On February 9th, Ariana Grande’s interview with Zach Sang on The Zach Sang Show has aired following the release of her fifth studio album thank u, next! Check out the interview below!
On December 5th, Ariana’s cover story for Billboard’s Woman In Music has been posted!
Ariana Grande is milly rocking in her seat behind the massive mixing console at Los Angeles’ Record Plant studio, a wide grin revealing the single dimple in her left cheek. Her new single, “Thank U, Next,” will not officially become her first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 for another three days, but its explosive success is already making headlines. For Grande, the milestone is especially meaningful. It’s the exact kind of music she has wanted to make all along.
That kind of joy has been tough to come by in the past few months for Billboard’s Woman Of The Year, despite the fact that she has never had more career momentum. Grande’s fourth album, Sweetener, became her third No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in August, breaking streaming records while earning critical acclaim. So far it has produced two top 10 singles on the Hot 100, with a third, “Breathin,” now at No. 13. But while she was in the middle of promoting the project, her dear friend, collaborator and ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died from an accidental overdose. Just over a month later, her whirlwind engagement to comedian Pete Davidson ended.
On this November afternoon, it’s still too soon for Grande to talk about what has happened in anything other than broad strokes. “I’m really lucky and really unlucky at the same time,” says the 25-year-old.
To sing about it, though, is another story. Not long after Miller’s death, Grande started spending all of her time with her closest friends and collaborators, including Brown, recording a new album (which she says will also be called Thank U, Next) at a studio across the street from her New York apartment. Though she has been in therapy since she was just a kid coping with her parents’ divorce — and is quick to espouse its benefits — right now the most healing comes when she’s standing behind a mic.
“When I felt myself saying, ‘’Cause her name is Ari,’ I knew it was a special line, but part of me was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s kind of corny,’” says Grande, referring to the “Thank U, Next” lyric, a declaration of self-love. She tucks her bare legs inside a light-blue hoodie that reads “Beau Souci” (French for “beautiful worry”) and wraps her arms around them. “But the other part of me was like, ‘That’s beautiful and I need to keep it in.’ I know that once I put something into a song, then it’s real.”
Fittingly, the control room is decked out like a refuge: a small bouquet of white flowers, a single candle, a light projecting water ripples onto the ceiling. Grande, sporting an extension-less version of her signature ponytail, sips from a Starbucks iced soy latte while animatedly chatting about the music she has been working on — the only thing she’s really interested in discussing, the only thing that matters to her right now. As it turns out, a series of tragedies has given the star two unexpected gifts: the freedom to channel her hurt into the most raw and untempered music of her career, and the audacity to buck the pop music establishment — which, as Grande will note more quickly than anyone, is particularly entrenched when it comes to women.
She had the talent: the four-octave range and effortless vocal agility that led Gloria Estefan, after hearing the 8-year-old Grande sing “My Heart Will Go On” at a cruise-ship karaoke night, to tell her she was gifted. She had the support system: her close-knit family, familiar to anyone who follows the singer on social media. And she had the work ethic, performing in public regularly before the age of 10 and on Broadway by age 15. “When I was 6 years old, I just kind of decided that’s what I’m going to do with my life, period,” says Grande, who grew up in Boca Raton, Fla. “I manifested it. I knew I would. There was never really a doubt in my mind.”
The singer proceeded to do all she could to reach superstardom, and logged time in the teeny-bopper trenches at Nickelodeon. In 2011, she signed with Republic Records; not long after, she met Mac Miller. He was 20 and she was 19, so naturally they first talked on Twitter. The pair became fast friends, and she invited him to do a verse on her first album’s lead single, 2013’s bouncy ’90s throwback “The Way.” Grande told Billboard at the time that Miller was giving her Pro Tools pointers as they recorded. She added, “If you want to motivate Mac Miller to do anything, just bake cookies.”
Now, she looks back on the song as the first time she really captured her own musical style, what she had been searching for while growing up idolizing India.Arie. “When we made ‘The Way,’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m onto something here,’” says Grande. Her face dims slightly; just before this interview, she was working on a new song, which, when she plays it for me later, I realize is about Miller. “It felt like, ‘I should do this forever.’”
“The Way” reached No. 9 on the Hot 100, and like the rest of her debut, it holds up remarkably well. Babyface, one of the album’s producers, helped legitimize Grande’s long-held R&B aspirations. Nevertheless, when she released Yours Truly, Grande was still viewed as a preteen idol, thanks to her history on kiddie TV and diminutive size (she’s exactly 5 feet tall). So on her next two albums, she went even bigger, employing Max Martin and pursuing the kinds of pop hits that would make her undeniable to any listener.
“We started at home base — me,” Grande says of Yours Truly, “and then we went in this place where I kind of played the game for a little bit, and did the big, big, big pop records. Then we slowly started incorporating my soul back into it — and that’s where we’ve landed again with ‘Thank U, Next.’”
Grande has put in the work, done everything that was asked of her — all the tiny compromises that went along with playing the game — and kept her nose clean (with the exception of a little doughnut glaze, which she erased from the public’s memory with a cleverly self-deprecating sketch on one of the best Saturday Night Live hosting debuts in recent memory). She has hit songs and high Pitchfork ratings, to say nothing of her devoted fans, the Arianators. Grande’s late-night TV appearances — routine promotional stops for most stars — are events, thanks to her natural sense of comic timing and gift for impressions both sung and spoken (Google her doing Jennifer Coolidge). She followed all the rules, and arrived at what seemed like the top.
The singer has no regrets. “I got myself to a place where I would be able to do things like drop a surprise record and have it be the biggest single I’ve ever had,” she says now. But five years into her career, she hadn’t yet had a No. 1 Hot 100 song, and hadn’t found the ubiquity that she knew deep down she deserved.
Then, on May 22, 2017, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and injured 139 outside the arena in Manchester, England, where Grande had just finished performing as part of her Dangerous Woman Tour. Many of the victims were children.
Within weeks Grande was back, not just onstage but in Manchester, visiting survivors in the hospital and hosting the One Love Manchester benefit, which helped raise 23 million pounds (about $29 million) for the victims. She released her live rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the benefit, during which she broke down in tears — though she still finished the performance — and donated the proceeds to the Red Cross. “Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before,” she wrote at the time.
