Ariana Grande’s recent explosion into fame is unquestionable: every day she breaks a new record or releases a new song, bound to land high on the charts. It’s widely known that this professional success comes on the heels of personal struggles, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I want to know why Grande, who’s always had amazing vocals, writers, producers, etc, is just now reaching fame that was previously impossible.
If we look at the subject matter of Grande’s recent albums, there’s an obvious theme: empowerment, self-love, and honesty. Compared to her past albums, Yours Truly and My Everything, which, in general sound and in content, are far more focused on romance and heartbreak. Even just from the album covers, the earlier albums feature Grande with eyes closed and in demure positions, whereas Dangerous Woman and Sweetener are sexy, bold, and bright. Album sales and streams are about much more than opening your eyes for album covers or singing about something different. Ariana Grande has targeted a social shift, and is serving as a voice to a generation that wants to make change in how we view gender, identity, and truth.
The “Me Too” movement allowed victims of systemic sexual harassment, overwhelmingly women, to have a voice against their abusers that was listened to, for the first time in literally all of human history. Grande, in a lighter sense, is giving women a voice as well. With songs like “successful” where she sings “It feels so good to be so young and have this fun and be successful,” unapologetically celebrating her success, and “God is a Woman” singing, of course, about the power of women. Perhaps even more importantly though, Grande presents God in her performance of the song as a Black woman, endorsing the idea that feminism isn’t feminism unless it is intersectional, and includes women than are Black, trans, queer, etc.. She’s doing more than creating songs that make women feel powerful, she’s presenting them with a message and making lyrics mean more than what first meets the ear. In an industry where convicted rapists often still chart, Ariana Grande is a way for women to sing along to something they relate to and feel proud of. Is this groundbreaking gender equality barrier breaking? Maybe not. But is it a way for women to reclaim some power in an oppressively patriarchal society, even if that just means singing about buying things for your best friends? Yes! Not every movement towards true equality will be aggressive or obvious, but any movement that recognizes the conflation of factors such as race, gender, and age within an unjust society and creates a space for the most oppressed is a step in the right direction.
As for “thank u, next” Grande flips the narrative of a breakup being a failure into a learning experience. A far too common sentiment is that women that have relationships with men should stay with them no matter the situation. Even at rock bottom, men often express that women should be “ride or die” and stay in a relationship even when they’ve grown out of it. It just adds to the long list of double standards that seem harmless but cause so much injustice. Grande’s song is a response to this, released soon after she was blamed for the death of her ex, Mac Miller. Learning from, and thanking an ex for the time spent together is a way for women to escape the idea that breaking up is the worst case scenario, and instead view it as an opportunity for growth. This is not to say that break ups are the goal, but since they’re often inevitable, we may as well see them in a positive light.
This newfound fame is not without controversy: Grande was accused of copying a song, wearing brownface, and appropriating culture. I will agree that some of these claims may be founded, and I think it’s important to listen to marginalized voices, even when what they’re saying isn’t what you want to hear. As for this, I’d like to do more research before forming an opinion, and I think that if you’ re reading this you should as well.
Ariana Grande’s ability to use catchy songs to fight the patriarchy is powerful. She’s surpassed her Disney founded fame and become an important piece in our fight for visibility. The word on the street is that her next album is dropping within the next few weeks, so tune in and let me know what you think!