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businessinsider - 15 days ago

21 things you didn t know about Ariana Grande s record-breaking Sweetener World Tour

Ariana Grande will wrap up her nine-month Sweetener World Tour in December. The tour has been her biggest ever, earning Grande $80 million and surpassing her previous tours worldwide totals before it was even halfway done. Insider spoke with LeRoy Bennett, Grande s creative director and tour production designer, as well as lighting director Jason Baeri about the process of creating the elaborate show. Visit Insider s homepage for more stories. Ariana Grande will perform her last show for the Sweetener World Tour in December, wrapping up nine months and 102 shows that included headlining sets at Coachella and Lollapalooza. The tour has been Grande s biggest ever, earning Grande $80 million and surpassing her previous tours worldwide totals before it was even halfway through, according to Billboard. The visuals, vocals, and overall experience have been praised by critics and recently earned her an AMAs nomination for tour of the year. Insider spoke with LeRoy Bennett, Grande s creative director and tour production designer, as well as lighting director Jason Baeri about the process of creating the elaborate show. Keep reading to see 21 fun facts and behind-the-scenes secrets.Grande was extremely involved — and extremely decisive — throughout the design process. She s very black and white. She s either absolutely over the moon, loves something, or she really hates it. So you always know where you stand with her, Bennett told us. It s an interesting, evolving process with her. He added: Initial ideas without getting into exactly what she was thinking but I d send something to her, and she d say, I hate that. Don t ever show me that again [laughs]. She obviously had something in her mind, but she just couldn t get it out yet.

The tour aesthetic was intended to be ethereal, abstract, and spacious. I refer to her as a little space fairy sometimes, because she s a little like a fairy [laughs]. Not in a bad way, Bennett told us. And so when I imagine the world that she lives in on stage it is very ethereal, and at turns abstract. Also, the world that she lives in we try to keep things not overly complicated, where it s more of an installation art piece, versus a lot of over-the-top flashy things, he continued. It s a lot more elegant, in a way. But it s young and fresh in the same breath. Bennett also described the show as light, airy, and spacious.

The entire tour design was built around the idea of a sphere. Bennett told Insider that Grande came to him with the idea of a sphere, which she associates with the universe and femininity. That is the inspiration that triggered the whole design, Bennett said. I thought, okay: sphere. And then just picked up the ball and ran with it. The show s design is centered on two spherical objects: a hemisphere behind the stage, and a large orb that s lowered for certain songs in the middle of the pit. It also features a wavy, circular runway that loops around the pit and connects back to the stage on the other side. Any time you go out into the audience, I find it boring if you have to go back the same way you came out, Bennett said. And it was also curvy because I was trying to keep everything from being too harsh and hard and angular. Keep things soft and feminine.

The orb that floats over the audience — a defining feature of Grande s show — was added at the last minute because Grande vetoed the existing design. Bennett said his stand-out favorite moment from the show is when Grande sings under the orb, which is lit up to look like the moon. (Many fans would likely agree, as it s become a defining feature of her show on social media.) That moon, however, nearly didn t exist at all. The sphere, the big orb over the audience was literally, I came up with that last second, Bennett told us. He said he had a totally different idea ready to go, but she decided against it last minute. I had to come up with something that would fly over the audience, he said, so I came up with the sphere. It made sense in the end, since Grande had specifically requested moon imagery for the show.

The entire stage set is inflatable. Apart from the stage itself and the runway, everything is inflatable including the big wall behind the stage that the hemisphere sits in front of. It looks like a screen, but it s actually a flat surface with images projected onto it. The moon is also achieved with a series of projections, which is a huge logistical challenge. Projecting onto a sphere is very difficult because it takes a lot of different projectors to do that, coming from different angles, and to do that on a daily basis is super challenging, Bennett told us. Bennett said he prefers using projection, as opposed to screens and LED lights, because it s a bit more cinematic and a little softer. I didn t want any LED, I wanted it all to be projection, he said. We even used projectors to light the walkway so it could also light the dancers and things.

On a daily basis, it takes six to eight hours to set everything up. The thing that I most often see people surprised by is how much actual gear and people it takes to bring show like this into a space on a daily basis, Baeri told us. This particular production rolls in with 30 trucks and 70 people at 4 a.m., and by noon, we have a stage and a projection surface and all the lights in place, he continued. And after the show, it s back in the trucks and out the door by 2 a.m., ready to hit the next city. The amount of actual stuff that goes into a production is mind boggling. According to Bennett, it takes six to eight hours to set everything up for Grande s show, and about four hours to break everything down.

