As we all have heard by now, minutes after Ariana Grande took her final bow at England’s Manchester Arena last night, a bomb went off, ending the lives of at least 22 people and injuring 59 more. Apparently an attack from ISIS, this explosion immediately recalls the gunmen who ran amok in Paris two years ago, capping off a brutal evening with a mass shooting at the Bataclan concert hall during an Eagles of Death Metal show.
Today, the world—including both the parents who sent their young girls to the concert and the parents whose daughters weren’t there last night, but had been begged to buy tickets—continues to reel. The story of Saffie Rose Roussos, an eight-year-old girl who lost her life, painfully illustrates the youth who are attracted to spaces like this. And reports of Olivia Campbell-Hardy are unspeakable in their own way: The last time Olivia’s mother, Charlotte Campbell, heard from her was 8:30 p.m. last night via a text message Olivia sent about having an “amazing time.” She also thanked her mom for allowing her to go to the concert. Twenty four hours later, Campbell has still doesn’t know where her daughter is.
For musicians around the world, this type of attack is close to home. Loss of life on a grand scale is always tragic, but there is something particularly painful about imagining young women, so recently singing aloud to Grande’s self-actualizing anthems, abruptly losing their lives. It is as painful as considering the Parisian revelers in the City of Light who ended up being gunned down in the midst enjoying a rock show or the gay and queer-friendly patrons of Pulse Nightclub who found themselves in a bloodbath.
Like so many pop stars today, Grande has her share of mega-fans—often young folks whose love of an artist becomes a part of their identities. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters are strange and psychedelic, Beyoncé’s Beyhive is fierce and sassy and Grande’s own Arianators are fiercely loyal, having been with her since her Disney show Victorious. The point is that inside domed concert halls, young people have created their own place to explore burgeoning desires or to unshackle themselves from the alienation they might feel once the music ends. For such audiences, concerts aren’t merely events, but cultural moments that become identity-building experiences—a place where they can locate their tribes.
I had a great time when I saw Ariana in concert this year. So many young girls and young queer people thriving. I hate this.— Ira Madison III (@ira) May 23, 2017
While it is clear this attack could have happened at any pop star’s concert, Grande’s most recent album, Dangerous Woman, has allowed the young star to advance her own investigation of self. The singer often quotes Gloria Steinem and refers to her Aunt Judy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the third woman to ever run the National Press Club. Of course, it is unclear if such details have anything to do with why Grande’s concert was targeted, but it is important to note that her fans are certainly acquainted with the singer’s opinions, and these women hashtag, broadcast and proudly indicate that they too are Dangerous Women: body positive, pro-sex and pro-woman. As Rolling Stone writes, “[Parents] might be terrified to let their kids, especially their daughters, go out to a rock concert or a nightclub again. But the best way to fight vicious attacks on women and girls isn’t sheltering them.”
Any music lover can recall a show that left them feeling breathless, overcome with giddy excitement, recharged and alive. Seeing a show is a catharsis, a sacred space where communities come together to sing along, dance and identify themselves as “fans"—especially when those communities also have a hard time fitting in elsewhere, as many female and gay Arianators might. Attacks like yesterday’s endanger these spaces for exploration and are meant to inflict, as Amanda Petrusich writes for The New Yorker, ”spiritual wounds.“ The notion that seeing live music has devolved into a life-risking affair is psychically upsetting—especially when those halls are filled with young people struggling to find acceptance in an increasingly tumultuous world.