One Love Manchester: A View From Backstage

Artists who made the journey to Manchester, England, for Ariana Grande’s “One Love” concert took the night’s theme to heart as it was a virtual love-fest backstage at Old Trafford Stadium.

You could say all of the acts on the bill  — Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Marcus Mumford, Take That, Robbie Williams, the Black Eyed Peas (sans Fergie), Pharrell Williams, Imogen Heap, Liam Gallagher, Niall Horan, and Little Mix — had a sense of common purpose, evident not just by the hoodie Robbie Williams was wearing (merch from the Bieber tour of the same name), but by the palpable excitement throughout the dressing room area, which was constructed but 24 hours earlier.

There, one could hear Cyrus fa-la-la-ing as she strolled with a posse of friends and manager Adam Leber; spot Coldplay’s Chris Martin barefoot and in gym shorts following a pre-show workout; see Bieber and Will.I.Am hugging and complimenting each others’ wardrobe; watch Perry put the finishing touches on her stunner of a dress, which included images of the attack victims on the neck and back; and witness the most popular backstage hanger-on, Williams’ dog Wally. Each dressing room was outfitted with rugs and couches bearing the British flag, the Union Jack, and contained Manchester merchandise of all stripes — shirts, pins, and the like.

The main topic of conversation overheard throughout the evening: Ariana Grande’s bravery, strength, and resilience, and manager Scooter Braun’s altruism in motivating more than a dozen top artists to rearrange schedules and travel on their own dime to the city where 22 people were killed and dozens injured following a Grande concert on May 22.

Indeed, comparisons were made to Live Aid, the massive dual-venue benefit concert in 1985 featuring Queen, U2, David Bowie, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and Phil Collins, among others, that raised some 40 million GBP for famine relief in Africa, and of Braun to that show’s organizer Bob Geldof. A major difference, however, is that with social media and a live stream of the Manchester show on multiple platforms (including YouTube, iHeartRadio, and the BBC), “One Love” reached a much larger global audience, the approximate size of which has yet to be assessed.

Of course, the music was the main attraction, and during several moments throughout the show, artists were seen sidestage cheering on the performing act — Gallagher did for Coldplay, as did Cyrus in the same spot during Bieber’s mini set. Interestingly, however, some of the biggest screams of the night accompanied videos of stars who couldn’t be there — specifically: Kendall Jenner, Paul McCartney, and Kings of Leon, who are set to play Manchester Arena on June 9.

That such a giant undertaking could come together so seamlessly, with the show running on time and ending before its 10:15 p.m. curfew, impressed, as did the attention paid to the survivors of the Manchester attack, who were the true VIPs of “One Love.” One in particular, a 14-year-old named Millie, who was photographed on a stretcher making a peace sign following the May 22 bombing, had become somewhat of a local celebrity and was warmly embraced by the Grande family — Ariana, her brother, Frankie; and mother, Joan.

The logistics of the night were a lot to take on, to be sure, especially on little sleep, as many who were working on the show undoubtedly were, but, as Braun told Variety, any such difficulties paled in comparison to “the challenges these families and the kids in the children’s hospital are going through.”

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