At Coachella, Grande s team had 45 minutes to break down Khalid s design, assemble the new one, and install her custom lighting. Once they clear the stage of Khalid s things, then they have to drop all the festival lighting that we don t use, because we also installed our own lighting system, Bennett told the Hollywood Reporter. They have to get all of that out of the way, then start building all the physical structure that supports the hemisphere... Then inflate the hemisphere and lift it up and attach it to this structure. Bennett also told us that Coachella s windy desert weather made things very difficult.

If you think Grande is a little difficult to see onstage, that s kind of the point. Grande is bathed in colored lights throughout the show, which can make her difficult to distinguish from her dancers or to photograph effectively. Bennett said Grande requested lighting that allows her to blend into her environment, rather than clearly stand out. She has a tendency to want to blend in and become part of everything, the world that she s in, he told us. She still stands out enough. She s got that presence there. But she likes to be part of something versus branded out, or singled out.

It s unusual for a pop star to be illuminated onstage with colored lights, as opposed to a white spotlight. Bennett said most artists prefer to perform in a white, color-corrected spotlight. She s not a normal pop star. She s an amazing singer, and she doesn t like to be presented in the normal pop star light, Bennett said. She s not lit in a way where for most pop stars, they ll be lit in a flattering light color, stand out from all their dancers, basically stand out more. In fact, Grande herself had more traditional lighting during her Dangerous Woman Tour in 2017, which Bennett did not design.

Bennett said Grande was miserable during her previous tour because the lighting didn t come across well on Instagram. In my first conversation with her, she made it clear that she was not happy with the previous tour, he told us. She was pretty miserable most of the time. A lot of it s all down to Instagram, he continued. A lot of what she looks at is what people post on Instagram. And so a lot of how she s lit for this tour is based off of that. Grande told him that she d asked for different lighting throughout the Dangerous Woman Tour, but the team she was working with at the time said that her requests were impossible. I said, Nothing s impossible, they just didn t understand, Bennett told us. I saw exactly what it was, all the things she was not happy with, and just fixed it all. He said he began experimenting with different lighting during Grande s promo tour for Sweetener in 2018, when she performed at the Billboard Music Awards and on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the Sweetener Sessions, a small theater tour she did after her album was released, Bennett said she began feeling super comfortable.

The Sweetener Tour lighting was specifically designed so that Grande s forehead wouldn t look too big or shiny. Bennett said that Grande expressed concerns about her forehead in their very first meeting. She was explaining to me about how they were lighting her during the Dangerous Woman Tour, and because she has her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her forehead shows a lot, he told us. And so if she leans back for certain notes she has to hit, she ll lean her head back and if she s got top back lighting, then it shines too much on her forehead. I had to be very careful how she was lit, because otherwise it has a tendency it glows too much and then it doesn t look flattering, he continued. I knew exactly where Ariana was coming from, and anytime that a woman s got her hair pulled back like that, you ve got to be mindful.

The lighting also frees Grande from the pressure of looking perfect onstage, according to Baeri. Ariana wanted the show to be more theatrical and mystical in nature than a traditional pop show, which see most artists presented in the same perfect TV/camera friendly way, Baeri told Insider via email. It makes them stand out and be the center of attention and presents them in a flattering sense from every angle, as if they were perfect all the time, he continued. Neither Roy nor Ariana wanted to present her that she s allowed to be a little different. And unique. Bolder and more magical than just a plain, flat pop star. It s a bold and artistic choice, but being free from that constraint of looking perfect all the time or being bigger than the rest of the show allows us to maintain that sense of grand environment that they were striving for.

The choreography is also intended to let Grande blend in. When you see her with the dancers, she s with the dancers. She s not in front of the dancers most of the time, Bennett said. That s not how she is. She likes to be heard and not seen, versus the other way around.

The show is almost meant to feel more like a play than a pop concert. We approached the tour much differently than we would a normal pop show, Baeri told us. Usually you are trying to appropriately match the energy of a song with action and accent to tell a story along with the music and lyrics, he said. The language of this show was different in that we were striving to create static tableaus and grand gestures as an environment for her to play in front of, much like a unit set in a play. We re still telling the story with her, and providing exciting visuals to compliment the music, but we re presenting each song as an appropriate environment or a world that she can live inside of, instead of competing with it.

