At 10:39 p.m., Ariana Grande’s vocals belted out “Raindrops (An Angel Cried)” from offstage. Consider it her version of, “If you can hear me, clap twice.” She had the crowd’s full attention from the first note.
Once she stepped onstage for her highly-anticipated headlining set on the third and final day of Coachella (April 14), she moved immediately into a girl-powered version of The Last Supper for “God Is A Woman” (not too dissimilar from her MTV Video Music Awards version last year) off Sweetener before seamlessly moving into Thank U, Next track “Bad Idea.” The swift transition illustrated just how intertwined, and fluid, the two releases are -- and her star-powered delivery made it clear that her set was, if nothing more, a triumphant celebration of her continuous professional winning streak as of late.
Wearing classic thigh-high, sky-high heeled boots and a matching maroon outfit, Grande told the crowd, “I’ve been rehearsing my whole fucking life for this moment.” Unlikely. Although, the set was so well crafted and perfectly packaged, from the many guest appearances to the 3-D onstage visuals to the multiple costume changes (I couldn’t decide what outfit to wear, so I just wore them all,” Grande said), she may as well have been.
Hours before the show, the secret was out that *NSYNC would be joining Grande on stage, it was just a matter of when. But as soon as she dove into her latest hit off Thank U, Next, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” cell phones shot up in the sky in anticipation (Grande samples the band’s “It Makes Me Ill” on the track). And sure enough, within seconds, the boy band reunited (minus Justin Timberlake) on Coachella’s main stage. All together with Grande, they delivered well-practiced choreography, sang the track she samples with her filling in for Timberlake and finally ended with “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” Before exiting, the band said, “Coachella, this has been a dream of ours.” To which Grande replied, “I can die now.”
Later on, Grande brought out her friend and frequent collaborator Nicki Minaj -- whose outfit loosely and intentionally matched with Grandes -- for “Side To Side” and “Bang Bang” which they performed on a platform in the middle of the crowd. Despite technical difficulties with Minaj's mic that even prompted Grande to say, “We can’t hear anything,” the dynamic duo persisted. Though when it came time to perform their most recent collab, Sweetener track “The Light Is Coming,” Minaj was nowhere to be found. While both *NSYNC and Minaj had been rumored to appear for some time, Grande saved the most surprising guests for last: P Diddy and Mase. The trio performed “Mo Money Mo Problems” (consider it an even swap for Grande’s “Successful,” which boasts a similar braggadocious mentality), and Diddy gave special shout outs to Biggie, Mac Miller and 2Pac. “You got to keep that love in your heart,” he instructed, before giving one final shout out to his “sister” Ariana: “She’s been through a lot, and she’s still standing. Give it up for the number one artist in the world.”
Save for the covers and collaborations, the majority of Grande's set otherwise consisted of her newest tracks off her latest two albums (released within six months of one another), which she’s currently on a Sweetener World tour to promote. Sweetener tracks “R.E.M.” “N.A.S.A” and “Breathin,” which she performed the beginning of a cappella before introducing a string section, all made it in the set (though "Bloodline did not, a missed opportunity for a horn section), along with Thank U, Next standouts like “7 Rings” and “Needy.” And, of course, she made sure to include longtime fan favorites like “Harder,” “Into You,” “Dangerous Woman,” which she delivered with such power that her vocals could have shaken spines right off a cactus, and “Break Free,” a song that resonates with her story now maybe more than ever has she continues to rewrite the rule book for pop stardom and admittedly fosters a new relationship with herself. She even threw it back to her 2014 collaboration with Childish Gambino, “Break Your Heart,” subtly proving her healthy connection with and to the hip hop community has always been there, even if it’s become more apparent as of late with her R&B-colored production and deeper dive into rap.
“I’m being told we have to hurry, this is “No Tears Left To Cry,” Grande spat out as the clock approached midnight. She performed the track, blew a kiss and exited the stage, but could be heard asking, “Where are the girls?” No one moved. Soon enough, she returned plus three to deliver her moving-on anthem, “Thank U, Next” complete with the same choreography as when she live debuted the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last November. As the song neared its high-spirited end, confetti cannons catapulted ripped up pages from Grande’s burn book of exes (as seen in the track’s now iconic music video) while fireworks exploded in front of the mountainous horizon and Grande danced off stage in her fourth look of the night. With Coachella now under her belt, it’s well within reason to think there's only one thing on her mind: "Thank you, next."