It seemed like a regular concert, although the noticeable police presence indicated that it was not. Teams from the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, were patrolling the area around Palau Sant Jordi, where the last rays of sun were glinting off its enormous turtle-shaped dome.
A helicopter hovered over a crowd that was approaching the venue in good spirits, smiling as they took their places at the back of the line.
There was still over an hour-and-a-half to go before the start of the Ariana Grande concert – her only stop in Spain and her fifth performance since the Manchester terrorist attack, where 22 of her fans were killed as they left her show.
And therein lay the exceptional nature of the American star’s visit to Barcelona: in those 22 murdered citizens who will never again be able to show her their admiration.
Gracing the stage was an enormous likeness of the star, reminiscent of a Kim Il-Sung portrait for sheer size
Yet fear was nowhere on display outside Palau Sant Jordi. Natalia, 20, and her sister María, 16, were two of the fans waiting to go through the security checks.
“Our only fear was that the Barcelona concert might get cancelled; we bought the tickets the day after they went on sale,” said one.
But what about their parents? “They told us to be careful. And we believe that if it’s already happened once with this artist, it won’t happen again. Terrorists attack in one place so security goes up and they won’t do it. Fear will not prevent us from living our lives.”
Standing not far behind them were Berta and Cristina, both 16 years of age. Their biggest concern was not fear, but being able to get a placard through security: it was a cardboard sign with pink letters that spelled out the name of the tour: Dangerous Woman.
“We’re not at all scared,” they said. “What happened in Manchester has made security go up here today, there is nothing to fear. If anything happens in Barcelona today, it won’t be here.”
Berta and Cristina also said that their parents encouraged them to attend the concert “because fear cannot leave us cooped up at home.” Their body language, however, suggested a “just-let-them-try-to-keep-us-at-home” kind of attitude.
There was emotional restraint and a dead silence when Grande performed ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ against a giant black ribbon
The first checkpoint comes up. There are five lanes and security guards are standing by with metal detectors – an unusual occurrence at concerts. Sonia, 48, is there with her two daughters. All three are wearing t-shirts with the slogan One Love Manchester.
“We made them ourselves only yesterday, one of my daughters had the idea,” said Sonia.
It was not necessary to ask whether they felt fear, anger or contempt. At that moment, the anticipation of seeing Ariana Grande merged with the sadness of knowing that 22 of her fans would be unable to. Only a second, much less stringent security check stood between them and the US star.
Inside the venue, there were around 12,000 people in attendance – mostly youngsters – who did not fill the seating space. The lines in here were to purchase tour material, just like at any other concert.
Grande showed up 50 minutes late, as stars presumably feel required to do. The stage was bare, with musicians only visible during the second half of the concert. The floor space was given over to the choreography, which saw Grande heading a group of 10 dancers. The performance was split into four sections, each with its corresponding change of wardrobe, all to the greater glory of the brand of urban, hip-hop influenced dance pop that Ariana is a chief representative of.
Gracing the stage was an enormous likeness of the star, reminiscent of a Kim Il-Sung portrait for sheer size, and meant to let the crowd fully appreciate the sweet-with-a-twist expression on Grande’s face.
It was an elegant if unimaginative show that focused entirely on Grande – a fact that would have required greater charisma from this twentysomething who was clearly delighted at all the adoration from the crowd. It was pandemonium from the very beginning, with a moment of climax when she sang One last time and thousands of cellphone lights were held up in unison.
There was emotional restraint and a dead silence when Grande performed Somewhere Over The Rainbow against a giant black ribbon meant as a tribute to the 22 missing fans. No words were spoken. Life goes on.
English version by Susana Urra.