Ariana Grande rises to occasion in long-awaited, sold-out Tampa show

Despite a near fall, the pop superstar delivered a joyful, commanding performance at Amalie Arena | Concert review
Ariana Grande performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Nov. 24.
Ariana Grande performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Nov. 24. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2019|Updated Nov. 25, 2019

One misstep. That’s how close Ariana Grande came to crashing down in Tampa.

It came during Grande’s second song on Sunday at Amalie Arena, as the pop superstar attempted to strut across a table in impossible platform spikes. She took one false step and wobbled south, into the arms of a very quick-thinking dancer.

Had Grande hit the ground, it would’ve made headlines around the world; such is the overpowering wattage of her celebrity. Instead she laughed and rolled on with the rest of her choreography, smile beaming, gloss popping as always.

“Thank you for making me feel loved when I fell earlier,” she said later in the show, laughing it off once again. “I had to fall. It’s been 87 shows and I haven’t fallen yet, so it had to happen.”

What’s one near-fall, anyway? Grande has lived through a lot more since her last trip to Tampa four years ago, some of it good (headlining Coachella, winning her first Grammy), some of it awful (the 2017 Manchester bombing), some of it a little bit of both (Pete Davidson). Even Sunday’s show was not without a tiny bit of drama — it had been rescheduled from late May, when Grande bailed on Tampa hours before showtime due to illness.

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But for Grande the show goes on, always, and the sold-out crowd of more than 15,000 was right there to catch her, trust-fall style. And by “right there,” I mean it; Grande’s stage featured a catwalk stretching across the arena floor in a shape a tiny bit reminiscent of, let’s say, a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Anytime Grande wanted, she could strut out around it like she owned the place, blowing rapid-fire kisses and occasionally dipping down to a dotlike stage in the middle.

For an event so focused on security, it was quite the show of accessibility. Grande occasionally got within arm’s reach of the crowd, twirling and grinding on her dancers while urging fans to sing along on Side to Side or 7 Rings. For that one — one of the year’s biggest hits, nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys — Grande and her crew romped all over a graffitied pink Cadillac that rose from the floor, the word Tampa splashed across the driver’s-side door.

Grande even dipped down to the floor for a suite of songs from her 2015 holiday EP Christmas and Chill — ’tis the season, after all — as she tossed gifts to the crowd in a flurry of fake snow, her dancers waving candy-cane canes.

An overstuffed, tightly orchestrated pop spectacle like this always risks overshadowing a performer’s talent, but it’s hard with a voice as virtuosic as Ari’s. Even after a recent illness, she seemed determined to power through on her own, owning her vulnerable melismatic runs on difficult, rangy songs like Everytime and the vampy, piano-loungey Dangerous Woman. Her sonic eclecticism showed on the ethereally sensual God Is a Woman, the dreamy island vibes of R.E.M., the flouncy plinks of Be Alright, the adventurous jazz of Sweetener and oddball ska-pop palette of The Light Is Coming.

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RELATED: 10 steps to ‘7 Rings’: How Ariana Grande became the most relevant pop star on earth

Despite the stage’s ostensible openness, Grande never really revealed herself in full. She was almost always bathed in colorful but dim lighting, cloudy blues and reds and purples and, most commonly, pinks. During Get Well Soon, performed on a small stage in the crowd, an enormous moon globe descended from the rafters, commanding the eye and dwarfing poor lil’ Ari.

But she didn’t run and hide, not even after her near-spill. As she thanked the crowd for not laughing when she fell, she also thanked Tampa specifically for sticking with her since May.

“I’m so grateful to be with you guys, finally,” she said.

And she ended the show on that same note of gratitude, closing with her hit Thank U, Next, swaying and sashaying and skipping around her catwalk in sexy-Santa togs. Needless to say, she didn’t come close to falling. She and her dancers just descended into the stage at song’s end.

When it’s time to rise again, she’ll be ready.