The attack at an Ariana Grande concert Monday in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people and injured dozens more is far from the first time terrorists have targeted communal gatherings where music is the social glue.
There were the gunmen who killed 89 people at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in 2015, and the killer who murdered 49 at an Orlando dance club in June. On New Year’s Eve, 39 died at an Istanbul nightclub; in 2002, 180 were killed at a disco in Bali.
There’s no ranking unspeakable tragedies on a most-to-least-horrific scale. Still, the carnage at the Manchester Arena — one of the busiest concert sites in the world, roughly the size of the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia — is particularly chilling.
That’s partly because it comes at the onset of the large-scale summer concert season. As crowds gather in amphitheaters and football stadiums, at festivals held on campgrounds and gritty city streets, it gets a little harder to banish the thought that these spectacles make tempting targets for bad guys aiming to commit mass murder and instill fear.
But, mainly, it’s because Grande’s fans are so heartbreakingly young. The 23-year-old singer with a four-octave range took the time-honored kids’ TV show route to stardom, playing Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s Victorious. That’s why fans fleeing the deadly explosions were wearing cat ears as they clutched pink balloons that had fallen from the rafters.
Grande has legit musical chops and admirable comedic talent as a mimic that she’s shown off on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But the 5-foot-3 singer — once known as a “mini-Mariah,” after Mariah Carey — is an entry-level pop star in the sense that she attracts an audience made up almost entirely of teen and tween girls, many of whom were undoubtedly going to their first concert. This was a starter experience that should have been an entrée to the lifetime of joyous communal musical experiences to come.
Think about that. The rush of freedom that comes with seeing your favorite singer, who’s finally taking her Dangerous Woman tour across the Atlantic in a moment that you feel like you’ve waited for all your life. You’re probably with a group of your best friends, most likely with your mom or a friend’s parent along as a chaperone.
And then that expression of communal girl power: the screams of teen excitement that have been an essential ritual for coming-of-age pop fans from Frank Sinatra and the Beatles to Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. For a best night ever, there’s nothing like being with your closest friends in the presence of the pop star whose awesomeness you can all agree on.
Then, after the show culminates with the biggest hits — “Problem,” “Into You,” and “Dangerous Woman” — instead of that once-in-a-lifetime high, your innocence is shattered. As the evening came to an end, the screaming for all the wrong reasons, and the panic — both inside the arena and for parents at home — began.
The first names of those identified among the dead were typical of the age range of Grande’s fan-base demographic. Georgina Callendar, 18, had met Grande at a concert two years before, and she died in a hospital with her mother by her side, MTV News reported. Saffie Rose Roussos, who went to the concert with her sister and mother, was 8.
Grande was understandably bereft and at a loss in her initial reaction. She tweeted: “broken. from the bottom of my heart. I am so sorry. I don’t have words.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May was pointed in her remarks: “We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish, but as an opportunity for carnage.”
The chilling reality, and the challenge for security at concert and other big events all over the world, is that such opportunities abound.