She did exactly that with the album that followed, this summer’s Sweetener, an optimistic paean to her own healing; there was no dwelling on tragedy, only gentleness and positivity. The first single was titled “No Tears Left to Cry,” and the album concluded with the tender “Get Well Soon,” a five-minute, 22-second tribute to the Manchester victims. Meanwhile, she had found new contentment outside the studio with SNL star Davidson, in a relationship that she happily flaunted despite the tabloid frenzy that enveloped them both.
In a tweet a month ago, Grande summed up her feelings on what has happened since: “Remember when i was like hey i have no tears left to cry and the universe was like HAAAAAAAAA bitch u thought.”
This afternoon, Grande is often near tears, a fact she readily acknowledges. “I just hope you’re OK with me crying, because that’s not going to not happen,” she says, laughing even as she’s tearing up in the midst of talking about how she has coped with so much tragedy in such a short span of time. “I can’t even say ‘Good morning’ to anyone without crying.” The blessing, for both the singer and her fans, is the music. “I guess there’s not much I’m afraid of anymore,” she says, her normally silky voice tightening. “When life tries you with such serious shit so many times, your priorities change. I don’t give a shit. I just want to be happy and healthy — one day — and make music.”
Where she’s currently sitting — behind the mixing console — is just about the only place Grande feels like she has control. And she is, in her own words, a control freak. Though she won’t say that she has perfect pitch (“People tell me I do, but I’m not going to sit here and be like, ‘Yes, I do’”), when talking about her music, Grande betrays a craftsman’s obsession with arrangements and vocal harmonies. “I’ll hear something that’s on one track out of, like, a thousand in a session and be emailing the engineer about it,” she says. Martin and Pharrell Williams both let her “steer,” which is one of the reasons she has worked with them repeatedly. But not every man she has shared a studio with has been as willing to cede the reins.
“I’ve politely walked out of sessions before,” says Grande. “It has happened. I’m a small girl. People tend to underestimate that. And then I sit down and comp my own vocals and can produce my own session, and they’re like” — here she adopts an excellent impersonation of a dopey man — “‘Oh, I didn’t know you could do that.’ I’m like, ‘Believe it or not, there are plenty of tiny women that can do this.’” This is the Grande who digs for deep cuts, covering songs by eclectic bassist Thundercat and exchanging Instagram DMs with legendary jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval (the pair did a track together alongside Williams).
This is also the Grande who has been vocal about fighting sexism. Her recent single “God Is a Woman” might be the most obvious example, but even in 2015, in a Notes app manifesto that quoted Gloria Steinem, she was critiquing the media’s habit of defining famous women by their relationship status.
“I would just love to see a chart with as many women on top as men,” she says. “It’s just so male-dominated. It’s so easy for them. There are so many unbelievable female artists out there that try so much harder.”
Despite the industry barriers Grande is breaking down — she’s the only artist ever to have the lead single from each of her first four albums debut in the top 10 of the Hot 100, and the first woman in three years to have a single debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 — she sometimes feels like she’s still pushing against an audience that wants her to fit into specific stereotypes. “They’re unable to accept the fact that women are a million things, and not just two,” she says. “You can be adorable and brilliant. You can be friendly and silly, and yet strong and indestructible. You can be professional and present and also sexual and fun.
“My dream has always been to be — obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does. I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren’t. We have to do the teaser before the single, then do the single, and wait to do the preorder, and radio has to impact before the video, and we have to do the discount on this day, and all this shit. It’s just like, ‘Bruh, I just want to fucking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do. Why do they get to make records like that and I don’t?’ So I do and I did and I am, and I will continue to.” Grande pauses briefly, growing serious.
“And if it doesn’t work out the way ‘Thank U, Next’ did, that’s fine too! It is so exciting to see something be received well. That’s a beautiful thing. But it’s even more beautiful to be honest and just do something.” She sniffs, her eyes dampening. “To drop a record on a Saturday night because you feel like it, and because your heart’s going to explode if you don’t — to take back your narrative.”
Grande starts to cry in earnest, carefully wiping away tears so as not to smudge her winged eyeliner. “I don’t want to do what people tell me to do, I don’t want to conform to the pop star agenda. I want to do it on my own terms from now on. If I want to tour two albums at once, I’m going to tour two albums at once. If I want to drop a third album while I’m on tour [in 2019], I’ll do that too! Please. [“Thank U, Next” production duo] Social House is my opening act — you don’t think we’re going to have a studio on the bus? That we’re not going to be making records on the road? Of course we are. I want to be able to do what is authentic and honest and natural. It’s the only way that I’ve been able to survive.” She puts her face in her hands, resting her fingertips — adorned with perfectly manicured white oval nails — on her forehead.
Talking explicitly about the men in Grande’s life is a non-starter. She still loves all her songs, even “Pete Davidson.” (She also sent the Davidson in question “Thank U, Next” before releasing it: “I wasn’t going to blindside anybody,” she says.) The wound left by Miller’s death is, unsurprisingly, still raw. She expects Thanksgiving will be particularly hard, since she had spent the past few holidays in Pittsburgh with Miller’s family. At this point, these are the kinds of details that Grande already knows will be A1 on every gossip site. Her rise to fame has been punctuated by a series of public romances, which she writes off as a side effect of her workaholism. “This is how I meet people — I can’t just, like, meet someone at a bar,” she says. “I live fast and full-out, and I make mistakes, and I learn from them and I’m grateful no matter what happens.”
Grande has no plans to take a break, despite the fact that she has been working more or less constantly since the beginning of her career. When we meet, in early November, she’s in the midst of finishing Thank U, Next; prepping the video for the single; and preparing for her Sweetener World Tour, which starts in March 2019. “I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the artist I can be, and I just want to keep growing and practicing and getting better,” she says. “I never want to get lazy.”