Bennett had precious little time to design the show, since Grande had originally decided to cancel her tour plans. Grande originally conceived of the Sweetener World Tour to support her album Sweetener, which was released in August 2018. But one month later, her longtime love Mac Miller died unexpectedly of an accidental drug overdose. She broke off her engagement with Pete Davidson shortly after. There was a lot going on in her life, and she said, I don t want to tour. So it was like, Okay. No tour, Bennett said. But Grande went on to feverishly write and record her Grammy-nominated, No. 1 album Thank U, Next in just a few weeks, which apparently inspired her to hit the road after all. ( i m antsy. can t sit still. i wanna tour now. yesterday i jus wanted to sit home forever but today i wanna do shows and see u. it s all v up n down rn, she wrote on Twitter.) A couple weeks later, she decided that she wanted to tour. So it was a big rush to design the show, Bennett said.

At every show, just before Grande takes the stage, she pays tribute to Mac Miller. After Grande s opening act is finished performing, a Grande-approved playlist featuring songs like Biking by Frank Ocean, Motivation by Normani, and Don t Call Me Angel from the Charlie s Angels soundtrack are broadcast throughout the arena. The last song on the playlist is always Dang! by Mac Miller and Anderson .Paak, which plays just before Grande takes the stage.

The setlist is partially designed to avoid songs about Miller and other ex-boyfriends, since Grande feels they re too emotional to perform. When a fan asked whether it feels weird to perform songs about exes, Grande said it depends. Not if they re fun ones and def not if that person is dancing in front of u, cheering u on, holding a camera lmao, she wrote on Twitter, tagging her ex-boyfriend Ricky Alvarez. But you know the answer to this... hence why i don t sing certain songs. Grande previously said that Ghostin, a ballad about feeling badly for the person you re with bc you love somebody else, would be too emotional to sing live. Fans have also noticed that In My Head, another poignant breakup song from her newest album, is only included in the set list as a pre-recorded interlude.

All of Grande s onstage looks were custom-made by Versace. Law Roach, the celebrity stylist and Image Architect, created a mood board that Versace used for inspiration when designing Grande s outfits. Roach told People magazine that he always uses the same four elements a mini skirt, a crop top, over-the-knee boots, and her high ponytail to build Grande s outfits, including for her feminine and superpowerful tour looks. I always like to say if you put anyone behind a screen with a long pony, an A-line skirt, an over-the-knee boot, the first thing that comes to everybody s mind is now Ariana Grande, Roach told People. I really do think that one of her ponytails will end up in the Smithsonian one day, that s how iconic I believe that ponytail is.

Her stylist drew inspiration from lingerie and bondagewear by designer Yeha Leung. Roach s mood board included multiple designs by Yeha Leung, who creates made-to-order bondagewear under the brand name Creepyyeha. Leung told Insider that she was originally approached by Grande s team to create custom looks for the Sweetener World Tour, but turned it down due to a timing issue.

Bennett said Grande tends to change her mind about which outfits she ll wear from one day to the next. Bennett said that Grande s outfits, particularly when it comes to fabrics and colors, are a very important factor in lighting and design decisions. In rehearsals, when we start to see the costumes, sometimes we have to manipulate things and change things so that everything fits perfectly together. It s just a work in progress all the time, he said. Because sometimes she will change her mind about what costume she s going to wear, from one day to the next. So you have to take that into consideration.

Grande s tour initiative #ThankUNextGen has broken records for first-time voter registration. Grande teamed up with the organization HeadCount to register voters at her concerts, dubbing the initiative #ThankUNextGen. In July, many months before the end of Grande s tour, CNBC reported that HeadCount had already signed up 17,000 voters more than any other year before a presidential election. Rock the Vote has processed almost 60% more registrations this year than it did by this time in 2015, which holds the record for registrations for a year leading up to a presidential election, President and Executive Director Carolyn DeWitt told CNBC. I fully suspect we will shatter that record this year. Although Bernstein declined to clarify how many voters had been registered at Grande s concerts, HeadCount did tell CNBC it s registered twice as many voters during the Sweetener World Tour as any other tour over the last three years. It s the most successful solo artist tour HeadCount has seen since 2008. Read more: Ariana Grande appears to endorse Bernie Sanders after sharing backstage photos with him, and referring to him as My Guy 52 photos that show Ariana Grande s dramatic style evolution, from Nickelodeon teen to global phenomenon Ariana Grande s album Thank U, Next is full of revealing lyrics, samples, and apparent Pete Davidson references here s every detail you may have missed Ariana Grande s 20 most popular songs, ranked

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