How the One Love Manchester concert proved that love really can conquer hate
Words Eve Barlow
Be Alright was already a banger of a tune by Ariana Grande, but when she came out to its flirty beat on a stage in front of a globally streamed audience as part of the One Love Manchester benefit concert it became a clarion call for solidarity, love and hope. It was significant for so many reasons. Spurred on by deafening cheers, Grande sang: ‘We’re gon’ be alright’, boosting the morale of the country more than any politician could, proving that music is power.
Together with the likes of Justin Bieber, Take That and Katy Perry, Grande and her team pulled together a great line-up practically overnight. And just under two weeks after the Manchester arena attack, around 50,000 people packed out the Old Trafford cricket ground to commemorate those killed and show that the spirit of their city would never be defeated. It was an act of defiance and bravery, and it was Grande’s first performance following the tragedy at the Manchester Arena on 22 May, which killed 22 innocent people.
Grande held it together more than Robbie Williams, who blubbed half of the way through Angels. Even Liam Gallagher buried his previous hatchet with Chris Martin to do a rendition of Live Forever with Coldplay. The one performance that had me reeling with pride was Little Mix’s Wings. They busted their booties down that runway with such strength it was almost survivalist. They embodied everything that community of music fans suddenly sought to fight for; a space where young girls and LGBTQ people can feel safe, embraced and emboldened.
There’s a famous piece of outdoor art on Short Street that reads: ‘…And on the sixth day, God created MANchester’. It’s no surprise to me that in that city, where I spent my student years, the crowds weren’t scared to show up to another major event in the wake of such a heinous incident. A Scottish man on BBC News who was donating blood on the ground told a reporter: ‘Why did I stay in this city for 17 years? This city is a community. I don’t care who you believe in, where you’re from, this city is for everybody and we all need to rally round.’ The people of Manchester took care of each other.
Beyond the city’s own recovery, however, the cultural significance of the concert can’t be downplayed. It was a gig of Live Aid, peace-and-love preaching proportions. It was the thank you Manchester deserved. Manchester is the birthplace of so much musical heritage: The Smiths, Joy Division, The Chemical Brothers, Oasis, right up to today’s The 1975. To attack its arena is to point a gun at its heart. The reaction was strong, not only because of the unspeakable violence but also because Manchester was fighting for its life. More than just the tunes, Manchester has bestowed upon the music world a cast of characters who won’t be told to back down. It’s a contagious attitude and one that’s going to keep our spirits resolute.