Banerjee: The Ariana Grande phenomenon

Following the release of her single, “7 rings,” artist Ariana Grande has been at the center of numerous complaints about her problematic behavior. But, instead of being immediately ousted for being problematic, fans have met her with calls for education and sympathy.



Ariana Grande introduces The Weekend at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 15, 2016 in Los Angeles. Grande is holding a benefit concert in Manchester after this week’s attack. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Anna Banerjee, Opinions Columnist

Ariana Grande released her latest single from her long-awaited album, thank u, next, on Jan. 18. The song “7 rings” is dedicated to six of her close friends in what Grande describes as a “friendship anthem.” Alongside the praise following the song’s release came a number of different discussions concerning the controversial aspects of her song and newest aesthetic choices.

Many have called the song itself into question, bringing about claims of plagiarism, saying the chorus’ flow was stolen from black musicians. Others bring up the way Grande appropriates the Japanese language as an aesthetic for her “imagine” cover art. Even further, claims continue to circle that Grande is darkening her skin to appear more like the black artists with whom she aligns herself.

Whether or not Grande is guilty of all of this is beyond my scope of analysis, but the role that she plays in society as an artist and her resulting accountability is important to discuss.

Undeniably, Grande is one of the most prominent and influential artists currently working. Much of that influence originates in her unique brand, centered on creating a familial, intimate dynamic between her and her fans, Grande’s influence is based on openness and mutual love.

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Her 60.4 million Twitter followers watched her tweet honestly about her breakup with fiancé Pete Davidson last year in a way most other stars would avoid. In the last month, she’s tweeted and quote-tweeted followers, friends, and family sharing some variation of “I love you” more than 30 times, not including direct replies. Grande loves her fans, and we love her, too. And, that’s why watching her completely ignore claims of problematic behavior is difficult.

As a 25-year-old pop star, Grande will make mistakes, and we acknowledge that. For the most part, the critiques of her image come from long-time followers who are asking her to re-examine her image’s politics. Because her art and music fall into this line of particular love and openness, many of her fans are coming from a similar place to ask Grande to look at how her actions are perceived.

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Grande’s lyrics such as “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it” that apply to black hairstyles more than Grande’s own Italian background are clearly not out of spite for the communities that largely overlap with her supporters. Her fans recognize this. Rather than ousting her for being offensive or problematic — “canceling her” — supporters call for her to educate herself so she can better understand how she’s affecting various communities.

This differs in a large way from the general “call-out culture” that has become so prevalent: a previously adored celebrity does something offensive — mildly or severely — and is consequently destroyed on social-media sites. Grande is different. This could be attributed to how very few people actually try to keep her accountable to her actions,  but it’s also a result of how she’s cultivated a fanbase. Instead of focusing on invading Grande’s privacy, we are already a part of her life and that openness gives us a space for honest dialogue.

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Grande’s unique positioning makes her an important figure in modern pop culture. Because of that, her lack of social education can be troubling for many fans, but ultimately, it’s a place of potential growth — something that Grande has demonstrated relentlessly over the last year. I have no doubt that I’ll watch Grande continue to evolve as a person and artist in 2019 as I did in 2018, so I’m not worried that her current actions will be the end of her.

All in all, stream “7 rings” on Spotify or Apple Music, and continue to be open to criticisms of your favorite people — especially if they’re listening.




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