Ariana Grande received an emotional reception at this weekend’s Manchester Pride festival.
The “7 Rings” singer performed in the U.K. city on Sunday night for her first show since a benefit concert held in the wake of the bombing at Manchester Arena in May 2017. Twenty-three people were killed and 139 more were wounded after a suicide bomber detonated a homemade device during Grande’s concert. It was the deadliest terrorist attack since the 7/7 bombings in London 14 years ago.
Grande told the crowd of thousands who gathered at this weekend’s Manchester Pride that the city has held “a very special place in [her] heart” in the two years since the attack. The “7 Rings” singer admitted that she was at a loss for words to be performing in the city again.
“I'm so happy to be with you, so thank you for having me,” she said. “Sorry, I'm so nervous. I had so much more to say but I'm really very overwhelmed. So thank you.”
Grande kicked off the 35-minute set with “No Tears Left to Cry,” a soaring ballad she released in the wake of the tragedy. She reportedly played nine songs in total, wrapping with the set with “One Last Time,” a 2015 track she re-recorded after the bombing to raise money for the victims and their families.
The 26-year-old pop diva also held a benefit concert, “One Love Manchester,” less than 24 hours after the attack.
But if the significance of Sunday’s show got the better of her, Grande has previously written a heartfelt tribute expressing her support and gratitude for the community in Manchester. In a 2018 letter shared in a YouTube docuseries, she said the “families affected by this horrendous tragedy… have permanently impacted all of us for the rest of our lives.”
“Their love, strength, and unity showed me, my team, my dancers, band, and entire crew [cannot] be defeated,” she wrote at the time. “I think of Manchester constantly and will carry this with me every day for the rest of my life.”
Grande also thanked her fans in the LGBTQ+ community for coming out to Manchester Pride, where she served as the headliner. During a performance of “thank u, next” in which her backup dancers waved rainbow Pride flags, she remarked that “the gays have always had my heart.”
The pop diva’s rapturous return to Manchester did come with its fair share of hiccups, however.
Her appearance was criticized by some in the local LGBTQ+ community when it was announced that tickets for the concert would cost £71, which comes out to around $95 in U.S. dollars. The increased ticket prices — which more than doubled from the previous year — were seen as prohibitive to a population that is disproportionately likely to be impoverished or unemployed.
Others, however, felt a straight artist shouldn’t be performing at an event for LGBTQ+ people. Grande responded to the concerns by invoking icons like Cher and Kylie Minogue, who have repeatedly given back to their queer fans over the years.
“Over the years, Pride events have been headlined by performers of all sexual orientations and genders,” she said in a February open letter posted on Twitter. “[...] I’m not claiming to be the hero of the community or the face of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. I just wanna put on a show that makes my LGBTQ+ fans feel special and celebrated and supported.”