Before you ask, no, I am not a basic white girl from the suburbs. Yes, I do unironically enjoy the musical works of Ariana Grande. No, this isn’t my normal musical fare. Also, WHY ARE YOU ASKING SO MANY QUESTIONS, HYPOTHETICAL READER?
I suppose I should start from the beginning.
I have a sister back home in Michigan that is a lot younger than I am. Specifically, she is nine-and-a-half years younger. So, this meant a lot of watching what she wanted to watch on TV, as we only had one TV in the house that had cable and no one really wanted to deal with a crying child.
She grew up on the animated Nickelodeon staples of the mid-2000’s, such as “Fairly OddParents” and “SpongeBob SquarePants”, but along with that were live-action shows, such as “Drake and Josh” and “iCarly.” Needless to say, I endured it so that I too could eventually get my two hours of television. (Later on, my time would largely be combined with my mother’s, since we had similar tastes and also were adults.)
Anyway, this was when I was introduced to “VICTORiOUS”, a rather forgettable show about a gifted and talented high school program produced by the same creative team behind “iCarly.” The show featured Victoria Justice, the Next Big Thing at Nickelodeon (a la Miranda Cosgrove and Jeanette McCurdy) in the eternal battle with Disney for relevant personalities to catch eyes in the all-important pre-teen/tween demographic.
What happened, however, was that the show was ultimately stolen by a bit character who went by the name of Cat. Cat, who always had shocking red hair and was a bit of a dim light, had a flair for the dramatic and reeked of charisma, which is something the show’s protagonist, Justice, didn’t really have. It was hard not to pay attention to Cat, played by Ariana Grande, whenever she was on screen.
The show ended after a four-year run, but not before Grande released her first single as a recording artist on the show’s album (yes, the show had an album) in 2011.
After that, her career really took of, especially when she showed her chops on her first non-Nickelodeon recording appearance with Mac Miller as a guest vocalist on “The Way,” which also happened to be Miller’s first appearance on pop charts. She eventually found her way as an opening act with Justin Bieber’s worldwide tour and released her first solo album My Everything in 2014.
With Ryan Tedder and Max Martin on the production board, Grande rose to the top of the pop charts with aplomb at a good time, as artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift had retreated into the background to work on new albums. She also chose her collaborators carefully, with connecting with then-Big Ticket Item Iggy Azelea for “Problems” and with up-and-coming EDM producer Zedd for “Break Free.”
In-between album releases, Grande featured prominently in Jessie J’s “Bang Bang,” which also featured Nicki Minaj (which I may or may not know every word to and sing at the top of my lungs every time I hear it) and performed alongside world-famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
(Also, this “turn down the lights” playlist anchor.)
Dangerous Woman, released in 2016, confirmed her as one of the elite queens of pop. With a dark, yet playful medley of pop music that hinted at transformation and promiscuity and embraced Grande’s maturity, it marks a new standard for pop music that was previously occupied by contemporaries such as Mariah Carey, Madonna and Christina Aguilara.
One can take a look at her catalog alone and respect that on its own merit, but perhaps what I love most about Ariana Grande is simply the glow-up.
Grande handled her fame a lot better than some of her contemporaries that also went the TV-to-pop life, namely Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus has been rather a lightning rod for debate regarding culture appropriation, amongst other things, while Grande has largely kept away from bad press, outside of two relatively minor outbursts (one of which that involved her licking doughnuts in public, is admittedly strange.)
Grande has been an advocate for many social causes and is also a lot more vocal regarding a variety of political actions than other pop stars, a welcome change in an industry that is normally about preserving image at all costs.
I suppose what makes me so attracted to her work, outside of the fact that her range is amazing and her selection of production is on point, is that I’ve had the opportunity to track her growth as both an actress and a musician from essentially the beginning. When you watch an artist from the start and see them achieve success, it makes you feel attached in a way. Watching her embrace herself (or at least, what she allows us to see– she’s the second most-followed person in Instagram) in such a public light, in an industry that eats up its young and owning it is astounding and definitely deserving of respect.
It helps she’s talented, too.