Innocence of first concert shattered by bombing

It should have been a night they grew up to wistfully remember.

The Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena was a rite of passage for some youngsters — their first live show with a major superstar.

They came with their parents, with their friends and with their excitement, cell phones ready to capture every moment.

There were the tunes to sing along with, energetic dance routines and the soaring voice of the young woman dubbed “the new Mariah Carey” in her early career.

Instead, Monday evening was transformed into a night of terror and chaos after a bomb attack that left 22 people, including children, dead and at least 59 injured.

And while it’s not the first time children have been the victims of a terror attack, an explosion ripping through a crowd as they left a pop concert goes to the heart of so many fears in the Western world, where recreation is more on minds than how to avoid a bombing — especially at an Ariana Grande show.

Peruse #myfirstconcert on Twitter and the memories are pretty much the same, even when the decades are different.

There’s thrill and often a bemused adult chaperone along for the ride — grownups like Andy James, who took his 9-year-old brother to see Grande at the Manchester Arena as an early birthday present.

James recounted witnessing the explosion to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

He ushered his little brother through the stampede of panicked concert goers, he said, and told him the loud noise was coming from the popping of pink balloons. (Grande always concludes her concerts with a balloon drop.)

“I just told my brother this is what it was, you know, that it wasn’t an explosion. It was the balloons,” recalled James, who lamented that the youngster’s first concert would forever be marred with the frightening memory. “He’s nine years old, he knows what goes on in the world. It’s such a shame really.”

At 23, Grande is not much older than some of the 21,000 fans who crowded into Manchester Arena to see her.

Groomed as a member of the Nickelodeon stable of stars, her role as aspiring singer-actress Cat Valentine on the kids show “Victorious” helped pave the way for her music career and her role as the quintessential pop ingenue.

With the exception of a 2015 controversy in which Grande appeared to lick some donuts for sale in a Los Angeles shop before making disparaging comments about the United States, the star has enjoyed a wholesome image that has garnered her more than 45 million Twitter followers.

And nowhere is the petite, pony-tailed-performer with the powerhouse voice more beloved than in the United Kingdom.

Grande is known for the adoration she returns to her fans, nicknamed “Arianators.”

In 2014, she scored her first no. 1 single in the UK with “Problem. That same year, a video of Grande greeting admirers at London’s Heathrow airport with kisses and selfies went viral.

This European tour was in support of the singer’s first album to land at the top of the UK charts, 2016’s “Dangerous Woman.”

The danger the crowd faced on Monday night caused some of them to flee to nearby establishments for shelter.

Hayley Lunt and her 10-year-old daughter, Annabel, ended up at the Premier Inn after the explosion.

Lunt talked to the Guardian about her worry on how the terrorism attack would affect her child.

“It just makes you frightened to take your child anywhere,” Lunt said. “It was her first proper concert, and I’m just thinking, will she want to do anything again.”

In a column for the Telegraph, writer Alice Vincent described first concerts as “a ritual by which we understand the joy of witnessing live music.”

It is her hope that those who survived the Manchester Arena bombing are able to retain at least some of that joy.

“There were 21,000 people in Manchester Arena last night, some of those will have been at their first concert,” Vincent wrote. “All of them will carry what happened with them, both the tragedy, and the good that went before it. Hopefully they’ll come to remember the pink balloons as well as the bombs.”