It looked like any other Friday on the Bowery until I came upon the three bodyguards, dressed in all black, protecting a door FBI-style. Behind the door at 138 Bowery, a pink light emulated a serene sweetness meant to evoke kindness and femininity. Countless young women stood eagerly in a velvet-roped lineup, waiting excitedly for a chance to be absorbed in the glow of Ariana Grande. The #1 pop star in the world had built this space, just for the weekend, so her fans could experience her music the same way she does.
“This was Ariana’s idea originally,” Derek Wright said. “She really wanted to bring her songs to life.” Wright, a tall, effortlessly cool choreographer, was responsible for all of the installations, ranging from literal interpretations of the album’s songs to more experimental ones. He stood beside the “Raindrops” installation as he told this to the over-eager crowd, and they all turned in unison to ogle the artwork: impressionist-style eyes with tears raining down from them. They were, naturally, bathed in the pink light, reminding the audience that Ariana’s presence was near.
Kate Marriage, the director of artist experience for Spotify, Grande’s partner for the project, stood before a closed door in a Grande-approved outfit: a bright floral jumper with equally bright heels and perfectly coiffed hair. She opened the door, revealing a dark tunnel with yet another pink light at the end. Fans hurried through, remarking at the beauty of the makeshift stars on the ceiling. “Obviously, this is ‘The Light is Coming,’” Kate smirked, as few peeled their eyes away from the ceiling to nod in understanding.
The guided tour continued with more compartments of Grande’s Sweetener mind: an individual experience garden to represent “Better Off,” a collection of bean bag chairs formed in a cloud shape and sprayed with Grande’s signature perfume, and some sort of astrology-themed projection paired with her song “Blazed.”
“Can you take a picture of me with this?” was an oft-used phrase, frequently paired with “Oh my God, this is so cool!” Fans lunged at the opportunity to indulge in each Instagram-worthy space, taking Boomerang videos of themselves jumping into the beanbags, standing on a platform and faux-belting into a microphone, and picking up prop phones below titles that read “haters got you down?” and “feuding with a frenemy?”
The experience was open to New Yorkers for the weekend only, and only to a select group who purchased tickets—with exact time slots—in advance. This limited number of people got to enjoy the food and cocktails set out in a bar-like format, experience sitting in an upside-down room for “No Tears Left to Cry,” and read Ariana Grande’s handwritten note in a biblical-style notebook perched mightily on a podium.
Grande’s much-publicized engagement to Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson has spurred constant conversation, and she dedicated a song on this album to him (appropriately titled “Pete Davidson”). As we neared the end of the experience, I spotted the thing I had been looking for. Admittedly, I expected to see a large photo of the comedian, or something bearing his face. Instead, a wall of love locks greeted me, beside a wall bearing PETE DAVIDSON. A few locks were already stuck on as I got to attach mine, seemingly harmlessly. I, liked everyone around me, posted a photo to Instagram and, noting the carefully placed Sweetener merch (sweatshirts that are replicas of Grande and Davidson’s wardrobe), made my way to the exit.
And then, a few hours later, a swarm hit me. I was back in my apartment, getting ready for bed, when the comment popped up on my screen: “Ariana liked!!!!!” Curious, I opened Instagram. I saw it suddenly, thinking I was delirious. “arianagrande liked your photo.” And then my phone blew up.
View this post on Instagram
Throughout the weekend, I got messages, likes and comments from people who did not attend The Sweetener Experience. How did I get early access? (I got on the press list.) What was it like? For once, people wished they were me. I learned, through others, that those locks that were on the Pete Davidson wall were in fact put there by Ariana Grande herself, and that the proximity of my lock to hers and the fact that no other lock was on the wall yet implied something I was not aware of, a sort of connection between the number one pop star in the world and I, a mere journalist. My photo got over 700 likes (a substantial amount more than I’m used to), and I realize one thing: Ariana Grande is the #1 pop star in the world, and an absolute marketing genius.