Being from Manchester is probably my biggest personality trait. I never shut up about it, and the day I don’t obnoxiously yell “Manchester band” whenever Oasis/Blossoms/The Smiths/every other good band play, is the day you know there’s something seriously wrong with me. So, when the worst thing happened in my favourite place, it had a big impact. And then when Ariana Grande began to heal an entire city with the One Love concert, it had an even bigger impact. Before April 2017, I paid very little attention to Ariana’s music. She produced empowering, if not slightly generic, hits that I would enjoy on release, but I would start to hate after the 200th radio play. Since the bomb, I have become an Ariana stan, entirely by accident. There’s no denying the effect that she has had on the city, and while she means more to some than to others, the five-foot pop princess from Florida has made her mark on the music capital of the world.
When Ariana released her Sweetener/Thank u, Next tour dates this year, it did not go unnoticed that Manchester had missed out on a gig. Everyone knew we would be getting something special, her big return to the city that changed her life in so many ways, but as someone who loves Ariana, Manchester and Manchester’s iconic Pride Festival, this return is kind of underwhelming.
I was under the impression that her return would be triumphant, a “fuck you” to the hate and the fear, and a celebration of her fans in this city, and of the 22 lives lost. Instead, she will get a half an hour tour of the hits as the headliner of Pride Festival, something that wouldn’t be enough to give back to the city and her fans there, even without bringing in the controversy of it being at Pride.
Manchester’s gay scene goes back decades. Our Pride parade is one of the biggest in the UK, and for one weekend a year, the Gay Village expands across the city and everything is rainbow themed. The event is huge, and it feels like the whole city turns out for four incredible days. The Gay Village and Canal Street are a huge part of Manchester’s history, and remain as popular as they were when the first drag shows were held there in the 1940s. Since 2003, access to the Gay Village and the events held there have required a paid wristband, with money from the sales being donated to LGBTQ+ charities across the city. Like many Prides across the country, Manchester has faced criticism for pricing out the community, and turning the event into a profitable situation. Even before the announcement of Ariana’s headlining this year, there was a huge uproar after it was announced weekend tickets would be £75, up from £30 last year. After she was announced, she received the blame for this hike in prices.
As much as the city has love for Ariana, and for those who adore her and want a redo of their previous awful experience, we need to admit that this is not the time or place for her return. They will be paying ridiculous amounts for a festival set, where she will have little time for audience interaction or opportunities to play songs other than the hits. And Manchester’s LGBTQ+ community have got an even worse deal, having to face a huge hike in prices and what is shaping up to be a Pride Festival where the majority of the crowd are young, straight girls. Of course, there shouldn’t be some form of “gatekeeping” in who can or should attend Pride, and allies are forever welcome there, but the announcement of Ariana’s headline performance has led to crowds of people who have no interest in the history behind the Pride Festival or interest in the people it is there to celebrate, instead treating the event as any other gig.
Ariana needed to return to Manchester in a special way and that can’t be denied. But this just isn’t the way for it: a strange choice that is only going to leave everyone involved unsatisfied. Give the Manchester fans a special show, but don’t coopt another event for this huge return. There are a huge number of successful LGBTQ+ artists who could have headlined, while at the same time honouring the people the event is for and not turning it into an event for a different group of people. Those affected by the bomb deserve better, and the Pride Festival deserves better.