Ariana Grande has returned to Manchester.
The singer, 26, headlined Manchester Pride Festival on Sunday, marking her first performance in the city in two years.
On May 22, 2017, a terrorist bombing killed 22 and injured more than 250 people at the singer’s Manchester concert. Less than one month later, Grande returned to the city to host a benefit concert, with ticket proceeds going towards victims and families that were impacted by the attack.
The star performed many of her hits, including “7 Rings,” “One Last Time,” “Break Free,” “Side to Side,” “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” “Be Alright” and “No Tears Left to Cry.”
She addressed the crowd, saying, “The gays have always had my heart, personally. I spent some of the happiest times of my teenage years singing in gay bars in New York City. I was in a Broadway show, and whenever I’d finish a show, I’d just go to a gay bar and sing Whitney Houston covers until someone would ask me to leave,” she said, according to E! News. “It’s always been such a special thing for me. So, thank you so much for accepting me, celebrating me the way I’ve always celebrated you guys.”
Before taking the stage, Grande, who has a special bond with the city, shared that all of her fans in Manchester are “my heart in every way.”
“on our way to manchester pride,” she tweeted on Sunday. “love u so much. can’t wait to give u all our love. you’re my heart in every way. see u soon.”
on our way to manchester pride. 🖤🖤🖤 love u so much. can’t wait to give u all our love. you’re my heart in every way. see u soon. 🌫— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) August 25, 2019
Ahead of the performance, Grande was criticized by some Twitter users, who accused the pop star of exploiting the LGBTQ community.
“idk …. ariana headlining pride when she’s straight (as far as we’re all aware) …. and doubling the price of tickets …. kinda smells like exploitation of the lgbt community to me …..” one Twitter user wrote.
“I have nothing to do with ticket pricing — manchester pride sets those rates, and they’re mostly out of my control,” Grande wrote days later, adding that “the lgbtq community has been so special to me and supportive throughout my career.”
i saw many people discussing this so i wanted to chime in.... hope that’s okay 🖤🌫 pic.twitter.com/7joiZwI1QS— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) February 27, 2019
“The relationships I have with lgbtq fans, friends, and family make me so happy. I want to celebrate and support this community regardless of my identity or how people label me. and also I wanna visit a city that means so much to me,” Grande added. “I do think there’s room for us to talk about these issues without equating a performance *for* an lgbtq audience with exploitation of the lgbtq community,” she continued. “I’m not claiming to be the hero of the lgbtq rights movement — I just wanna put on a show that makes my lgbtq fans feel special and celebrated and supported. that’s all I wanna do.”
RELATED VIDEO: Ariana Grande Honors Manchester Victims on ‘Challenging’ One-Year Anniversary of Bombing: ‘I Love You with All of Me’
In 2018, after releasing the single “No Tears Left to Cry,” the first single off her album Sweetener, Grande admitted that she was still finding her footing after the disorienting tragedy.
“May 22, 2017 will leave me speechless and filled with questions for the rest of my life,” she said in a letter to fans shared in November.
“Music is an escape. Music is the safest thing I’ve ever known. Music — pop music, stan culture — is something that brings people together, introduces them to some of their best friends, and makes them feel like they can be themselves. It is comfort. It is fun. It is expression. It is happiness. It is the last thing that would ever harm someone. It is safe,” she wrote. “When something so opposite and so poisonous takes place in your world that is supposed to be everything but that… it is shocking and heartbreaking in a way that seems impossible to fully recover from.”
Grande went on to explain that the tragedy taught her resilience and not to take life for granted.
“The people of Manchester were able to change an event that portrayed the worst of humanity into one that portrayed the most beautiful of humanity. ‘Like a handprint on my heart’… I think of Manchester constantly and will carry this with me every day for the rest of my life,” she added.