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Manchester suicide bombing was callous and cowardly attack on a generation of young women

 

To her teen fans, Ariana Grande is an outspoken icon and a social media sensation, writes Phoebe Luckhurst.

Pop star Ariana Grande had just finished her encore, at around 10.35pm on Monday, when the suicide bomb went off. Pink balloons were still streaming from the ceiling of the Manchester Arena, released to mark the end of Grande's final song, her latest single, Dangerous Woman.

Minutes before, fans had been singing along; now, they were running for the exits. Eyewitnesses reported trampling as the swell of people clamoured to leave and security staff were initially bewildered. At the time of writing, 22 people are reported dead and 59 injured.

It has obvious echoes of the attack by suicide bombers on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November 2015. But 10.30pm is a relatively early end for a sell-out tour date at an arena that can hold 21,000 people: the hour reflects the youth of Grande's fanbase - mainly girls between the ages of about nine and 18.

Accordingly, the atmosphere was exuberant, with many of the fans - who nickname themselves 'Arianators' - wearing Grande's signature accessory, a set of cat ears.

Others might have graduated to bunny ears, like the PVC set that Grande wears on the cover of her new album, Dangerous Woman. They've become an Instagram-friendly symbol of the tour.

By yesterday morning, the rabbit ears were being used as an image of solidarity on Instagram: drawn in black against a millennial pink background, with the word 'Manchester' printed underneath.

Much of the audience attended with their parents in tow - children under 14 had to be accompanied by an adult. Other mums and dads were waiting outside the arena in a crowd - like parents at the school gates - when the bomb went off.

As Home Secretary Amber Rudd observed yesterday, this was an attack on society's most vulnerable; more than that, though, it was an attack on a very specific generation. Grande is a very modern heroine for a generation of young women.

Music critic David Smyth, who has an eight-year-old daughter, agrees that 23-year old Grande is a typical entry-level act for youngsters.

"Ariana Grande is the kind of concert where, when your kid is finally old enough to go to a pop concert, they go to that," he explains. "You get your glowsticks. It's the first big night out for a lot of kids. And it's horrible, because now this is going to be the first time that kids will be hearing about terrorism."

Grande is to this cohort what Taylor Swift is to a slightly older generation of girls: the unthreatening ally who introduced them to popular feminism. She is noisy and outspoken, closing down radio hosts who try and define her by the men in her life, and urges girls to speak out when they experience prejudice and misogyny.

Her language is casual and social-media friendly - in other words, she speaks exactly like these girls. And she also speaks to them: she's in tune with the concerns of a 'woke' generation, commenting on the rights of trans children, rolling her eyes at the archaic notion that feminism is about hating men and taking part in the Women's March in January.

In 2015, horrified by the misogynistic tone of commentary about her relationship with musician Big Sean, she issued a feminist manifesto on Twitter. Last year, after being objectified in a car, she published a quietly furious essay on the social media platform. It was retweeted more than 150,000 times.

"I feel like speaking about this one experience," she wrote. "Because I know very well the experience of being spoken about in an uncomfortable way publicly, or taken advantage of publicly by a man." Her words resonate with the nascent awareness of objectification that a generation of centennials is developing.

"The audience was always going to be largely teenage girls," says Smyth. "She's a young woman herself. She's taken a similar path to Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and, way back, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake." Grande has grown up with her fans.

In March, BuzzFeed posted a listicle entitled '19 Times Ariana Grande Shut Sexism the Hell Down'. Her look is suggestive and mediagenic: by turns sexualised, by turns brash.

Her manager, Scooter Braun, issued a message on Instagram: "Tonight our hearts are broken. Words cannot express our sorrow for the victims and families harmed in this senseless attack. We ask all of you to hold the victims, their families, and all those affected in your hearts and prayers."

Parents and schools will be wondering how to raise the topic with their children - how to emphasise the randomness of the attack and reassure them of their safety.

"To especially pick on someone with that fanbase is horrendous," says Smyth. "Think about what a formative memory your first gig was, or the first time you were allowed to go to a show without your parents - how thrilling, what a landmark.

"You'd make a banner, buy the T-shirt. It's just horrendous that this kind of event, in particular, should be targeted."

  • Alban Maginness is away

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