The 25-year-old pop phenom also invited rapper Nicki Minaj onstage before throwing back to hip hop classics, bringing out Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mase for a touching tribute to both the recently slain rapper Nipsey Hussle and her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, who committed suicide last September.
Grande is just the fourth woman to headline Coachella, a sun-drenched trendsetting festival in the desert of California that will run through the same lineup again next weekend, save for an exclusive Easter Sunday performance by Kanye West.
The top billing is a feather in Grande’s cap after a year that saw the former child star permeate the public consciousness as she shattered record after record and released two hit albums.
She kicked off the show with her hit celebrating sexual pleasure “God Is a Woman,” and shortly thereafter performed “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”, which features a deep cut sample from NSYNC’s 2000 album “No Strings Attached.”
Four of NSYNC’s five former members came together for the occasion, though Justin Timberlake — who found fame in his own right after the band broke up — was noticeably absent.
But the four who turned up delighted the audience and Grande herself — who would’ve barely been in primary school when the group peaked — with the pop star saying: “I’ve been rehearsing my whole… life for this moment!”
The performers then did a rendition of the 1997 classic “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” nailing the original choreography.
Technical difficulties struck when Minaj joined Grande onstage to an eruption of cheers to perform their joint smashes “Side to Side” and “Bang Bang.”
A botched rap from Minaj saw the two awkwardly bop back and forth, with Grande saying “We can’t hear anything” several times, before using her four-octave range to try and move on from the snafu.
A clip of the incident quickly became the stuff of memes, with captions like: “Me And My Best Friend During Our Oral Presentation That We Forgot About.”
– ‘Still standing’ –
The crowd threw up peace signs for Grande’s collaboration with Diddy and Mase, with the trio performing “Mo Money Mo Problems,” the 1999 megahit by the Notorious B.I.G. that featured the duo and was released after his death.
During the emotional tribute to Miller and Hussle — whose shooting death triggered an outpouring of grief from the music industry and beyond — the performers also gave shoutouts to Biggie and Tupac Shakur, whose murders in the mid-1990s were the most high-profile of the era’s spate of rapper killings.
While Grande has found massive success recently, she has also suffered highly publicized personal and professional upheavals, which included Miller’s death, the demise of her whirlwind engagement to comedian Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live and a deadly bombing at her 2017 concert in Manchester.
“She’s been through a whole lot, but she’s still standing,” shouted Diddy to cheers.
“Give it up for the number one artist in the world!”