Ariana Grande’s all-star Manchester benefit is a moving expression of resilience

Ariana Grande performs Sunday at the One Love Manchester benefit concert in England.
(Dave Hogan / Associated Press)
Pop Music Critic

Success had a clear shape at One Love Manchester, the all-star benefit concert that Ariana Grande presented Sunday evening in that British city.

Held less than two weeks after a suicide bombing killed 22 people as Grande finished a May 22 performance at the Manchester Arena, Sunday’s event needed to show that a huge crowd could gather safely without incident — doubly important given the subsequent terrorist attack that shook London on Saturday night.

Yet One Love Manchester — which brought artists including Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Liam Gallagher, Pharrell Williams and Justin Bieber to the Old Trafford cricket stadium — had to do something else too, and that was to demonstrate that pop music’s spirit of openness and optimism hadn’t been quelled by the earlier assault.

Missions accomplished.

Sunday’s three-hour event, broadcast and live-streamed for an audience of millions on television and the Internet, was a moving expression of resilience — by both the performers and the crowd in Manchester, members of which could be seen enjoying themselves in beautiful reaction shots filled with wide grins, hoisted drinks and children seated on their parents’ shoulders.


Introducing her song “Side to Side,” Grande said she’d recently met with the mother of 15-year-old Olivia Campbell, who died in the bombing. Campbell would have wanted to hear the hits, Grande said the teen’s mom told her — and so the singer designed Sunday’s concert to honor a pop fan’s thirst for ebullience.

Examples of joy abounded: Marcus Mumford beaming as he scratched out disco guitar licks to back up Williams in “Get Lucky”; Coldplay’s Chris Martin timing a leap to a burst of brightly colored confetti; Grande flirting with her boyfriend, rapper Mac Miller, during their giddy “The Way.”

Rather than wait till the end of the show to perform, Grande appeared at various points to do her songs (including “Be Alright” and a throbbing “Break Free”) and to collaborate with other artists on the bill.

She sang “Better Days,” about finding shelter from “a war right outside our window,” with her tour opener, Victoria Monét; she later joined a choir from Manchester’s Parrs Wood High School — Grande embraced one young woman clearly overcome with emotion — for “My Everything,” which insists, “What we got is worth fighting for.”

She also teamed with Cyrus for an appealingly ragged rendition of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House — just one moment in this carefully organized production when the performers preserved some of the rawness that can make live music a pleasure to experience.

Bieber offered more of that in “Love Yourself” and “Cold Water,” for which he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, as natural and unpolished as someone strumming in a college dorm. Robbie Williams did it early in the show when he admitted his voice was gone and asked the audience to help him sing “Angels.”

Both times you were reminded that you were watching a real human in real time, just as the victims of the May 22 attack had been.

To finish One Love Manchester, Grande gathered most of the night’s performers onstage as she fought back tears to sing “One Last Time.” Then she ran into the wings, only to come back by herself for a masterful “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

She was imagining an untroubled place as though she could will it into existence.

Twitter: @mikaelwood