"This is the best welcome home ever," says Dua Lipa, a couple of songs into the first UK show of her world tour.
"We've been waiting so long, so long to put this show on. We've moved it and postponed it and finally we're here."
Moments earlier, the 26-year-old had walked down the the catwalk of her vast stage, slowly raising her hands to the air as she soaked up the adulation of 21,000 fans who'd waited two years to see her at Manchester's AO Arena.
This wasn't just a pop concert - it was a reunion.
For context, we need to rewind a little. The Future Nostalgia tour was first announced in December 2019, as reports of a new, potentially-deadly virus started to emerge from China.
By the time Dua's second album (also titled Future Nostalgia) arrived the following March, the world was in lockdown and the tour was on ice.
The singer fretted about releasing an album of upbeat dance-pop while people were suffering.
"I'm not sure if I'm even doing the right thing," she told fans in a tearful Instagram live, "but I think the thing we need the most at the moment is music, and we need joy and we need to be trying to see the light."
Her instincts were right.
Instead of reminding us what we'd lost, the album cast forward to a time when we'd be pressed against each other again, singing these songs in sweat-soaked unison. Or, to use Dua's own words, she'd had a "premonition that we fell into a rhythm where the music don't stop for life" - and Future Nostalgia became the most-streamed album of 2020.
Even so, Covid restrictions played havoc with her tour. It was postponed and rescheduled three times, forcing Dua to find ways to keep her music alive - a remix album, a spectacular live-stream and a constant trickle of new songs, including the chart-topping Elton John duet Cold Heart.
All the while, anticipation for the concerts grew, and the roar that greeted the star on Friday night was a curious mixture of excitement and relief.
Dua opened the show by playing Hot Streak's 1980s breakdance classic Body Work ("music makes you lose control"), signalling her intention to celebrate the abandon of the dancefloor.
She emerged on stage in an electric pink Balenciaga corset bodice to the bubbling synth groove of Physical, throwing shapes at a ballet barre, before romping down the catwalk and dipping into some 80s-inspired aerobics moves.
The energy levels barely dipped for the next 40 minutes, as the star blasted through her biggest songs - New Rules, Break My Heart, Love Again, Be The One - flanked by 12 inexhaustible dancers.
The staging was pleasantly restrained for a pop show, forcing the focus onto Dua's impressive vocals and allowing the band to extend her songs for maximum dancefloor impact.
Break My Heart was mashed up with Justice's Dance, while Hallucinate was embellished with elements of Daft Punk's Technologic. Even the female-empowerment ballad Boys Will Be Boys segued into a clattering carnival remix, incorporating a sample of Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl.
It's a trick Dua borrowed from Madonna - placing her music directly into the pop canon - paying tribute at the same time as asserting her dominance. In lesser hands, it would be an exercise in hubris but the platinum-plated hits of Future Nostalgia withstood the comparisons.
The choreography was just as clever, drawing on decades of dance history. New Rules gained a Gene Kelly-inspired umbrella routine, while Cool saw Dua orbited by two roller-disco skaters.
Choreographer Charm La'Donna, who worked on this year's Super Bowl half-time show, riffed on Bob Fosse's chair routines during Hallucinate, and brought New York Warehouse vibes to the dance hit Electricity. At one point, she even threw in a bit of the hokey-cokey.
This time, she gave it more oomph, proving not just that she's refined her stagecraft, but that she's capable of laughing at herself.
The show could have done with a bit more of that humour. The only other glimpse of the star's quirky side was a giant inflatable lobster that appeared during We're Good (a throwback to the music video that would take too long to explain here).
But the Future Nostalgia tour isn't built for jokes. It's about marking the moment Dua Lipa came into her own as a pop star.
Since 2019, she has transformed into a commanding, confident performer, who can casually throw away a gigantic hit like New Rules two songs into her set, safe in the knowledge she has a dozen other tracks the audience know just as well.
For Friday's finale, she appeared in a Thierry Mugler catsuit, stitched with 120,000 crystals that turned her into a human glitterball, as she floated above the audience singing Levitating. Back on the ground, she whipped her hair furiously to Future Nostalgia's title track, before taking a victory lap around the disco-funk of Don't Start Now.
Not for the first time, the fans drowned her out... almost as if they'd spent the lockdown learning the words and were finally getting the chance to live out their fantasy. Up on stage, Dua was experiencing the same thing.
She did a full 180, baby. And look at where she ended up.
- New Rules
- Love Again
- Pretty Please
- Break My Heart
- Be The One
- We're Good
- Good In Bed
- Boys Will Be Boys
- Club Future Nostalgia
- One Kiss
- Cold Heart
- Future Nostalgia
- Don't Start Now