The new album is Grande’s therapy and her catharsis. She invites her friends and collaborators — Brown, Social House, Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx and Doug Middlebrook — back into the control room to listen to it. Brown pops a bottle of pink Veuve Clicquot. “I don’t think I’ve ever consumed more alcohol than I have in the past month,” jokes Grande, cheered by their presence. “I am champagne. You know how people say we’re 60 percent water? I’m 60 percent pink Veuve Clicquot.”
Thank U, Next was mostly written in a week, with the people she’s toasting in the control room, and recorded in two weeks. Now comes the polishing phase and the addition of some tracks with Martin and his team. It was the product of a lot of “feminine energy and champagne and music and laughter and crying. This [album’s] not particularly uplifting,” she says. “A lot of it sounds really upbeat, but it’s actually a super sad chapter.”
The music is defiant — deep, bass-driven bangers with trap beats alternating with airy, sad ballads — and aesthetically more adventurous than anything she has ever released. Some of the lyrics are so unambiguously personal and gutting that even if the singer were up for talking about them, most questions would be redundant. But one of the more upbeat tunes, “7 Rings,” has a backstory Grande is happy to discuss.
“It was a… challenging fall day in New York,” she begins, cracking up. “Me and my friends went to Tiffany’s together, just because we needed some retail therapy. You know how when you’re waiting at Tiffany’s they give you lots of champagne? They got us very tipsy, so we bought seven engagement rings, and when I got back to the studio I gave everybody a friendship ring.” She flashes a diamond ring on her right hand; Monét and Parx are wearing them as well. “That’s why we have these, and that’s where the song idea came from.”
She goes to her phone and presses “play,” and a party-ready twist on “My Favorite Things” booms out of the speakers. Grande whispers some asides to her friends, who are bopping along to the song. Then she starts to dance around the room in her bare feet, alone and smiling.
WOMEN MAKE IT WORK
Behind the scenes of Grande’s success.
Senior vp marketing, Republic Records
My role: I’ve worked with Ariana since we launched “The Way” in 2013, overseeing marketing campaigns and working closely with her, management and Republic on every aspect of music strategy and rollout.
On Ariana: You might not know how involved she really is with everything we do. She really leads the charge in a way most artists don’t, and it’s one of the reasons she is so successful. Also worth mentioning: She often has us laughing out loud.
Senior director of international marketing, Republic Records
My role: The international team works with Scooter Braun Projects and Universal Music labels globally to create marketing campaigns and promotional strategy outside the United States, including Ariana’s TV, radio and awards show performances.
On Ariana: During an off-day in Australia, she rented a sightseeing bus for us. She took the mic and became our Broadway-musical-style tour guide and delivered sidesplitting commentary.
GM, SB Projects
My role: I oversee all music ventures.
On Ariana: She did a series of Sweetener shows [in July], during which I got to see her interact with her fans on an intimate level. She remembered faces and names of fans that had been to other events, took requests and truly made them all feel special.
Head of brand partnerships, SB Projects
My role: With the support of the Scooter Braun Projects team, I work to cultivate, secure and manage Ariana’s various brand partnerships.
On Ariana: The second night of The Sweetener Sessions with AMEX in Chicago, she had finished performing the hourlong planned setlist, but continued the show a cappella for another 45 minutes, just to keep the love in the room flowing with her fans.
On November 1, the BBC special Ariana Grande at the BBC has aired. The show was pre-recorded during the time Ariana was visiting the UK. She talked about her album Sweetener, and performed many songs from the album, as well as her hit songs from her previous albums.
Check out the photos and videos below!
In the interview, she even talked about her anxiety problems. “You have ups and downs and sometimes you spend weeks at a time when you will be raging and there will be no anxiety. Then something will happen that can trigger and you will have some bad days, “he explained.
About the sonority of the album “Sweetener”, she said: “I think it represented a change, since I do not like to hear the same thing always. I do not think I created something totally new, but for me it’s a new flavor. With that I got to know myself better, my music grew, so did fans, so everything changed together, “he explained.
Check out the full program:
No Tears Left To Cry
Goodnight n Go
God Is a Woman
Love Me Harder
One Last Time
On August 23rd, Ariana and Troye Sivan had a conversation with PAPER Magazine totalk about Sweetener and their lives as musicians Check it out below!
PAPER: How do you view Sweetener in relation to 2016’s Dangerous Woman, which felt like such a liberated, sexually powerful, feminist album?
Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman is a part of who I am, and of course, there’s a still a little bit of her in Sweetener, with “God Is a Woman,” and with “Borderline” — definitely with those two records. But this record is way more feel-good, and I wanted to make people feel really good when they listen to this. The thing that my friends say when they listen to this album is, “This feels like the girl we hang out with.” When they listen they’re like, “This is our friend.” You know what I mean?
Troye Sivan: Yeah, well, I want to just mention one specific song. The one… what’s it’s fucking called? It’s the one with all of the vocal layers [sings].
AG: “Get Well Soon”?
TS: Okay, so that shook me to my core. You did that one with Pharrell [Williams], right? And I had never heard you sing like something that… that I think is the most personal thing I’ve ever heard you sing. It just felt so real and… I don’t know, just like really really, really personal and down to earth.
TS: I feel like that song is going to mean so much to so many people. And so, what do you think that shift to writing something as personal as that means? Did you have more of a hand in the writing room or was it with Pharrell? How did you arrive to something as vulnerable as that? Because that’s scary in a writing room to be that vulnerable.
AG: First of all, thank you and I love you so much with my whole heart. But overall, [Pharrell] kind of forced it out of me, because I was in a really bad place mentally. I’ve always had anxiety, I’ve had anxiety for years. But when I got home from tour it reached a very different, intense peak. It became physical and I was not going out at all, and I felt like I was outside my body. I’d have these spells every now and then where I felt like I was having déjà vu, but like 24/7 for three months at a time. It was really weird, and all that was on my mind. [Pharrell] was like, “You have to write about it. You need to make this into music and get this shit out, and I promise it will heal you.” And it definitely helped. It still took me a few weeks to feel better, but looking back at it now from a healthier place, it’s probably one of the most important songs I’ll ever write.
