Although Marshmallo’s performance, Fortnite’s first experiment in interactive live music, preceded our soul-crushing work-from-home, pandemic lifestyle, it opened up plenty of doors. Little did we know it, but Fortnite’s live events are the perfect way to absorb the arts in a world where travel is no longer a luxury, and where sweaty, shoulder-to-shoulder human contact is far from desirable.
And for some, who suffer from social anxieties and don’t vibe with crowded spaces, being able to creep the toe of their digital avatar into a vibrant, dizzying world of live music, even if it’s not a 1:1 facsimile, is perhaps one of Fortnite’s most vital byproducts.
On a recent episode of the podcast, I told an anecdote of how, despite being entrenched in the local music scene through my band, I actually can’t handle live music a lot of the time. I’ve plenty of memories from shows that I’ll always adore, but I’ve developed a bad habit of buying tickets to shows I’ll never consider attending.
So often, on the day of, the introverted side of me will take the wheel and decide it just isn’t on the cards.
Never tempted by Marshmallo or Travis Scott, I’m just enough of an Ariana Grande fan to buy in. So I downloaded Fortnite again, picked out the most inoffensive of the five timeslots on offer, and hopped in the queue. Beneath an ominous spacecraft, and in the company of around a dozen folk, I glided around waiting for the ‘Rift Tour’ to crack spacetime wide open and drag me into the world of our girl Ari.
As an experience, the performance can be described in a few words. It was brief, ethereal, and elegant. In addition to that, it was fun. Without having to rub shoulders with thousands of people, and without having to clamber for position, I could take in all of Ariana’s bubblegum production that almost felt Pink Floydian in terms of spectacle and provocation. Of course, that’s all it is. Though it’s in the spirit of ‘live performance,’ this is more akin to popping on a tremendously curated Spotify playlist while having a hologram dance across your coffee table. While the lack of true live performance is a shame, especially for an artist like Grande who has serious chops, whoever helmed this event put together some special moments that helped it stand out as a visual spectacle.
The event’s prologue, populated by Sia and Wolfmother tracks, felt like a bit of a tonal patchwork, but Ari’s performance felt complete. Bookended by ‘7 rings’ and ‘positions’, and with a few other slaps wedged in to fill up the modest ten-minute runtime, this particular ‘Rift Tour’ medley visited some real, tender places. There’s little subtlety ‘The Way feat. Mac Miller’ playing as Ari symbolically ascends a sky-bound stairway, but for those who are familiar with her sad history with Malcolm, the moment does hit.
I’ve heard some complaints about the event’s brevity, likely from those who perhaps don’t realise the considerable time and resources it’d take to develop this whirlwind tour of what is pretty much a diamond-clad bubble-bound kingdom. Furthermore, much like the game hosting it, ‘The Rift Tour’ is free. Despite its limited run, there are no tickets, no bookings fees.
These Fortnite events should be likened to the Super Bowl’s half-time show. You don’t get an exhaustive, two-hour odyssey through the artist’s entire back catalogue. Instead, you get a very focused mixtape played over an eye-melting acid trip that will serve as a treat to fans and as a curtain-raiser to introduce the millions in Fortnite’s user base to their new favourite pop star.