For a few hours on Sunday, Ariana Grande, a 23-year-old pop star from Boca Raton, Florida, was the leader of the free world. The position has been open for months. Contestants ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to, improbably, Chinese President Xi Jinping have been auditioning for the job.
Two weeks after 22 people were killed and more than 60 injured in a terrorist attack at her “Dangerous Woman” concert in Manchester in the UK, Grande returned to the city to hallow the ground and soothe the survivors. In the process, she rededicated her generation to the proposition that all men — and women, most definitely women — are created equal.
While US President Donald Trump gutter-tweeted argle-bargle and played another round of golf, Grande delivered what will likely stand as the official American response to the bombing in Manchester and to another terrorist attack, the night before the concert, in London.
Her hastily organised “One Love Manchester” benefit concert rejected fear and bitterness. Time and place, along with a leavening of goodwill, were sufficient to elevate sugary pop songs to public anthems. Watching the concert streaming online, it was obviously more than a good time. Tears flowed. So did joy. Yet it might also be that a good time is among the most powerful collective responses to jihadist nihilism.
Grande didn’t just replace Trump on the world stage for the day, she subtly refuted him, offering a face that was brave and kind in the wake of terror while accomplishing several useful goals — raising money for victims, bolstering courage and making the attacks look both puny and pointless. Whatever the terrorists had hoped to produce in Manchester, it certainly wasn’t this party.
Benefit concerts have a long pedigree. History tells us something. The original, the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York, was organised by George Harrison in 1971. The performers were all male. Grande’s concert, taking place on the same weekend that the female-directed Wonder Woman broke the $100-million barrier at the box office, was a potent showcase for young women.