Ariana Grande’s voice arrives before she does. Her nimble vocalizing echoes through the MAC store on Robertson, leaping and gliding in arpeggios, as if heralding her arrival. It morphs into a sudden laugh; then, a hushed giggle. A few seconds later, she bursts out from behind the giant pink screen emblazoned with the campaign for her second MAC Viva Glam lipstick and lip gloss (a bright fuchsia and a dusty mauve, respectively). Her outfit, like Grande herself, is an equal mix of girlish and glam: light-wash jeans, a pink tank top emblazoned with the word GIRLS
, patent stilettos with a skinny heel, and a black sweatshirt, zipped up halfway and carelessly falling off one shoulder. I’m here to talk to Grande about her new collection with MAC, as well as learn a few of her beauty secrets or two (such as the real story behind her now ubiquitous pony).
But first, some Polaroids. Grande may be a singer by trade, but she’s a singer who sure knows her angles. She jumps into full-on model mode in front of the camera, without a twinge of hesitation or awkwardness. A coy over-the-shoulder shot of her biting her thumb, a coquettish wink—a few snaps in, she asks if she can switch things up. “Can I do this? What about this?” she asks, squatting low to the ground and tilting her head forward in a way that would make most of us without her bone structure look like a large blob (she appears angular and lithe, naturally). Grande is larger than life, both in the photographs and in person.
Born in Boca Raton, Florida, Grande started her career in musical theater before landing the role of the sweet and innocuous Cat Valentine in the Nickelodeon television show Victorious. Around this time, Grande uploaded videos of herself singing to YouTube, blew anyone who watched them away with her vocal prowess, and was subsequently signed to Republic Records.
Fast-forward five years and now you won’t be able to turn on the radio without hearing one of her hits (“Into You” is the pulsing, addictive song of summer 2016—just ask your friends, co-workers, significant other, woman in front of you in line at the grocery store, etc.).
Like most celebrities who grow up in the limelight, Grande’s look has evolved throughout the years; but unlike most celebrities, she settled into her signature beauty look fairly quickly and has since never strayed. And why should she? Her requisite sky-high pony, fluttery lashes, and thick, precise cat eye are now as much a part of Ariana Grande, pop star, as is her crooning, gasp-inducing voice.
“My mom always does a cat eye, too—a thick black line on top,” Grande replies, when I ask her about her beauty icons. “I remember being like, ‘I wanna look like a mix of my mom and Scary Spice.’ I remember saying those words when I was a little girl—that was the goal, when I was, like, 4.”
She’s quick to gush about her mother, who immediately sounds like the coolest mom ever, both subjectively and objectively speaking. “My mom is fly,” she agrees. “She’s the baddest. My whole life, she’s always worn custom-made, black, tailored outfits. Black only—I’ve never seen her wear another color. And she adds a pop of color on her lip. She has this blue lipstick I was really stoked on, and my Viva Glam as well.”
It’s soon clear that Grande readily lauds praise for those close to her—from Christina, who does her lash extensions (“She’s one of my best friends—I love her”) to her makeup artist, Daniel Chinchilla, whom she’s also close with and makes sure to credit in every Instagram makeup post. And this might be surprising. After all, pop divas of eras past aren’t particularly known for fawning over others. But Grande is warm, more mature than her 23 years, and seems to take her fame with a sense of genuine wonder and gratefulness.
When I ask her what she hopes to be doing 10 years from now, she pauses for a second before speaking. “I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing now,” she says, wide eyes blinking earnestly, “which is making music, spending time with incredible people whom I love and who love me, and we’re good around each other. Rescuing way too many animals—more than I have room for. Hopefully at that point I’ll have more room for them, for more animals. I really love my life right now and I’m very appreciative and I’m grateful, so I hope that I just keep going and doing what I’m doing. I’m not gonna take it for granted.”
Grande’s openness extends to her beauty secrets. There’s no coyness when I ask her about her lashes, which she’s quick to reveal are extensions. “I love lashes,” she declares. “I feel like I could be completely naked but have lashes, and I’d be fine. Like, I’ll forget! Just walk out naked and completely forget.”
She laughs after this, but somehow, I don’t think she’s joking. Her mascara of choice is MAC’s Haute & Naughty ($23), which she credits for keeping her lashes clumpy, but also clean (“Sometimes I want both!”). As for her skin, she’s relieved to be “over the hill” (her words, not mine) and leave her troublesome skin behind in her teenage years, but credits taking her makeup off every night as a big help.
“It doesn’t matter if I exfoliate or if I’m too tired—as long as my makeup is off, I’m fine,” she says. I ask her if there’s a specific product she credits for her skin, and she’s stumped for a second. “Oy vey,” she sighs, then perks up. “You know what I actually use on my face as well as my body? I feel like people would think it would make you break out, but it doesn’t make you break out: coconut oil! Like, cooking oil. I put it everywhere—in my hair, on my body. It’s the answer.”
But she’s quick to add in one more thing: “No idea if this is gonna work for anyone else, but I hope it does! If you try this and then you break out, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Disclaimer!”
And finally we come to the topic of Grande’s hair. Gretchen Wieners had hair so big it was full of secrets; Beyoncé called out the man-stealing “Becky with the good hair” in her album Lemonade. Hair is something we’ve obsessed over in pop culture since Shakespearean times, so it’s no surprise there’s a public fixation on Grande’s own gloriously thick, perky ponytail.
“I had no idea that it was going to become, like, a thing,” she shrugs. “It’s how I like my hair. It’s how I’ve always liked my hair. Picture me in fourth grade with a little half-up side-pony flopping around my head. I never expected it to become such a thing. This is what makes me comfortable, and I feel like there’s a thousand different ways to do a ponytail. A million!”
But it soon becomes clear that Grande’s pony is not just any old “thing.” “It brings me so much joy, honestly,” she admits. “Every time I put my hair up, it’s like a surprise. Like, I forget how much I love it, and then I tie it back and I’m like, ‘I love this look! Ooh, girl!’ Every time I tie it up is like the first time. It’s like true love.”
And there’s the rub: Ariana Grande isn’t trying to set trends or go out of her way to make a buzzy beauty statement. She’s just doing what she loves—trendy or not. It’s the advice she would give to her fans, too. “Be yourself and don’t listen to any trends,” she says. “If you happen to like something that is trendy, cool—but just because it’s ‘in’ at the time doesn’t mean that you have to jump on the bandwagon. Being yourself is one of the coolest things that you can do. As hard as it may be to get there, once you find that comfort, run with it.”
She uses her hair as an example. “Sh*t, you don’t like my ponytail? I’m gonna have it two times bigger tomorrow, and higher, tighter, more hair in there too!” she says, getting more heated. “Sh*t, I’ll crimp it! You ain’t seen a crimp like this in 20 years!” (Her pony was indeed crimped, and a thing of glory, at the time of the interview, so the emotion felt genuine.) She laughs and flips her hair back for emphasis, then sobers up, suddenly more serious.
“My fans, I just really want them to feel empowered by who they are, and to not be afraid of it,” she says. “Embrace it—then run with it.” If Grande’s own life and career is any indication, it’s advice we’ll all gladly heed.