer sound – one with a booming bass, rap and featured artists. No matter how hard I tried to brainwash my daughter into listening to real pop music, she had found her own voice. And I’m okay with that. (I think I have brainwashed my other daughter – hence the ELO concert.)
The generation before me didn’t understand the Human League or Duran Duran, nor do I understand the era of techno, dance and hip hop. I still cling to my 80s music (as apparent on this blog) and treasure melody and harmonies over style. I’m a dying breed, though, and trying to get exposure and appreciation for this blog is difficult if not impossible.
I still love music. But I’ve mellowed in my older age. I listen to Nick Drake, Suzanne Vega and Elliott Smith on Sunday mornings while I write, and I still don’t know any songs that are currently in Billboard’s Top 10.
I’ll let my daughter ride the wave so when the next generation comes up with something new, she’ll appreciate her music and what it made her. And she’ll remember that first concert and screaming every word to every song. And she’ll smile again.