How Ariana Grande became a thoughtful and funny pop star who really matters

Five years ago Ariana Grande was still starring in a Nickelodeon sitcom called Sam & Cat. Now, she’s preparing to drop fourth album Sweetener on August 17, and if trailer singles ‘No More Tears Left To Cry’ and ‘God Is A Woman’ are anything to go by, potentially entering her imperial phase. In 2018, only the lamest of folks make jokes about her name sounding like a font or Starbucks order (LOLZ!!!). Here’s how she’s blossomed into a pop star who really matters.

She’s a proud feminist.

Grande has consistently and eloquently spoken out against sexism, the objectification of women, and body and slut-shaming in interviews and social posts. When a fan on Facebook suggested she resembled a “whore” in the ‘Dangerous Woman’ video, Grande replied: “When will people stop being offended by women showing skin / expressing sexuality? men take their shirts off / express their sexuality on stage, in videos, on instagram, anywhere they want to… all. the. time. the double standard is so boring and exhausting. with all due respect, i think it’s time you get your head out of your ass. ♡ woman can love their bodies too!”

She also shared with her fans a grimly traumatic experience with a douchey bro type that left her feeling “sick and objectified”.

New single ‘God Is A Woman’ sends out a quintessentially Grande message: it’s a heady celebration of female sexuality and empowerment that should really resonate with her younger female fans. “And I can be all the things you told me not to be,” Grande sings on the pre-chorus. “When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing.” The only appropriate response? “YASSS GIRL!”

She’s a full-on LGBTQ ally.

In 2018, it’s hardly radical for a pop star to support the LGBTQ community. Still, there’s a big difference between an X Factor alum who does the odd “Hello, the gays!” PA at G-A-Y and artists who genuinely engage and connect with the community. Grande definitely belongs in the latter category – her older brother Frankie is gay, so she dived into queer culture at a formative age. “When we were growing up, he was always doing musical theatre and I was always surrounded by his gay friends, so most of my best friends are gay or transgender or some beautiful kind of fun,” she told me when I interviewed her for gay magazine Attitude in 2014. Since then, she’s spoken about distancing herself from the Catholic Church because of its attitudes towards homosexuality and included pro-LGBTQ imagery in her tour visuals. So it makes total sense that her latest collab is ‘Dance To This’ with Troye Sivan, one of pop’s brightest new queer icons.

Troye Sivan and Ariana Grande

Her response to the Manchester Arena bombing was brave, defiant and inspiring.

Less than a fortnight after a terrorist attack claimed the lives of 13 fans (and wounded 139 more) at her Manchester Arena concert, Grande was back on stage at the city’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground for the One Love Manchester benefit concert, which she and her team devised and organised. Featuring performances from Coldplay, Katy Perry, Liam Gallagher, Take That and of course Grande herself, it was a deeply poignant and massively galvanising event which raised millions for the victims and their families, and sent out a clear message to the world: terrorism will never prevail. Grande even received an apology from chief agit-gammon Piers Morgan, who had thoughtlessly criticised her for returning to Florida in the days after the tragedy. Now, no one could fail to grasp that Grande is a person of real substance.

She’s funny af

Grande’s become so warm and playful on social media that the mini-scandal of donutgate, where a hint of brattishness crept into her public persona, now seems kind of unthinkable. In a way, she’s reached peak pop star social by being able to promote her music on Twitter and Instagram without looking desperate or dickish.

And there’s a natural offhandedness about her interactions with fans that recalls Rihanna, a.k.a. the coolest pop star around.

But don’t come for her ponytail – because she will clap back.

Agree to disagree. #CommentsByCelebs

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She’s already amassed a back catalogue that bangs.

Try making a ‘best of Ariana’ playlist and you’ll realise just how fluid and unpredictable her musical output has been. Over the past half-decade she’s glided between soulful R&B (‘Baby I’), deliciously cheesy EDM (‘Break Free’), sex-positive reggae (‘Side To Side’), an off-the-wall Major Lazer collab (‘All My Love’), perfect pop (‘Into You’) and life-affirming diva house (‘No More Tears Left To Cry’). Her fabulous four-octave voice is an adaptable instrument which puts her stamp on everything she records – even a team-up with the most extra singer around. With production largely handled by Pharrell Williams and Max Martin – these days, Grande uses A-list producers only – ‘Sweetener’ should be her strongest musical statement yet.