In the world of pop celebrity, it’s really easy to make people hate you, or if not hate you, at least lose interest in you. For Ariana Grande--a so far inoffensive little song bird with a promising career ahead--it was the moment in July, 2015, when she licked some donuts in a California donut store while proclaiming, “I hate America”. While people were, predictably, much more hysterical about the incident than they should have been (a young celebrity making a public nuisance of themselves isn’t exactly a scenario that warrants pearl clutching), Ariana’s actions revealed something about entitlement, youth and celebrity that we don’t like being reminded of. She fell out of favor quickly--and yet some how, in less than a year, has managed to establish herself as America’s sweetheart, putting her in a yet stronger position than the one she was in before she got mouthy in a bakery.
The donut incident revealed something we don’t want to know about celebrities, and especially female celebrities--that they can be obnoxious brats. Before the incident, rumours circulated in tabloid media that Ariana was a “diva” with gossip rag Page Six posting that she was “plagued by rumors of a bad attitude, has become such a diva that even her life coach couldn’t handle it”. So it wasn’t that Ariana did anything dangerous or necessarily destructive when she licked the donuts, it’s that she abused the privilege we bestowed upon her with worship and wealth, and made those speculative tabloid stories seem true.
But Ariana, unlike other young stars who have messed up and been left asking if it’s too late to say sorry, didn’t waste any time in apologizing. The day after the donut incident, she posted a lengthy screenshot of her apology to Twitter, with the caption [sic] “need to clean up this mouth of mine & set a better example for my babes. i apologize and i love you. always learning.” And feeling as though that wasn’t enough, she went on to post a four minute apologetic soliloquy to YouTube. She reiterated that apology again live on Good Morning America. It didn’t matter what she was saying--it just mattered that she was sincerely, and profusely sorry.
Since Ariana’s apology junket, she’s been working tirelessly on reversing the narrative she started back in July last year. And what better, buzzier cause to get behind than feminism, right? Her early crusade included re-tweeting a picture her mother took of a magazine stand showing “women’s interests” (tabloid gossip and beauty) in comparison to “men’s interests” (business and science) and replying, “oh! so women are only interested in tabloids& if I want to read about cars, business, science I have to go to the MEN'S section?”
On Power 106 FM’s morning show in November 2015, Ariana shut down DJs Justin Credible and Eric D-Lux’s sexist line of questioning with fierce eloquence, starting off by putting a kibosh on their question, "If you could use makeup or your phone one last time, what would you pick?", clapping back with, "Is this what you think girls have trouble choosing between? Is this men assuming that that's what girls would have to choose between?" The interview continues with Ariana ripping into any question or comment the DJs make with pitch perfect, feminist responses. She’s truly Presidential with her calm timing.
Shortly after, Ariana’s body shape was compared to Ariel Winter’s (Modern Family) curvier physique, and yet another opportunity arose for Ariana to throw her hat in the ring. Taking to Instagram to defend herself, Winter, and women everywhere, Ariana wrote, “"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." The media celebrated uproariously. Ariana was proving herself to be more than just a donut licking brat--she was a strong, feisty and thoughtful young woman with a succinct female message.
By the time we got to her SNL appearance this month, Ariana had established a clear voice for herself that rejected all the frivolity of her donut licking alter ego. Watching the show, she was the personification of America's sweetheart. SNL, of course, always helps a flagging image by proving one to be a good sport, but for Ariana, it was also a reminder that she is, no matter how many donuts she licks, immensely and supremely talented. It certainly doesn’t hurt that her latest single, “Dangerous Woman” is an incredible track that pulls no punches in showcasing those talents, and the low-key, acapella video accompanying ensures we get that, loud and clear. Ariana’s resurrection hasn’t only been about her ability to flip the media narrative on her personality with the savviness of a seasoned politician--it’s been just as reliant on the fact that she’s an undeniable force when she picks up a microphone.
What we can learn from Ariana’s redemption is that the world literally throws opportunities at women to make a point about the way we’re collectively treated. If it seems easy for Ariana Grande to have taken up the feminist cause, that’s because it is--because there is no shortage of fodder for her to mine in her campaign to create a persona of substance for herself. And that’s troubling. It’s not, of course, upsetting that Ariana chose this as her path to favor. We can never have too few women (or men) advocating for equality in the media. What is upsetting is the ease with which Ariana was able to find these segues into politicizing her image. How poorly do we still treat women that all Ariana needed to do was sit back, and wait for such extreme assholery to come her way, in order to beat a path to her own exoneration? We should be ashamed that we live in a world where a woman, finding herself in hot water, can only swim herself out on the rash of blistering burns she’s incurred along the way.