TS: Damn. Well, you should be so proud of that song. I feel like it punched me in the gut. As far as some of the other tracks, you went back and you worked with the whole Max [Martin] crew, like Savan Kotecha and everyone. Why? What attracted you to them? I know they’re like family, but what do you think makes them so good?
AG: They’re very different to me and we’ve had a great history together. We’ve had a lot of really dope experiences together. And I knew that they would be down for the challenge of making songs for Sweetener. So when I finished up everything with Pharrell, and we had discovered this new delicious world that is Sweetener, I brought everything over to them and was like, “Yo, I would love to have you guys be a part of this, but it has to feel this fresh.” And we challenged each other. I think my favorite part about working with them is that they’re open to me being like, “Try this weird thing,” or, “Why don’t we modulate it,” or, “Try this weird ’90s chord progression that you probably haven’t played since ’98 Max Martin.”
AG: But you know, I think them being so open and willing to experiment with me is what made this so special and kind of like, me being in the middle with Pharrell and two of the best producers in the world, who are both so successful in their own right, and seeing them, having both of them involved in my project is the craziest thing in the world to me. I feel like a princess. I feel like a true pop princess.
AG: [Laughs] That’s so funny, you know me…
TS: Like “The Light Is Coming” is the kookiest song.
AG: It’s such a kooky song.
TS: And so are you! And I love that and I feel like I can feel that in the music. It’s like, I love albums where I can hear the artist’s perspective not only in the voice but… it’s just so unique. Like those ’90s chord progressions are so you in my head. Or like, “No Tears” to me, it’s a pop song with such perspective and again, not just vocally, but production-wise. it just really, really works, so well done.
AG: Yay! thank you.
PAPER: Ariana, do you think this record is more personal than anything you’ve released before?
AG: It’s definitely more personal. You know, I feel like Dangerous Woman was a grown-up My Everything, and this is a grown-up Yours Truly. And with all due respect to My Everything and Dangerous Woman, I feel like I played the game a lot on those two albums. I wanted to make dope records that would put me in a place where I could then make whatever the fuck I wanted. I kind of played the game a little bit. All my favorite songs from those two albums are not the singles, like they aren’t at all. Like literally.
TS: [Laughs] I need to play that game.
AG: [Laughs] I love you so much, no you don’t. You’re perfect, you’re killing it, you’re crushing it. But, I feel like this is a more grown up Yours Truly. If that makes sense. Whereas like…
AG: I don’t know if that makes any sense, am I insulting my own work? I don’t think so, because I really like it all. But this just feels closer to home, you know what I mean? It feels like now the mask is off, let’s talk.
TS: When people ask me about you, by the way I’m doing so much promo, and everyone just wants to know everything about you and —
AG: That’s so cute.
TS: And of course I always tell them that you’re incredible. But one thing that I always tell people is that you love your fans — like you’re obsessed with your fans. And it feels like you guys have a really special relationship and especially with your LGBTQ fans. And then when we hang out, I notice that your crew and everything, your family, who you keep around you feels really queer to me in a really cool way.
AG: They are!
TS: And I wanted to ask about your relationship with the LGBTQ community, like where that comes from, cause you get it. I don’t know, it just feels very genuine. Where did that come from? Is that because of Frankie [Grande] or have you always been like that? Is that from being in the theater.
AG: I don’t know! Because I’ve always been attracted to and I guess, brought joy by very gay things. I always have, even before I knew my brother was gay, and I thought — this is probably the most ridiculous thing you’ll ever hear — but there was a time in my life when I thought Frankie might be straight and during that time, my favorite movie was To Wong Foo, you know what I mean? I don’t know where it comes from, but the movies my mom played in the house when I was a little girl, or the music we listened to, or the artists my mom idolized… I grew up in a very eccentric, interesting household, and I guess it was super gay even before we knew Frankie was gay.
AG: I mean when Frankie came out, everyone was like, “Okay, you wanna go to dinner?”
TS: What does it mean to you now, as far as your relationship with [the LGBTQ] community? All of my friends, who are almost all gay, are really obsessed with you. “Be Alright” was one of the gayest songs I’ve ever heard —
AG: Well thank you, it’s an honor and it makes me so happy. There’s nothing, I swear to god, honest to god, knock me out, I swear on my life, more rewarding than seeing sweet little gays in the audience moving along to my choreography, or a drag queen coming into my meet-and-greet with like a 40 pound ponytail and thigh-high boots. It’s the most fulfilling, like it makes my heart scream. It’s the best reward.
TS: I also want to touch on the thigh-high boots and the ponytail.
AG: You’re really good at this!
TS: [Laughs] Right, how good am I? So I was with you right before you did your British Vogue shoot, which is my favorite photoshoot of yours ever. And you were pretty nervous, why? Now that your fashion and your personal style has changed, do you feel more confident to mess around with stuff this time? Where are you at with personal style and fashion?
AG: I’m down to mess around and try on things. I love fashion, but I hate it. Like I think it’s really cool and really dope, but then as soon as someone’s trying to put me in something weird I’m like, “Alright relax, calm down, this is extra.” [Laughs] Like I have my things I love, I have my comfort zone. I think that fashion should be more of a self-expression thing as opposed to a trend thing. To me, when I feel really dope and I have an outfit on that makes me really happy that’s so much better.
TS: I also wanted to ask about Nicki Minaj. Because I have never met her, and I want to know what she’s like!
AG: She is my sister, and I have so much respect for that woman because she puts up with a lot of shit. And I think she is one of the greatest rappers of all time, male or female. It’s kind of wild that people still try to discredit her and question what she’s done and accomplished. Everything that she does is spectacular. You can’t listen to a Nicki Minaj verse and be like, “Eh.” You just can’t. She has a gift and she is a spectacular artist. But I think as a human being, there is the most beautiful soul underneath this really badass exterior. And it’s really an honor to know that girl, cause she’s really tight and I love her.
PAPER: Speaking of collaborations, what was it like collaborating on “Dance To This” off Troye’s new album, Bloom?
AG: Wait, can I start?
TS: Yeah, go for it.
