The Many Sides of Ariana Grande

These days, it’s hard to turn on the radio or look at (literally any) social media site without seeing or hearing Ariana Grande. She is everywhere—peak stardom. There’s not likely a more well-known and generally well-liked star in today’s music atmosphere.

Her songs are catchy: they sing praise of the men who broke her heart and made her stronger, they portray a woman relying on herself rather than a man, they take sexuality into her own hands, they process the grief she’s been through, and they show off her crazy vocal ability. Beyond her music, she’s obviously stunning (adorable is another word). Beautiful, just barely 5 feet, girly, and with a beautiful smile that draws people in.

Beyond all that, she seems to be charitable and resilient and kind-hearted. One of her concerts was the target of a bombing, and 22 fans were killed, with many injured. Grande immediately created a benefit concert to raise money for the victims (One Love Manchester), before taking a break, being honest with the world about the trauma she experienced as well as the help she got afterwards.

During all this, an ex-boyfriend was dealing with addiction, and she showed her support while promoting the fact that women don’t exist to fix men who are damaged. When that ex, Mac Miller, later died of an overdose, and another, Pete Davidson, threatened suicide, she expressed her heartbreak and love for the men she was no longer with, offering herself up to help.

This all paints the picture of the perfect star. And when people are applauding her, these are some of the things they mention (there are even more).

However, there is another side. I’m, by no means, the first to draw attention to it.

She’s been accused of cultural appropriation multiple times. The skintone she displays today is multiple spray-tan shades darker than her natural one (some even claim it’s blackface) and she wears a “weave” almost constantly, in styles that often mimic those of the black community. But she chooses to use it when it’s beneficial to her.

In music videos and on red carpets, she plays it up and uses it to become a racially ambiguous “baddie.” It’s been called a Kylie Jenner-esque transformation (but really it’s just Kardashian-esque, in general). She’s also made light of the latinx tradition of quinceanera and and uses Japanese culture to imitate the “kawaii” aesthetic whenever she pleases. Grande appears in magazines (Vogue, Time, Elle) with her natural, white skin when she wanted to portray herself as sweet and innocent. She picks and chooses pieces from women of color that she finds desirable when she needs them, switches out of them when she has no use for those manufactured parts, and pays no mind to the culture she’s ignored the whole time.

Ariana plays the victim when things don’t go exactly as she wants them to. After using Japanese text in her “7 Rings” video (which, that in of itself was called out as being problematic by the Asian community), she got a misspelt tattoo of her song title in Japanese. When the Twitter community faulted her  for both the misspelling and the commodification of Japanese culture, she took the defensive side. Her now-deleted tweets read,“my japanese fans were always excited when i wrote in japanese or wore japanese sayings on my clothing. however, all of the merch with japanese on it was taken down from my site not that anyone cared to notice”[sic] and “appreciation is different than appropriation,” rather than admitting any fault. She's even been accused of "queer baiting" in her song and music video "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored" and has provided no explanation, justification, or defense of it. 

She also cancelled a performance at this year’s Grammy Awards at the last minute, because the director didn’t approve the songs she wanted to perform. She did this despite the fact she was almost guaranteed the win of Best Pop Album (her first Grammy win). During the show, she took to Twitter to defend why she wasn’t there and how the director wasn’t supporting her.

Ariana Grande follows these patterns without any worry about consequences and fills in the negative gaps with acts of what could very well be a kind heart. Most often, the media chooses to focus on one part or the other. Looking at both at the same time is confusing and raises difficult questions to answer. So we switch when she does.

Everyone has strengths and flaws. Grande’s strength is her resilience, her flaw is her unwillingness to admit fault. They’re probably two sides to the same coin, but we can’t keep talking about her as if only one side exists because we choose not to look at the other.