Ariana Grande is a pop music superstar, winning two Grammy’s, Billboard’s 2019 Female Artist of the Year Award, nine MTV Video Music awards, earning six number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and becoming the first act to occupy the first three spots on the Hot 100 since The Beatles.
Over the weekend of August 6-8, Ariana Grande joined even rarer air: as the fourth artist and first female artist to headline a concert in Fortnite.
Okay, so Fortnite concerts don’t actually feature the artists performing live. But they’re bigger cultural events than you might imagine. 45.8 million viewers were logged for Travis Scott’s Astronomical concert in April 2020. To put this in perspective, last year, the most-viewed World Series game had 9.8 million viewers. About 96.4 million people tuned in to Super Bowl 55 to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs. So the Super Bowl, an annual event and high-profile cultural phenomenon within the United States only had twice as many viewers. The number for the Travis Scott concert includes repeat viewers, but it’s still an astonishing number.
Grande breaks the mold of her predecessors as well. Marshmello hosted the first-ever Fortnite concert, while Diplo held a series of three in 2020. Both of these artists occupy the American DJ/EDM space. Travis Scott’s concert last April was a major event, as Scott was easily the highest-profile artist Fortnite had landed at the time. Scott’s appearance drew major attention from hip-hop fans, especially as a new song, “The Scotts” (with Kid Cudi,) was debuted for the first time.
Grande’s concert may have appealed to a different demographic, primarily operating in the pop space. Specifically, Grande attracts a younger audience and more females. The concert was catered to fit this crowd: curse words were removed, even a simple reference to a bedroom was omitted to keep a clean image for younger fans. And without being too cliché, there was still an appropriate amount of hearts, rainbows, the color pink, and of course, flying llamas.
I booted up my Nintendo Switch and tuned in to the fifth and final show of the weekend, taking place at 6:00 PM EDT on Sunday evening. All other game modes were disabled, with Grande’s Rift Tour as the only option at this time. Donning my Thor gear from the Marvel season, I entered a “match” about five minutes ahead of the scheduled start. In reality, the concert started at 6:05 PM, leaving me to fly around a stage which was floating above the regular map.
The first song that came up was called “Drop In” by JrGoldenChild315. I had never heard of the artist, and the song only has 11,818 views on YouTube. I have to imagine the brief inclusion was great publicity for the artist, even though I had to use my phone to identify the song, and the artist’s name didn’t appear during the concert.
As the timer struck zero and transitioned to “starting soon,” a portal opened up in the middle of the stage and sucked in all the players. Fortnite recommended using different skins at each concert to gain a slightly different experience, and I could see why: a giant rendition of Thor appeared to transport me to an Ariana Grande concert. How’s that for a sentence I never thought I would write?
The first “world” the rift transported me to put my character on a pink and blue slide, riding a current downhill. Players could collect rings and some sort of gold icon, although neither appeared to have much of a tangible effect besides a slight boost and animation. “Come and Go” by Juice WRLD and Marshmello played during this segment. I wasn’t really expecting to hear other artists during the concert, especially ones not affiliated with Ariana Grande (although Marshmello had held a Fortnite event before.) Furthermore, I have slight objections to the continued milking of Juice WRLD’s work… but that’s an argument for another time. The slide was still a fun way to kick off the concert in an interactive manner.
The slide ended with a portal’s bright light overtaking the screen and transporting players to another world: which would be the recurring element of the “Rift Tour.” The next world had lush, pink trees that resembled… hair? There wasn’t much to do here besides to listen to Diplo (another returning artist,) Sia, and Labrinth on “Audio.”
The final world before Grande’s big reveal was both the most unexpected and most interactive portion of the event. In the previous world, airplanes flew overhead and picked up players. In this world, teams of three fired shots from the airplane at a giant monster, competing for the highest score in their plane. I finished firmly in second of my three-man team: well above the third place finisher but way behind the top finisher in my group.
In my defense, I was taking some notes for this article and using my phone to identify the music playing in the background. The song selection was also unexpected: “Victorious” by Wolfmother, a heavier rock cut.
With the prelude and “opening acts,” if you will, finally complete, it was time for the main event: a meeting with superstar Ariana Grande herself. Or at least, a larger than life digital rendition of her.
My character appeared in a dark place, with other characters and familiar skins appearing around me. I was able to “revive” a fallen character, though I’m not sure if it had any effect on the overall show.
Moments later, Fortnite’s version of Ariana Grande appeared in front of a sea of stars. Personally, I’m not sure they did a good job capturing her facial features, but the rendition was still passable, with the most notable aspect being the singer’s signature ponytail.
