However you look at it, 2017 has been a tough year. But even when times are tough, there are people around to inspire us…we just need to remember to pay more attention to those who inspire us than to those who drag us down.
Of all the people I might have thought would restore my faith in humanity during 2017, a young singer from Florida would probably not have been near the top of the list.
I know it’s fashionable for the more sophisticated elements of society to disparage performers like Ariana Grande. Newspapers call her things like “diminutive pop princess”. Music critics write about how her work is “too commercial” …as if being an unpopular artist is somehow a badge of artistic credibility.
To be fair, Ariana Grande doesn’t make the sort of music I’d immediately turn to, but I admire anyone who can make their music, take it on the road and fill stadiums with people who want to listen to it.
And don’t think that’s easy by any stretch of the imagination. As the old saying goes, “if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it”.
For the last year, Ariana Grande has been travelling around the world and playing her music for people who appreciate it. She was doing no harm to anyone and bringing joy to her legion of young fans, many of whom were going to their first concert when Ariana rolled into town.
One day in May 2017, her tour came to Manchester.
As a true professional, Ariana Grande came on stage and gave her mostly young fans a great evening. They were excited, pleased to have seen their idol in the flesh, still singing her songs as they exited the venue.
Which is the time a deranged individual chose to destroy as many young lives as he could.
The daughter of a good friend of mine was at that concert…mercifully surviving unscathed…but I can only pray that no parent ever has to go through what my friend must have gone through that evening after the news of the attack started coming through.
It’s easy to forget how immune we’ve become to terrible tragedies around the world. But somehow the sight of young children being killed and injured on our own doorstep hit home in a way that TV pictures of dreadful events in far-off lands seldom do any more.
But out of that terrible, terrible evening in Manchester, something amazing happened.
Ariana Grande…barely more than a child herself…decided she had to do something to celebrate those young lives so sadly and suddenly ended. She had to do something to heal the aching chasm in our nation’s soul. She had to show that good always triumphs over evil.
And, whilst I’m sure she had plenty of help behind the scenes, Ariana Grande decided to put on a benefit concert in Manchester for the victims just a couple of weeks after the tragedy.
Let’s just pause and think about this for a second.
She didn’t do this from the safety of a studio in LA and beam it in by satellite. She didn’t just record a song and donate the proceeds to charity (although she did donate the royalties from the re-release of her hit “One Last Time” to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund). She didn’t just go on TV to denounce the attack and express support for the victims.
Frankly, just about any of those would probably have ticked enough PR boxes that she could have had a few positive column inches in the newspapers and a nice photo or two before moving on. Many lesser…or perhaps more cynical…artists would probably have been happy at that.
No. She went back to Manchester…back to the place where she wasn’t that far away from being a victim of the attack herself. And she put on a show, the like of which Manchester has never seen, with some of the biggest names in pop music on the stage with her.
We should, of course, acknowledge the time, effort and commitment shown by dozens of artists and countless back-stage crew who all gave their time willingly and for free to make sure the young victims of a terrible tragedy received the maximum possible financial return from the concert.
But the person who kicked the idea off and made it all happen…the person who showed enormous courage of her own to come back to a city which must have had incredibly mixed emotions for her…the person who led this immense effort from the front…
That was Ariana Grande.
The fact that she came back to the city so quickly and did everything she could to heal the wounds of that terrible night was one of the most humbling things I witnessed in 2017. Even writing about it now, I can feel my eyes moisten a little.
While you may disagree with me, I don’t think a single human being on the planet has done so much, so publicly, to heal divisions in our society during 2017 than the work Ariana Grande did in June this year by putting on a concert to remember in Manchester.
It seemed very fitting that the show closed with a song from a famous Manchester band, with a message we can all do to remember.
“Don’t Look Back In Anger” was a platinum-selling UK Number One for Oasis back in 1995.
That famously hard-drinking, hard fighting (mainly amongst themselves) band has outgrown their “Britpop” positioning since the 1990s and, thankfully, the songwriting talents of Noel Gallagher and the performance abilities of the band as a whole have taken their rightful place amongst the UK’s top acts in the intervening years.
From their breakthrough album “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory” …an album I remember buying back in the 1990s… “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is a phenomenal song.
Written by Noel Gallagher, as all the band’s big hits were, this is a more reflective song than the band’s edgier output back in the Britpop era. “Don’t Look Back In Anger” was also unusual because the lead vocal was Noel’s rather than Liam’s.
Their voices are similar…and often mistaken for one another…but Liam’s normal confrontational swagger is missing from the vocal on the Oasis version of “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, which probably helps make it the reflective song it is. (You can find that version here… https://youtu.be/r8OipmKFDeM )
Leaving aside the Manchester-born Gallagher brothers’ obvious connection to the city, Noel Gallagher’s lyrics gave us something to think about after the tragedy in their home-town.
Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play
You said that you’d never been
But all the things that you’ve seen
Will slowly fade away
And, of course, just being reminded not to look back in anger was entirely appropriate for the city of Manchester, the parents and relatives of the young people whose lives were so tragically cut short, and the many people who were injured and who will carry the mental and physical scars around with them for the rest of their lives.
My faith in humanity was restored during 2017 by a young singer from Florida and her determination to make sure good would always triumph over evil, that peace would always triumph over war, and that love would always triumph over hate.
Her name is Ariana Grande, and I don’t think I’ve seen a finer human being during 2017 than her.
It’s the last day of 2017 as I write these words. Don’t look back in anger.
Here’s Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Ariane Grande to show you how…
The Ariana Grande/ Chris Martin version isn’t available on Spotify, but the Oasis version is. If you prefer to listen on that platform, you can find Oasis’ original track here…https://open.spotify.com/track/3ixTiPABjqkBKPocxq6oIe