AG: Okay cool. I am obsessed with you. I think you are everything that pop music needs and I think your stage presence and your voice and your aesthetic and literally everything about your artistry is so divine, and I have been the biggest fan of you since forever. When you asked me to be on “Dance To This,” before I’d even listened I was like, “I know it’s already going to be tight.” I was so excited and so honored. But artistry aside, you’re literally my favorite little bean. You’re the cutest. I wish we could hang out more, but you’re always doing promo and you’re never home for more than like three seconds. But I love you a lot, and that’s all. Okay bye.
TS: I feel like we’re literally doing wedding vows. That is so sweet, thank you so much.
AG: [Laughs] My bad.
TS: Obviously I feel like your voice speaks for itself, but musically it’s a no-brainer that I think that you’re literally a legend in the making and I feel like you have nothing to worried about, you’re going to be remembered for the rest of time. So that’s totally chill and cool and awesome. But the thing that gets me about — and I’m gonna stop speaking directly to you because I’m showering you with compliments and I’m sure it’s making you uncomfortable — the thing that gets me about Ariana Grande is that I feel like you are so real. I’ve had a really hard time — real talk — making friends in America, because I feel like people do things differently than in Australia. And I’ve had a hard time adjusting, and to me, you are one of the only people that I have met, where I feel like I get this girl, and she gets me. As a friend, I totally, totally cherish that and am so thankful to know you and so thankful that you’re on my song. And it’s just wild, it’s crazy.
AG: Wow! That’s so sweet.
TS: [Laughs] So I feel like literally we just got married.
AG: We did!
PAPER: Since you’re talking about the LGBTQ community, do you both feel like you’re connected to a movement of young people who are pushing for social change?
AG: I think both of us are. The thing that I think is so dope about Troye is that you say something. I feel like we’re both in a position where we don’t have to say shit, if we don’t want to really? We could just perform and entertain and that’s it, and take a bow, and on to Portugal or wherever. But you know, it’s really dope to see my friend not only killing it musically and on the stage, but also you make people feel so good and accepted, and you say something.
TS: With everything that’s going on in the world, I just feel like it’s more important than ever that — we can’t make political change necessarily, or anything like that, all we can really do as artists is make people feel heard and understood. I think that we’re both trying our very best to do that, and I know that you’re doing an incredible job of doing that and I’m just trying my best and I think that’s really, really important.
PAPER: Earlier, Ariana, you were saying how you previously played the game and Troye joked that he needs to do that too. What advice would you give Troye to achieve the level of success that you have?
AG: Oh god, I don’t know! That’s such a hard question, because I wouldn’t do anything any differently. I’m obsessed with your work, and you’re killing it. Like you’re doing all the promo, you’re going to be exhausted for the next two years, you’re going to be doing the whole thing and traveling everywhere, you’re not going to know what day it is, you’re not going to know where you are, and you’ll wake up in a strange country. Everything you’re doing right now is exactly what you should be doing. You’re making the best music you could possibly be making, you’re kind to your fans. People don’t realize how exhausting what Troye’s doing right now is. It’s what I did two years ago or three years ago when I put out My Everything and Yours Truly. Those first two album cycles might as well kill you. It’s pretty much as close to dead as you’ll ever be, and I think a lot of people don’t realize how tough it is.
So I think the fact that every time I FaceTime Troye and he’s not crying or having a mental breakdown speaks to how dope and resilient you are and how long you’re going to stick around. Because when I was you, doing what you’re doing right now, I didn’t know where I was, what day it was, just onto the next city. Like, I don’t know what I’m wearing today, I don’t know what version of “Problem” I’m singing today, but my ass is here and I’m tired, I don’t know when the last time I ate was. So I think you’re killing it and I think you’re doing everything perfectly. And I can’t wait for you to be home for more than 10 minutes at a time. It’s going to be really dope and we’re going to have a lot of fun.
TS: I often thought that I would love to be a graphic designer, or I would want to be maybe a drugs and alcohol counselor.
AG: That’s so dope. I’m obsessed with you.
TS: What about you?
AG: My remaining two [dream Broadway roles] are Elfie in Wicked and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. But I think I would either be on Broadway or I’d be writing songs for other people or producing, doing vocal producing or vocal arranging. I love harmonies. But if it had to be nothing in music or entertainment whatsoever, I’d probably be running my mom’s company.
TS: Slay, yes. I want to ask about the move to New York! What’s that been like?
AG: It’s been really, really, really, really fun and I’m really happy. I think the people who are closest to me are blown away because everyday they see pictures of me walking around with my friends and using the front door and walking around New York City and smiling and I seem okay, and that’s really different. I’ve only been in hotels and venues for the past, I guess three or four years, or at my house. So, yeah that’s been crazy. It’s either house, studio, like there was one sushi restaurant I would go to in LA, and then I’ve been touring and in hotels for the past four years. So going out and not having any anxiety — well, less anxiety — but living closer to all my friends and being in love and having a new dope place and being close to my family… I love New York. I thought I hated New York, but I actually love it.
TS: Obviously, I’m personally bummed because I live in LA, and that means we don’t get to see each other as often but I come to New York like once a month so I’ll see you.
AG: Yeah, but you’re never home! So it doesn’t matter. We can have this conversation when you’re not on tour for like 70 years.
TS: [Laughs] Fair enough.
PAPER: Ariana, you’re now engaged, which is a huge life-change. Do you feel very different? How will this be reflected in your work?
AG: I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I guess the only way it would reflect in my work is like, when I write songs about [Pete]. I have an interlude in my album called “Pete Davidson” because I didn’t know what else to call it. I played it for Tyler, the Creator and he was like, “I guess that title makes sense because if I wrote a song about how much I loved waffles and syrup I’d call it ‘Waffles and Syrup.'” But I don’t think it’s gonna affect my work. He’s really supportive and just a positive thing all around in my life.
PAPER: Both of you are such sensations on the Internet. Do you follow all that madness?
AS: Not really, because I don’t want to see things that my fans didn’t make cause I get nervous. Sometimes I’ll scare myself when I see myself somewhere I’m not expecting to see myself. But some of them are really funny.
