Ariana Grande used to be a Nickelodeon star and once made headlines for licking a doughnut, but this 22-year-old from Florida is actually one of 2016’s coolest pop stars. Larry Bartleet explains why
1. She works with all the right people
The Weeknd guested on Grande’s song ‘Love Me Harder’ long before he was a global phenomenon, and she lit up Justin Bieber’s remix of ‘What Do You Mean?’ last year. Now, on new album ‘Dangerous Woman’, she adds vibey Atlantan trap man Future, prolific rap legend Lil Wayne and smoky-voiced R&B star Macy Gray to her roster of collaborators.
2. She takes the piss out of her squeaky-clean image
In February, she popped up in Zoolander 2 as a gimp-mask-wearing orgy participant. Then in March, when she hosted Saturday Night Live, her entire opening skit was a song called ‘What Will My Scandal Be?’, mocking Bieber-level PR disasters that could take her career “to the next level”. It skewered the bizarre, pearl-clutching reaction America had to the only real scandal she’s been involved in so far: licking a doughnut she hadn’t paid for in a Californian bakery last July. Also, check out her Snapchat, where you’ll find her giggling at extreme close-ups of a horse’s knob and doing crap impressions of characters from 1996 revenge comedy The First Wives Club.
3. Indie heroes do her songs at karaoke
Last year The Vaccines frontman Justin Hayward-Young told NME, “She’s the most unbelievable singer, so [doing her songs is] always an absolute disaster. ‘Break Free’ is the one that’s really hard. But I’m ambitious.”
4. She hates sexist bulls**t
She responded to media speculation about her love life (after splitting with Big Sean she was linked with 1D’s Niall Horan) with a blog post confronting “double standards” and “misogyny”, writing: “If a woman TALKS about sex openly… she’s shamed! But if a man talks or RAPS freely about all the women (or more commonly used ‘b***hes / hoes’… how lovely) he’s had… he’s regaled.” She also made a hapless host on LA’s Power 106 radio look like an idiot when he asked her to choose between her phone and her make-up. The 22-year-old calmly responded, “Is this what you thinks girls have trouble choosing between?” later adding, “I think you need a little brushing up on equality over here.”
5. She was in a lame Nickelodeon show, but she made it funny
Grande played Cat Valentine, the Phoebe Buffay figure of Nickelodeon’s high school-based Victorious. Valentine was a zany, high-pitched naïf with red hair who would periodically say things like, “Yay! Crayons!”
6. She campaigns for what she believes in
As a vegan and supporter of PETA, Grande’s spoken out about animal rights, encouraging her fans to boycott SeaWorld (inspiring the likes of Harry Styles and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul to do the same). Last year she recorded a song with Miley Cyrus as part of Cyrus’s Happy Hippie campaign, which helps homeless and LGBT youth – and this year she fronted a new line from MAC Cosmetics that donates its profits to help those living with HIV and AIDS. Right on.
7. She’s not afraid to criticise America
Sign up for the newsletter
During the doughnut-licking incident last July, Grande’s offhand comment, “I hate America” – referring to junk food culture – was caught on camera and headlines branded her a villain. In her first apology video, she explained the context, but the apology wasn’t enough and for her own good she was forced to record another apology. Many outlets still didn’t forgive her, so in October she released a song called ‘Focus’, in which she sings, “If my real ain’t real enough, I’m sorry for ya, bae”.
8. She smashed it at the White House
Aged just 20 and surrounded by legends like Aretha Franklin and Jill Scott, she performed ‘I Have Nothing’ in front of the Obamas for a Women of Soul event. She opened her performance with the query, “Mr President, Mrs Obama – what’s up, how are ya?”
9. She wants to empower her fans
“I want to be empowering my fans,” Grande said of ‘Dangerous Woman’ two months ago. “To me, a dangerous woman is someone who’s not afraid to take a stand, be herself and to be honest.” She did the very same last June in an essay about slut-shaming and misogyny, which read, “Being ‘empowered’ is not the same as being a ‘b***h’… I’m tired of living in a world where women are mostly referred to as a man’s past, present or future property. I do not belong to anyone but myself.”