Ariana Grande Was Updating Pop. Then Billie Eilish Came Along.


Wednesday evening at Radio City Music Hall, Billie Eilish was cavorting in a universe of her personal design. On the screens behind her had been crawling bugs, a child doll engulfed in flames, gloomy silhouettes of barren bushes. Her hair was dyed a deep black, with tones of inexperienced and purple peeking by way of. For a lot of the present, the lighting was broodingly darkish and pierced by intense strobes, and she or he commanded the room alone however for 2 musicians dressed unobtrusively in all white.

The evening earlier than at Madison Square Garden, Ariana Grande delivered a fantasia, too. Tautly managed dance sequences. Small acts of kiss-off theater. With her hair clutched excessive into her signature ponytail, and carrying shimmering outfits with shoulders that pointed skyward to a budget seats, she was half 1950s and half 2050s.

From a distance, Grande and Eilish symbolize two divergent approaches to pop superstardom. Grande is chromed and polished, a laser-precise, big-voiced, old style maximalist; Eilish is offbeat and earthy, with an virtually shrugging method to fame and a voice that typically stays on the stage of a conspiratorial whisper.

But these two live shows — Grande’s was the third of 4 enviornment exhibits within the space final week, and Eilish’s was the second of two large-but-not-yet-arena-sized performances — demonstrated how they’re each reckoning with the identical questions. The chasm between their solutions displays the methods by which the accelerant of the web is rejiggering pop stardom in what feels like something much faster than real time.

This gestural intimacy was part of Eilish’s gift for making very grand moments feel extremely personal. An unpretentious performer, she chatted loosely with the crowd. She wasn’t a polished dancer like Grande, but more of an enthusiastic mover, jumping wildly and bounding across the stage like she was hearing her songs for the first time, and loving them.

It was a contrast to Grande’s extravaganza, which felt casually grand but rote, making the big room seem even bigger. Grande is a powerhouse singer, one of the best pure vocalists currently working in pop, but Grande the belter is more developed than Grande the stage personality. Though this show had jolts of energy, it was meted out in controlled bursts. Her performance was a tug of war between a diva showcase, one that flaunted her singing, and a dance-pop extravaganza, which is typically the stock in trade of less polished vocalists.

Which is to say that, for all the expressiveness of her voice, there is still something distant about Grande, something slightly reluctant. Over the past six years, she’s built a presence that’s crisp, authoritative and — especially online — often fun. But this concert showed the limitations of that approach: It offers little hint of what might lurk beneath when the ponytail comes undone. And as Eilish made clear, now more than ever, what’s happening in the shadows is crawling up into the light.



Source link Nytimes.com

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