Let’s clear some things up first: I am not, nor have I ever professed to be, an Ariana ‘stan’. I got bored a few songs into her latest album (admittedly, I listened to it in bed and hungover), I find the cutesy all-lower-case song titles on her last two albums irrationally unsettling, I find some of her tweets downright annoying, and I hold her solely responsible for the three month headache I had to endure from near incessantly rolling my eyes at the same Instagram caption (you know the one) at least 19 times every time I opened the app.
In other words, I am not an Ariana Apologist and am not heavily invested in what she does with her career. Oh, I’ve also never been to Manchester’s Pride Festival.
So, I thought I’d write about the furore surrounding the fact that Ariana Grande is headlining Manchester Pride Live.
A pervasive argument against Grande, a cishet singer, headlining is that she takes a place that could be going to an LGBT+ artist. And, as with literally every festival ever, there have been many alternative suggestions. But isn’t the point of Pride Live to entertain you, the LGBT+ people who have paid to attend? Of course, LGBT+ representation at a Pride festival is hugely important, but regardless of the act, their role at Pride is to perform for you. That is what they are being paid to do.
And a lot of LGBT+ people love Ariana Grande. In fact, she is arguably more popular in the LGBT+ community than Dannii Minogue (2015 headliner and famously not Kylie) and 2017 headliner Melanie C, both of whom, incidentally, are straight. As Years & Years (headlining Saturday) singer Olly Alexander put it: “line ups are a mix of artists depending on their availability and the need to sell tickets. [We should] try harder to support all the amazing queer talent [but] if more people listened to and supported LGBT+ artists – they’d get more slots.”
Ariana Grande headlining Pride Live sells tickets. Granted, an unfortunate by-product of her popularity is that straight people, uninterested in Pride, will buy tickets that could have gone to LGBT+ people because it’s Ariana. Whilst this is a shame, does bemoaning it not imply that as soon as a queer artist gains a straight audience, they too lose their eligibility to perform at Pride? Of course, there will be straight people in her audience, but it does seem a stretch to suggest that hordes of Ariana-Grande-stanning-homophobes will flock to Mayfield Depot to stick it to the gays.
But if selling tickets is what it’s all about, say critics, then the whole meaning of Pride is corrupted. Pride is a protest, an unabashed celebration of LGBT+ people and a demand for a true equality that has still not been achieved. It is not a pink capitalist hellhole in which money is everything and LGBT+ people do nothing but supply it.
All of this is true. However, Manchester Pride Live is a fundraising event. Its purpose is to sell as many tickets as possible in order to support LGBT+ causes in Greater Manchester. The Parade – which is the primarily ‘protesty’ bit of the weekend – is free. A Gay Village ticket – available from £10 – is cheaper than it was last year. Yes, £64.50 for a weekend ticket is extortionate, but there is an element of lose/lose for organisers. They’re either criticised for an underwhelming, cheap line up, or criticised for delivering a world star but at too expensive a price. It’s unfortunate that people will be priced out of live music this year, but top acts cost money – they just do.
It is often jarring seeing corporations in the Pride Parade, some of whom are arguably themselves contributors to global inequality. Likewise, the Conservative Party – a party whose own leader has a beyond dubious LGBT+ rights record – always seem embarrassed at the hush that greets it. The police, those famous friends of LGBT+ people worldwide, too. There are lots of hypocrisies and questions to be asked about Pride, but someone of Ariana Grande’s stature headlining does seem a bit of a one-off. She is and has always been (aside from some recent queer-baiting) an ally of the LGBT+ community, and is an honorary citizen of the city.
By all means, be cynical of Pride as a whole, but let the queer people who love Ariana enjoy what will be a special show without feeling guilty, and enjoy the weekend even if, this time, you can’t afford to see the headline act. There are greater enemies of LGBT+ people than Ariana Grande. Focus your anger on them.