If you’ve ever wanted to see Ariana Grande ride a unicorn while listening to ‘R.E.M.’, you’re in luck. With Grande appearing on Rift Tour – a musical journey where the pop megastar and cult favourite online survival game Fortnite merge – that’s just one of the many magical situations Grande (and you) get to enjoy.
And at Fortnite’s Rift Tour event on Thursday at the Skylight Modern event space in New York City, video game aficionados are able to get a first look. While stationed at one of many socially distanced desks, we can use controllers to become Grande (should we choose that particular “skin”, an in-game costume) or sit back and watch on a big screen as the multiplayer game is projected, automatically pivoting users throughout the game’s carefully crafted world.
The Rift Tour is a significant outing for Grande, who collaborated visually on the project and leant her songs (but doesn’t actually perform live). It’s been nearly two years since she’s hit the stage. Since then, she’s released an album she has yet to tour – 2020’s ‘Positions’, a sultry pandemic record where the pop singer stayed in her R&B comfort zone. But Grande’s collaboration with Fortnite gives fans a taste her in uncharted territory – and even her signature ponytail is along for the ride.
Fortnite first began embarking on the virtual concert experience in 2019 with electronic artist and producer Marshmello. While beginning as a more straightforward (though simulated) concert setup – a stage, a crowd, strobe lights – it’s since evolved into a dreamworld.
With The Rift Tour, developer Epic Games opted to forego a more traditional in-game concert setting – like Travis Scott’s Astronomical event – in favour of an interactive, world-hopping adventure full of pastels, celestial lighting and rainbows. While the ‘concert’ itself is only around 10 minutes long, a medley of Grande’s hits – including 2013’s ‘Yours Truly’, 2016’s ‘Dangerous Woman’ and 2019’s ‘Thank U, Next,’ as well as ‘Positions’ – soundtrack the majestic realities seamlessly. Cued by the singer’s crystalline vocals on ‘Sweetener’ intro ‘raindrops (an angel cried)’, NME is transported through the Fortnite galaxy to a lush field of pink Petals with dancers swaying on bubbles. Quickly, though, we find ourselves swept away by the pulsating synths of Grande’s self-soothing club-ready anthem ‘Be Alright’ while venturing through the area surrounding a magical castle.
Perhaps the most enjoyable moment of all comes when the aforementioned unicorn appears and, as we travel on a rainbow-coloured road atop the heavenly creature, Grande’s breathless vocals on ‘R.E.M.’ – a song about the state between dreams and reality – fittingly soundtracks our ride. It isn’t long before we step into a simulated world where an enlarged version of the singer becomes a judge flexing her gavel outside of a courthouse while , ‘The Way’, her lovesick hip-hop collaboration with the late rapper Mac Miller, plays in the background.
The real showpiece of the event, however, comes when the pop star emerges from an actual planet, an angelic Grande bursting from the cracked surface, the woozy, sex-positive single ‘Positions’ echoing around her. Even in the gaming world, Grande knows how to make an entrance.
The megastar’s Rift Tour comes at a perfect time, as live music has yet to fully come back. While concerts are gradually returning, the uncertainty of COVID remains. Seeing Grande appear in Fortnite – in a custom landscape with her flourishes in its world-building moments – is an appealing alternative to livestream sets. Grande’s Rift Tour might be much shorter than a normal concert, but feels like a trip to a candyland that’s worth every second. And its interactive element makes it almost as fun as – and more futuristic than – any IRL gig.