As time progresses and pop performers are expected to take less time with their respective projects, artists feel increased pressure to tie new music to an intriguing new personal angle. Instead of evolution, there's a certain pressure on artists for transformation: It's why Justin Bieber's latest rebrand is all about apology; it's why Nick Jonas abandoned his boy band ways for a sultry R&B aesthetic. It's the reason for Taylor Swift's move from country to pop, and Demi Lovato opting for a personal-as-political platform in Confident. Those examples might feel extremely succinct, but it's the extremes that keep people interested (unless you're Adele and can pop out of thin air with a sentimental single, of course).
Ariana Grande is gearing up for her next studio album, her third in three years. Committing to rhythmic pop music in 2013 was already her moment of metamorphosis: Moving from Nickelodeon starlet to big-voiced chanteuse meant growing up gradually with each quickly-planned project. Last week, the singer released "Focus," the first single from her next studio set... and while the song was highly anticipated, that's not what's making Grande a person of interest this week. It's how she's carrying herself outside of her music; that's the real focus.
In early November, Ariana Grande paid a visit to Los Angeles hip hop station Power 106 to promote her new single, and to chat with hosts Justin Credible and Eric D-Lux. The boys asked her if she had to choose between using makeup or her phone, which would she pick. Before even considering the question, Grande immediately shut them down with "Is this what you think girls have trouble choosing between? Is this men assuming that's what girls would have to choose between?"
The conversation then veered into new emoji territory, where Grande listed her new favorites, including the unicorn image. It became a back-and-forth--at one point, one of the DJs says that only a particular type of boys, or "boyeees," use unicorn emojis, as a subtle homophobic slur. Ari counters it with, "You need a little brushing up on equality over here… Who says a unicorn emoji isn’t for men? Come on...All right, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t wanna hang out at Power 106 anymore.” She dominates the conversation from there.
The pair conclude by asking her what she'd most like to change in the world. Grande states, “I have a long list of things I’d like to change. I think just sort of judgment in general; intolerance, meanness, double standards, misogyny, racism, sexism, all that shit. There’s lots we need to get started on, we’ve got work to do! We’ll start with you, though," gesturing to one of the hosts.
“This is a new side to Ariana Grande, one that feels progressive.”
It was an outstanding interaction: In no way was Ariana disrespectful, or an "ugly feminist," as some corners of the Internet cried. She pointed out their faults, expressed interest in continuing to discuss those faults, and took control over the discussion. This is a new side to Ariana Grande, one that feels progressive.
It wasn't a one-off moment, either: Also this week, Grande gracefully dismissed body-shaming remarks made at her and others who share a similar body type. People reports that an anonymous Internet commenter wrote that he prefers Modern Family actress Ariel Winter's body to Grande's by explaining that "Curves are sexy sticks aren't." Ari wrote back:
"Sigh …. tweets, comments, statement like this are not okay about anyone!!! We live in a day and age where people make it IMPOSSIBLE for women, men, anyone to embrace themselves exactly how they are. Diversity is sexy! Loving yourself is sexy! You know what is NOT sexy? Misogyny, objectifying, labeling, comparing and body shaming!!! Talking about people's body's as if they're on display ASKING for your approval / opinion. THEY ARE NOT!!!! CELEBRATE YOURSELF. CELEBRATE OTHERS. The things that make us different from one another make us BEAUTIFUL. BODY BOUNDARIES. LOVE LOVE LOVE ONLY."
Once again, Grande wasn't dismissive, but informative. She spoke from a place of love and concern. Most importantly, her comments were educational. She wasn't dismissing someone else's ignorance--She was only trying to expand their way of thinking.
This is not just Ariana Grande's sound "maturing" -- this is a talented artist growing up and into a role model. Like Taylor, Justin, Nick and Demi, Grande's new story is found in her new music, but it also exists somewhere more important. She's harnessing her progressiveness into real power, and becoming someone she perhaps always was. Grande has long been known for her big pipes, but now, it sounds like she's truly finding her voice.