The stars are out: reflections on One Love Manchester

“There will be a very emotional song from Ariana Grande coming up next,” Jo Whiley promised BBC radio listeners.

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“The world is very much watching Manchester tonight . . . and London, too, of course.” At the One Love benefit concert at Old Trafford, the strain of extending sympathies over yet another incident in London had both those on stage and those commentating on the radio almost throwing up their hands. More vans, more knives, more acolytes on the web enjoying the wickedness.

On the BBC, where the concert was aired simultaneously on several stations, Jo Whiley, never big on analysis, sounded as if she was smiling with her mouth closed to conceal a cavity.

“There will be a very emotional song from Ariana coming up next,” she promised, as the choir from Parrs Wood High School in Didsbury trooped on stage to join the dainty Floridian star, who had been repeating, “I love you so much, thank you,” like someone with PTSD. “That was incredibly emotional,” Whiley confirmed. Scott Mills added: “Wow.” Nobody was bothering much with their vocab.

Earlier, on BBC Radio Manchester, the presenters Jason Hardy and Chelsea Norris had been outside “next to the pizza and chips van”, commenting on the mood as concertgoers arrived. “The buses say WE LOVE MANCHESTER,” someone pointed out, and everybody seemed pleased. But not as much as when Miley Cyrus landed, bringing her alien Disney slickness.

Yet she sounded so old – more so over the radio. Twenty-four, but talking like a practised Liza Minnelli, a contrast to the surprisingly shambling notes Justin Bieber hit on his acoustic guitar. “God is good in the midst of evil,” he whispered, but the crowd was still ecstatically chanting his best lyric: “My mama don’t like you, and she likes everyone.”

More songs, more brief lines of commentary. The direction, correctly so, had been to allow the concert to run and simply broadcast it. “Let’s go say hi to everybody,” Cyrus commanded Ariana, taking her hand as the pale grey day turned into dark grey night and the Learjets revved at the airport. There was little question of who was in charge here (even when Liam Gallagher appeared, bearing a tambourine, maracas and polite new haircut). “What an incredible display of sisterhood,” said Whiley, perhaps crossing her fingers. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 08 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Election special