Sunday night, Ariana Grande returned to the stage for the first time since a suicide bomber murdered 22 people outside her Manchester Arena concert on May 22. Yesterday, “One Love Manchester” was held at the English city’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground as a benefit for the British Red Cross; the star-studded gig focused less on soliciting donations than celebrating the lives of those who were killed in last month’s horrible terror attack.
In front of a crowd of 50,000, Gen-X stalwarts Coldplay, Take That, Black Eyed Peas, and Pharrell Williams sang alongside millennials to show us that current pop songs can bear the weight of our turbulent times as handily as tunes of the past have done. The baton of global responsibility passed from one generation to the next in a meaningful display of talent, resilience and symbolism as Justin Bieber played “Love Yourself” on guitar while assuring the crowd that “God is in the midst” of both tragedy and triumph; Katy Perry empowered the audience to “Roar” with her powerful alto; and Niall Horan (of One Direction fame) submitted his acoustic “This Town” as the anthem of the moment.
But it was 23-year-old Grande, the bravest of them all, who led teenagers and their parents in multigenerational stadium sing-alongs – including the former Nickelodeon star’s own “One Last Time” (which hit #1 on the UK iTunes chart last week) and Harold Arlen’s 1939 Wizard of Oz classic, “Over the Rainbow.” Coldplay’s “Fix You,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (sung by Grande and Miley Cyrus), and Oasis’s “Live Forever” (performed by Liam Gallagher) served as guide posts for the event; Grande, in a truly 21st century moment of gravitas, dedicated danceable numbers (”Side to Side,” “Love Me Harder”) to Olivia Campbell, the 15-year-old who captured the world’s hopes when her mother appeared on TV during the hours after the May 22 attack with a tearful plea for info before discovering the teen had been identified as one of the fatalities.
At last night’s concert, pre-recorded messages of support from rock’s elder statesmen, including Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and U2, beamed on the video screens during the show. Yet, 22-year-old Halsey’s statement made the most impact: “It doesn’t matter about faith, race, class or life experience, when a bunch of people get together and they can all relate to one thing – their love for music – something beautiful happens,” the singer proclaimed.
If the three-hour “One Love Manchester” concert demonstrated anything, it’s how deeply the internet generation believes in the broadest concept of love. While adults in 2017 argue about building walls, banning travelers, jeopardizing international relations, denying science, and peddling fake news, many Western kids born after the 1990s have spent most of their young lives schooled on virtues of equality, collaboration, exploration, acceptance, and kindness – principles often extolled in song lyrics and posted to social media by artists like Ariana Grande and her peers.
In this blurry zone between online interaction and the real experiences of live performances (like the ones we saw at One Love Manchester), a new generation of music stars and fans is emerging. This new generation has grown up with the entire planet in the palms of their hands, but they don’t have it easy: They must – and will – live up to the tasks of bringing differing cultures together, giving marginalized people a seat at the table, brokering peace instead of arms deals, ridding bullies from classrooms, pulpits and podiums, eradicating terrorism in all its forms, and quelling hate with indefatigable optimism. For the teens of today, the notion of “one love” in a global world is not an optional ideology – it’s the only life they know. And music will likely continue to be an important part of how they approach problem-solving in their increasingly complex reality.
Charity concerts might be associated with Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials, but “One Love Manchester” begs us not to count out the so-called Generation Z just yet. Terror and hate are their burdens, but love is their freedom. Ariana Grande fans deserve more than an end-of-the-alphabet letter to define them. Today, why not let the Z’s start a new beginning as the “Generation of Love”? Watch out world, Gen Love is on its way.