Netflix drops a glowing, but opaque music doc that does little but throw red meat to Grande’s existing legions of fans.
It feels like a lifetime ago that I saw Ariana Grande perform at Toronto’s Sound Academy, a now-defunct venue that held just a few thousand people. The fact that it was actually as recent as 2013 makes excuse me, i love you, a new Netflix film anchored by one of her 2019 shows at London’s O2 Arena, particularly awe-inspiring.
excuse me is a concert-documentary hybrid about Grande’s Sweetener World Tour, which promoted both Sweetener (2018) and thank u, next (2019), two albums released within six months of each other. It takes its name from a line in “R.E.M.,” one of Sweetener’s standout tracks, and was primarily helmed by Paul Dugdale, the Netflix regular behind Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour (2017) and the more recent Shawn Mendes: Live In Concert (2020). (Its behind-the-scenes segments were handled by Story Syndicate, aka the documentarians Liz Garbus and Dan Cogan.)
Dugdale’s resume is prolific for a reason, and he expertly captures the energy and artistry of the London show—no small feat given the stage production, from the massive inflatable orb that hovers over Grande and her dancers to the trippy projections that at one point fake the appearance of water on stage. Grande, for her part, bounces around like a beautiful space butterfly in her custom Versace and Michael Ngo designs, ponytail in full force. And her mic, to paraphrase Prince, is very much on; how she nails her trademark whistle tones while also performing heavy choreo is beyond me. If only the film had been 97 minutes of this.
Instead, it becomes clear early in excuse me that it’s been made less to convert the unconverted than to supply die-hard Arianators with some new GIFs. The film’s behind-the-scenes segments, which collectively add up to just 20 or so minutes, seem to have been chosen for Grande’s camera-readiness more than anything else. She FaceTimes a team member. She FaceTimes another team member. She gets her makeup done. She gets her makeup done again. In one lengthier segment, she tells her friends a dog diarrhea horror story, a scene that’s saved only by the punchline “Kristin Chenoweth’s still on FaceTime, might I add.” There are more meaningful backstage scenes, to be sure—Grande gets choked up explaining how much it means to her that Mariah Carey likes her, she gets choked up again telling her team that the tour has “for sure, for sure, for sure saved [her] life this year”—but these feel sparse considering that the film covers almost a year in the star’s life.
There’s also little to no exposition for the so-called unconverted. Joan Grande, Ariana’s mother, is introduced with the title “need we say more?” Likewise, the personal struggles that directly informed Sweetener and thank u, next—surviving the horrific Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, calling off her engagement to Pete Davidson in 2018, and losing ex-boyfriend Mac Miller later that year—are never uttered out loud. So when Scooter Braun—Grande’s manager whose likeness is for sure on at least one dartboard in Taylor Swift’s home—tells us that he’s proud of Grande in light of “where she was six to eight months ago,” we’re assumed to already know what he’s referring to. What exposition the film does offer at times comes in the form of strange on-screen annotations from Grande herself, typing in her usual all-lowercase. One example: “(still drunk… who am I waving to?)”
The film is further weighed down by dead-ends and asides. Victoria Monét, Grande’s close friend and fellow artist, shows up at one point to rehearse their 2019 collaboration, “MONOPOLY,” but we don’t get to see them actually perform it that night. Grande screams in delight hearing that Donald Trump’s impeachment will move forward, a scene that feels more or less pointless now. Cue another on-screen annotation: “(too bad he wasn’t convicted – thank god biden won anyway!)”
It’s been made less to convert the unconverted than to supply die-hard Arianators with some new GIFs.
It’s hard not to feel like these segments could’ve instead been uploaded to Grande’s YouTube channel, since they serve as an awkward claw machine continually removing you from the show itself—an escapist marvel of glitter and bisexual lighting that you don’t really want to leave. Little is learned from them, and their extreme 2019-ness risks dulling the film’s rewatchability factor down the line. They also make excuse me’s seams all the more visible, revealing it to be a bald-faced fan service effort that should have been a slick document of her best tour yet.
In a December 9 Instagram post addressed to her fans, Grande announced the film as “a love letter to u all.” As someone who counts myself among that group, I’m grateful to have this conclusion to the Sweetener and thank u, next mega-era now that she’s firmly thrusting ahead with the positions (2020) one. Hours before excuse me went live, Grande announced her engagement to boyfriend Dalton Gomez, and, reading her early-December post back now, it seems as if said development had already happened by then. The delayed timing of the latter announcement suggests that Grande was keen to close her previous chapter in one fell swoop this week. It’s unfortunate that the rest of us will have to be reminded of Trump, one of the things her art has provided a wonderful escape from these last several years, every time we want to revisit it.