A Lesson Learned at an Ariana Grande Concert

Sometimes, things happen that make you think. At least they make me think.

Last Friday, I was reviewing Ariana Grande for the Albany Times Union. I asked to review this one, thinking that A) in the aftermath of her criticizing America, it would be a relevant piece that would get some reads, and B) it would provide a chance to be snarky about a popular artist. Either way, it would be a chance to flex my writing skills.

Gawking at the audience at a show is a favorite pastime of mine, and as a reviewer it can be part of the job. I tend to include audience reaction as part of a review for context and to provide a fuller picture of what a show is like, but part of audience-watching is just looking at who is at a particular concert and drawing your own conclusions about people. I tend to think that I can read something about this person and just who he or she really is.

Take my time at Shakey Graves – hipsters into craft beer. Democrats. Kid Rock – cheap beer-guzzlin’ Trump voters. Zendaya – 8-year olds and their parents. Ariana Grande – definitely tweens and their parental escorts.

Then, it happened. I looked over at the aisle seat across from me and my preconceived notions were shattered.

Sitting there was a heavyset little boy who couldn’t have been over the age of 10. I assumed he was there because he had a sister or someone who wanted to see the show, but then I took a closer look.

He definitely didn’t have a sibling with him. Next to him was a woman, judging by facial similarities, his mother.

Then I saw what he was wearing: a just-purchased Ariana Grande tour shirt. Those bad boys cost $40, so this definitely wasn’t something bought on a whim. Interesting.

So, from time to time, I looked over to see what he was doing. How was he reacting?

He was going nuts. Jumping up and down, full-on dancing: arms waving, head bobbing and rocking, legs moving. He was in the zone.

His mom? She was snapping pics to show him, smiling and seemed generally enthused that her son was enjoying himself.

I got to thinking, this little boy may be one of the coolest mother fuckers I’ve ever seen. It’s hard enough to be a kid in this day and age, between cyberbulling, public shaming and just generally kids being monsters and treating each other like shit.

This kid is probably ripe for mockery from his peers. He’s heavyset and he digs Ariana Grande. But there he was, not giving a fuck about any of that.

And there was his mom, encouraging him to go and have fun rather than pigeonhole him into some other standard of what a boy should be like.

This whole thing took me out of my typical cynical worldview. In my head, I painted an entire world for this kid. Ostracized, out-of-place, possibly gay, but he was able to find refuge at an Ariana Grande concert. And his understanding, good-hearted mother, letting him be himself.

So, what’s the point in all of this, besides my overactive imagination that created an entire life for a random little kid at a concert and that I make incredibly detailed judgments about people I don’t know?

People talk about Ariana Grande and call her a spoiled brat after her donut-licking, America-hating, caught-on-tape moment. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. That isn’t really my place to say. But even an Ariana Grande concert has value. Even if it’s just as an outlet for an 8-year old who would be otherwise a boy out of place.