TS: Actually in general, you’re super caught up with Internet culture though. You’re so fucking funny online, I love it.
PAPER: Do you think that how you are on the Internet is the same as how you are in real life?
AG: It’s hard because I have to walk this line between being 100% myself and authentic with my fans, and being real, upfront and truthful with them. Because they, to me, are my friends, like I have grown up with them, I know their faces and names, I know stories about them, I know conversations we’ve had. And that’s a really real thing to me. I take our relationship super seriously and I cherish them. But also, I’m reminded all the time that everything I say will make waves, and people will make it into ridiculous stories and it’s kind of bullshit because I really want to be able to have that friendship with them. There are people who try to twist it, and then my fans get upset at that and it’s just this chain of things. I have to be careful, but I would say that what you see is what you get, I’m pretty honest, I’m pretty authentic. I try to keep it real, because who the fuck cares?
PAPER: Troye, is this giving you any ideas? Will this be a double wedding?
TS: Oh god no, not for another like 10 years. For the longest time I thought marriage wasn’t something for me, because I’m gay. And so it’s taking a second to readjust my mindset where it’s something that could happen one day.
PAPER: Ariana, might Troye be a flowergirl or a bridesmaid?
AG: Oh, I mean absolutely. Troye, you can choose your role. I would love for you to be a bridesmaid, though.
TS: Can I just say, Ariana’s birthday party was this very mellow, chill dinner that got so fucking crazy and lit that I think this wedding is going to be the craziest thing in the entire world, it’s going to be so much fun.
AG: [Laughs] At that restaurant and there were like four people…
TS: Oh my god, I’m going to get down with your mum.
AG: We literally turned this tiny Japanese restaurant that’s the size of a closet into a fucking bar mitzvah. Funniest shit in the world.
PAPER: Ariana, do you think you’ll be able to party at your wedding? Will you be worried that everything’s going right, or will you be able to have the best time of your life?
AG: Oh, I have no idea. All I know is that I’m happy with Pete, that’s all I really care about.
On August 23rd, Ariana’s songwriter Savan Kotecha’s interview with Vulture was posted! He talks about the making of Sweetener. Check it out below!
In his impressive career as a pop songwriter and producer, Savan Kotecha has helped craft some of the biggest radio hits of the last decade. The bulk of One Direction’s discography, including their career-making debut “What Makes You Beautiful?” was written by Kotecha. The Weeknd’s groovy 2015 signature “Can’t Feel My Face?” Kotecha helped write that one too. Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling in Love,” Maroon 5’s “One More Night” and Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer?” He was part of those too. But Kotecha has perhaps worked most closely with Ariana Grande, helping concoct a string of her hits: “Problem,” “Love Me Harder,” “One Last Time,” “Into You” and “Break Free,” just to name a few. So it stands to reason that Grande would call on Kotecha to help concoct the songs for what would become her fourth album, Sweetener. Alongside the legendary pop mastermind Max Martin and producer Ilya, the team crafted four of the album’s standout tracks, including recent singles “No Tears Left to Cry” and the anthem “God Is a Woman.” Here, Kotecha breaks down the stories behind the songs: including studio therapy sessions, fruitful 11th-hour additions, and how working with Grande creatively reinvigorated him.
You recently posted on Instagram about how, just a year ago, you were in a total funk and felt like just moving on from songwriting. Why you were feeling that way?
There’s some internal business stuff that got me uninspired, as it can do to creative people. I was just being really hard on myself, looking at my life and how much time I spend away from my kids, not just physically but mentally. I was searching and searching and felt like things weren’t working. I wasn’t meeting that many artists I was inspired by. I can’t do the hip-hop thing, so if that’s where it is now, it isn’t for me. Streaming is also a tricky thing because songwriters don’t get paid a lot for those royalties. I have some of the biggest songs on Spotify and when I see the streaming income on the checks, it’s barely minimum wage, and I spend so much time on every song. I was feeling that maybe my process and my way of doing things — where I do so few songs a year and spend so much time on them — wasn’t working anymore. It’s an insecurity thing. For the first time I can remember since I was 15, I woke up not feeling like going to the studio. I thought, Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s a young guy’s game.
Is that when you heard from Ariana?
I think she’d agree we have a great bond, so we’re in touch all the time. She’s been an important part of the last five years, and I think vice versa, and we had spoken earlier about how she wanted to go in a different direction and try working with other people which I was totally fine with. I was like, “Yeah, you should. You should branch out as an artist, do what you feel is right, challenge your audience and expand sonically.” That was around the time when I was not feeling good anyway. But randomly she texted me and said, “Hey, I really wanna go back in.” So she came to the studio with me and Max [Martin] for a little bit. That day, me and her sat and just listened to music, and it was something about that day and her energy and excitement lit the spark again. I used to have ideas popping up all the time, like the idea for “Problem” came from an airplane bathroom. That stuff wasn’t happening for a big chunk of last year, but after that meeting she lit the fuse again.
What did you listen to during that meeting? I’m assuming it provided some sort of musical bedrock for what Sweetener would become.
We listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I think Max brought up Brandy’s “I Want to Be Down.” We just listened to great songs that I loved growing up, and I know Ariana does too. We talked and she had amazing ideas which were inspiring and we just got going. I woke up the next morning wanting to create again.
It’s interesting because you usually you hear how a producer or writer inspires an artist, but this time was the opposite.
For me, absolutely. Also what she went through after Manchester; just as a friend the toll that took and how strong a person has to be to come back from that was inspiring.
Sweetener’s first single was “No Tears Left to Cry,” which sounds kind of like a throwback, but also very of the moment. Was that the goal? Did you have artists in mind that you were inspired by? You mentioned Lauryn Hill …
Well, we started talking when we were listening to Lauryn Hill about chord changes and why we stick to four chords all the time. She wanted to go back to when the verses and the chorus had different chord changes. I was also listening to a lot of En Vogue [like “Don’t Let Go”] and the changes in a few others. She was also very insistent on starting a song as a ballad and then just becoming an up-tempo [track]. I think it was Max who started singing that melody of the chorus, which was fantastic and magical, so we just took it from there. Ari made it clear that she didn’t want to dwell on what happened [in Manchester]. She wanted to touch on it, but at the same time wanted this album to be positive, about light and sharing love. It was really important to her that whatever the first thing she did coming back had to be hopeful. At one point she said something like, “I don’t have any tears anymore, I don’t have any tears left to cry.” We were like, that’s it! That’s it. That’s the line. And we went from there.
