On her single “Into You,” Ariana Grande tells her paramour that she wants something “a little bit dangerous” and “a little bit scandalous,” perhaps with “a little less conversation.” On the recording, it’s another cutesy come-on in an album full of them. But on Monday night at Verizon Center, those lyrics doubled as shorthand for what the 23-year-old pop star delivered in concert.
Grande was touring in support of “Dangerous Woman,” an album that is anything but dangerous. Rather, it’s a pristine showcase of her immense vocal talent, crafted under the watchful eye of chief pop machinist Max Martin. It bounds from dance-pop confections to throwback balladry as Grande navigates young love and seeks — if you squint hard enough — female empowerment. The youthful joy of her 2014 album “My Everything” is largely abandoned for middle-of-the-road hitmaking.
That isn’t to say that “Dangerous Woman” doesn’t have some jams. It does, and she kicked off the show with the album’s best moment, performing an edit of “Be Alright” that emphasized the song’s deep house roots. Her 10 dancers emerged from beneath the stage and vogued around her, as they would all night. For her part, Grande held her own as a dancer — despite impossibly high heels — hip-rolling and bunny-hopping across the runway-reminiscent stage.
Despite some pyrotechnics, there was nothing too dangerous about the production, either. Along with a screen as wide as the arena, there were the requisite laser lights, costume changes, balloon and confetti drops and rising platforms — the accessories of any arena show. The lone exception was when the stage turned into a gym for “Side to Side,” a song with a syrupy reggae-pop groove perfect for — as Grande and her bike-riding dancers proved — a spin class.
“Side to Side” features Nicki Minaj, who was present only as a projection on that massive screen, which also served a dose of prerecorded Grande when she was changing costumes or taking a breather. On screen, Grande appeared as a Disney princess in gossamer pastel light to perform an orchestra-backed interlude and danced in slow motion to a hip-hop groove. The latter provided a moment of Beyoncé-inspired feminism — all-caps buzzwords such as “wild,” “free,” “raw” and “ferocious” culminated in “human” and “female,” to a raucous reaction.
The feminist interlude would be the only message Grande delivered all night. She barely stopped between songs to address the crowd or elaborate on the vague meanings of her empty-vessel lyrics. Instead, she mastered a move — a coquettish look over her shoulder — that suggested mystery and sexuality without spelling anything out.
But the generic arena affectations and the lack of audience interaction were minor problems compared with Grande’s biggest one: Her gorgeous four-octave soprano was often obscured by her bass-heavy backing band. Grande has the best voice of her Nickelodeon- and Disney-born peers, and at a concert that eschewed danger at every turn, the safest bet would have been letting the audience hear it.