A shortened version of sweetener‘s already short opening song “raindrops (an angel cried)” was the first song to be heard before Grande made her appearance.
The concert quickly segwayed into the Grande’s smash hit “7 rings” off of thank u, next. Players could fly around the mega-sized singer as the abridged songs played. Again, all the songs were pre-recorded, studio versions: Grande wasn’t on the other side with a live microphone.
The once dark scene exploded with color as the concert shifted to its next song “Be Alright,” a promotional single from Dangerous Woman. This was the only song of Grande’s setlist that I wasn’t previously familiar with, and therefore had to check to see which song it was. Being just a “promotional single,” and not a radio single, I suppose this make sense.
Players took to the sky and were flown around on rainbow tracks for the next song: “R.E.M.” from sweetener, a personal favorite of mine. This song and setting matchup was also the most spot-on connection of the concert: “R.E.M.” is a song about dreams, both with its lyrics and its soothing vibe. Soaring through clouds in a surreal atmosphere felt fitting to match the song’s tone.
Players didn’t necessarily control their movement in the air, but rather could shift the camera and then re-focus on Grande at any time. The singer could be seen flying through the air on a giant swing with the clouds behind her morphing into animal faces.
While the pre-show featured some interactive games, Grande’s portion of the performance was more-or-less hands-off: until the next world was introduced.
“What we gotta do right here is go back” was heard from the late Mac Miller, and indeed fans were taken back, all the way to “The Way” from Yours, Truly, Grande’s debut studio album. I know I just called “R.E.M.” a personal favorite, so saying the same about “The Way” feels less genuine. But truly, the songs are two of my favorites from Ariana Grande’s discography.
This world was interactive because as Grande climbed stairs that were inaccessible by the players, portal doors opened up that allowed players to progress upwards with Grande. It wasn’t much of a challenge, but still a fun experience during this song.
For the seventh and final song of the concert was “Positions,” the lead single from Grande’s most recent album of the same name. Grande’s Fortnite representation wore an ice dress as shards flew and players bounced in the environment surrounding her.
Grande eventually began to wield a hammer-type object, which I found ironic since I chose a Thor skin for the concert.
As the song ended, players were once again engulfed in light before returning to the map. Unlike Travis Scott’s Astronomical event, which concluded in a regular match, players returned in a unique fashion: flying through the air on llamas and through rainbow rings.
At this point, players were free to fly up, down, left, and right through rings, earning small amounts of XP for each ring they passed through. Comically, I was also able to easily complete the achievement of visiting five named locations in a single match, as travel time was pretty speedy in the air.
I flew through rings for a minute or two before realizing this really was it, there was nothing else to do. Shortly after I was informed I made it to the “Top 25,” I exited the match to officially conclude my Ariana Grande Rift Tour experience.
Overall, I enjoyed Fortnite’s Ariana Grande Rift Tour event. From a musical and cultural standpoint, I don’t think it exceeded Travis Scott’s Astronomical concert, but that event did set the bar pretty high.
The highlights of this concert were the interactive games, vibrant environments, and wide array of song selections. I was expecting mostly newer songs, with a throwback or two, but the seven song setlist spanned four albums, from Grande’s debut album Yours, Truly to her most recent, Positions.
The mini-games in the concert’s “opening act” were fun, but it’s a shame that the interactivity went down during the main event of Grande’s concert. While players could move on their own in some of the settings, there still wasn’t any more objectives until the concert was over and players got the chance to fly through rings in the sky.
But once again, the varying worlds seen during the Rift Tour were an exciting experience. While the color palette had some common themes (pink and blue hues,) the worlds were varied and fleshed out. My only complaint on this front is that only one of the worlds (the sky setting for “R.E.M.”) really matched the song it was paired with.
Ariana Grande’s Rift Tour in Fortnite wasn’t a “can’t-miss” experience, but it was still a fun event for Grande and Fortnite fans alike. I didn’t have the chance for repeat viewings, since I tuned in to the fifth and final concert, but even if I could have, I’m not sure I’d be inclined to go back for seconds. There’s nothing wrong with this, but for comparison, I was eager to get a second go at Travis Scott’s concert last April.
One things for certain: with the amount of publicity these events generate for both Fortnite and the participating artists, this won’t be the last virtual concert held by the battle royale video game. Personally, in future events, I would like to see artists make more of a “live” appearance: whether it be live vocals, taking to social media to show themselves playing the game, or premiering new songs never heard before.
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