So that fake-out where the first ten seconds or so sounds like a ballad, and then it launches into something up-tempo — was the initial idea to build on that?
Yeah, that was all Ariana’s vision. It was important to her to start as a ballad and Max and Ilya started playing those chords and it just fit; it was magical. It all came together and had this flow. One thing that was super challenging was the pre-chorus, we spent a lot of time on it. We tend to spend a lot of time on pre-choruses if I’m involved in the song. “Side to Side” took two weeks, for example. Then Ilya made the groove super tight and knocking in the right way.
Tell me about the lyrical architecture here. It sound very simple, but that’s also deceiving because I’m sure this was plotted out painstakingly. Ariana sings, “I’m pickin’ it up, I’m pickin’ it up, I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up.” How long does a line like that take to put together?
I think it’s just instinctual flow. It’s already quite a complicated song, chord-wise, and the audience right now is so used to hearing a loop of a beat or a loop of chords. Keep in mind that when we were writing, [Post Malone’s] “Rockstar” was the biggest song on the radio, and that’s just one melody repeating itself over and over. Compared to that, this song is very complicated. You want things to be digestible, but when it gets too complicated with the chord changes and the melodic shifts, the lyrics need to be easier to grasp.
Ariana recently told Jimmy Fallon that “Breathin” came to fruition when she was having an anxiety attack. How does an episode like that become a pop song?
I think we started that day with her saying she wanted to do a song that had a specific vibe. Ilya started coming up with an instrumental hook and she went in and started singing melodies. Even before she started feeling that way I started singing “breathing and breathing” as a hook. I collect titles and I was using “breathing” [as a placeholder]; sometimes we’ll use bullshit words just for the sake of filler for the moment. It sounded so magical when she sang it, but she had to take pauses because she was having a tough day. We were concerned, and she was talking it out. We’re all friends and the studio is a therapy session for us all; whether I’m going through something or Ilya’s going through something or she’s going through something. It was quite impressive because sometimes artists don’t wanna say what’s really there and she was willing to put it in the lyrics. The melodies make it a pop song, but it’s the lyrics that make it an artist’s song.
It’s fascinating to watch pop’s lyrical evolution. It wasn’t that long ago that pop songs were focused on having fun and talking about how life is carefree, but now we’re in a phase where pop stars are more relatable. The Chainsmokers had lyrics about drinking too much on “Closer,” and Shawn Mendes is singing out laying on his bathroom floor, “feeling overwhelmed and insecure,” on “In My Blood.” Is this evolution something you think about?
It’s all cyclical, right? We’re in a cycle now that culturally people want authenticity. Artists collectively want to be as authentic as possible in their music. Someone like myself and the teams I frequently collaborate with, our jobs is to help artists do that in a way that it connects to the masses. You don’t want to lose that authenticity and heart, but help shape it into something that connects. Maybe it also has to do with social media as well? Though at the same time, this is also Ariana’s fourth album [its concepts] had to do with her being determined to have more depth in her music. She’s done the [lighter] pop thing, and was determined to express herself in ways she hasn’t before. It’s a healing process for her, but to also help others. She came out of Manchester determined to make the world better.
Speaking of that, what makes for the perfect pop song? Is there a recipe?
I don’t think there’s a recipe, because it changes with culture and where music is. I always like to think of melody first, along with the right lyric or punchline. Back in the Backstreet Boys days, those songs had amazing melodies and the punchline was catchy but the lyrics made no sense. If you can get that lyric that connects that’s catchy with a melody that’s different enough and simple, that’s where your magic is, [but] it’s hard to do. Just as the best athletes in the world make it look easy, the best songwriters in the world make it seem simple too. You say, “I can write that!” And when you try and it’s pretty difficult.
Those elements kind of come together in “Everytime,” which is lyrically simple, but also an earworm.
We already had some of the melody and we were in the middle of trying to figure out if it was anything when Ariana texted to see what we were doing and came by. She heard the skeleton of the idea and said, “I love that, that’s mine, let’s finish it!” She recorded it and it was magic. She puts her voice on something and it comes alive in a way nobody can expect. All of it was based on her direction.
How about “God Is a Woman”? Did that begin with a concept, lyrics, or the instrumental?
That was the one that was unique compared to the other Sweetener tracks. I love to write from concepts and titles, and before I got in my funk I had this chorus idea. I was alone in a room and started singing into my phone … [Hums the melody to “God Is a Woman”] Rickard [Göransson] walked into the room and heard me singing this melody and he grabbed a guitar and started to figure out chords to what I was singing, which I finish with the phrase “You’ll find out God is a woman.” It was before Ariana came calling, so we didn’t know what to do with it. We played it for another artist or two and it didn’t work out. Then maybe [we were thinking] we’d get a rapper on the verses? Our big dream is always Drake. [Laughs] We had to have someone who could write the lyric for the chorus, because all I had was “You’ll believe God is a woman.” I couldn’t write the full lyrics, it had to be a girl to write it to pull the whole concept off.
Working with Ari was the most obvious thing I could ever think of, but I never thought of it. So two days before her label listening meeting when they were supposed to hear the Sweetener songs, she came to just hang in the studio. Ilya goes, “Why don’t we play Ariana ‘God Is a Woman?’” and she goes, “What? What did you just say? You play that for me right now.” She heard the hook and was like, “You guys are stupid, why would you not play that for me all this time?!” I was like, of course, there’s nobody else who could pull this off. She’s a feminist, her mom’s a feminist, and her aunt is this trailblazing feminist. Sure enough, she came back the next day with lyrics; her nonna was there, her mom was there and she recorded it. It was the last thing we did before her label meeting. She took it and owned it and was like, “This is what I wanna say and this is what I’m about.”
On August 16th, Ariana’s fiance Pete Davidson‘s interview with GQ Magazine was released, as he talked about their engagement and apartment
He’s referring to his new fiancée, the intergalactically famous pop star Ariana Grande. According to the tabloids, Davidson presented Grande, 25, with a $93,000 pear-shaped diamond in June, after just a few weeks of dating. According to Davidson, it happened even quicker than that. “The day I met her, I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll marry you tomorrow,’ ” he says, grinning. “She was calling my bluff. I sent her a picture [of engagement rings]. I was like, ‘Do you like any of these?’ She was like, ‘Those are my favorite ones,’ and I was like, ‘Sick.’ ”
On August 16th, Ariana Grande appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote her album Sweetener.
The producers also asked her to perform Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin following the tragic news of her passing. Initially refusing, she powered through and sang the song but broke down on stage on her first cut.
Check out the photos and videos below!
Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman”
On July 10th, it was announced that Ariana Grande would be the cover star of the August issue of Elle magazine! A video of her playing the game of Song Association was uploaded to their YouTube channel on July 12th.
Check out the whole interview below!
Ariana Grande is a star. A really big star. For millions of Arianators, as her fans are known, she’s a radiant, life-giving force they wake up with in the morning and go to bed with at night. They’ve followed the phases of her career as she’s risen from Broadway (the musical 13) to TV (Nickelodeon’s Victorious and Sam & Cat) to the apex of pop stardom and commercial success (eight multiplatinum singles, 9 billion music video streams on YouTube). They’ve contributed to the $100 million-plus that her tours have made, casting the likes of Drake and Sting in Ariana’s petite but long, five-foot shadow. They are among Ariana’s 121 million Instagram followers, making her the third-most-followed person, above both Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. And when her latest album, Sweetener, drops August 17, Arianators will have helped its lead single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” break records set by none other than Ariana herself.
Calling to them is Ariana’s honeyed, four-octave voice. But they’re also drawn to her sparkle: The poofy lampshade and figure skater–style dresses. The cat, bunny, and Minnie Mouse ears she wears often and without ceremony. On Twitter, she speaks to her fans in fluent internet, playing fast and loose with a “see no evil” monkey emoji and crafting full sentences in acronyms only. In a few short weeks, she went from casually dating Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson to engaged, their relationship born, in part, out of Harry Potter fandom (him: Gryffindor, her: Slytherin). On Instagram, they flirt guilelessly, as if no one were watching (everyone is watching). And then, of course, there’s her signature Vegas-fountain ponytail, the orientation, height, and shade of which Arianators track like an ancient civilization charting the moon. To the casual observer, the singer’s idiosyncrasies might seem juvenile, absurd even, but there’s a subversiveness to Ariana’s child’s play. Her bright and shiny optics belie a far more nuanced character. She’s been in therapy for more than 10 years, since around the time her parents divorced, and thus traffics in self-awareness. “It’s work,” she tells me, sitting on the couch in her hotel suite overlooking Central Park. “I’m a 25-year-old woman. But I’ve also spent the past handful of years growing up under very extraordinary circumstances. And I know how that story goes.…” Cut to former child star in a mug shot. And scene.
She’s been watching a lot of Planet Earth lately. “Have you seen those fish with the transparent heads? Those are aliens! That’s where they are! They’re here.” She takes me on a “really big trip” marveling at outer space. But within her intergalactic musings is the search for perspective: “The planets, the stars, there’s nothing more humbling than that shit. We get so stressed about little things when, in the big picture, we’re just a speck of dust on this tiny planet in this enormous solar system that is also a speck in a huge, mysterious black hole situation, and we don’t even know what it is!” She takes a breath. “Thinking about how small we are, it’s crazy. We are nothing.”
Not that Ariana is a nihilist. She speaks of the strength of community in this “tough, wild, chaotic time right now” and considers just how divided the nation is. Her call to action: “Everyone has to have uncomfortable conversations with their relatives. Instead of unfriending people on Facebook who share different political views, comment! Have a conversation! Try to spread the fucking light.” She’s become something of a feminist hero for her ability to shut down sexism and misogyny with a single tweet. The most recent of which, at press time, regards her ex, rapper Mac Miller, who allegedly drove drunk and crashed his car shortly after their breakup. A Twitter user suggested it was Ariana’s fault. “How absurd that you minimize female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship,” she wrote. “Shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem…please stop doing that.” The user apologized. She accepted.
I meet Ariana on a sunny May afternoon. Her hair is styled in what I’ll call a three-way—two platinum-blond ponytails pulled high atop either side of her head, a third section of extensions cascading down her back. I ask if she is, in fact, communicating to her fans through her hair. “I’ve never thought about it that way,” she says, giving one pigtail a twirl. “But maybe there is a telepathic connection there.” For what it’s worth, her favorite pony is “the high, sleek, dark one. But she takes many forms. Many forms. There are lots of different girls in this sisterhood.” Including totally ponyless wigs, like the one she wore for her ELLE shoot. (Slow claps to her hairstylist, Josh Liu, for swishing and tossing strands by the handful, just out of frame, for hours.)
Last night, Ariana attended her first Met Gala in a Vera Wang gown that sent fans into a tizzy. The “puff puff dream,” as she calls it, featured the entirety of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, from the Sistine Chapel, and was “a foreshadow, a hint,” of her upcoming video for “God Is a Woman.” The second single is her 92-year-old grandma Nonna’s favorite song from the new album. By name alone, I peg the track to be a feel-good Women’s-March–y anthem, something along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Roar” set to an R&B beat. I hear it a few weeks later. Hoo boy, was I wrong. Let’s just say it’s more about taking agency in the bedroom than at the office. Nonna, you’re so naughty!
A sly, mischievous streak runs through Ariana’s maternal bloodline. “It’s the Italian thing; we have the dark humor,” she says. Nonna enjoys Cards Against Humanity (sample card: “Chunks of dead prostitute”). And for Ariana’s fourth birthday, her mother, Joan, threw her daughter a Jaws-themed party. “Most of the kids were running, screaming, because I had Jaws playing on a huge screen,” Joan recalls. “The parents were like, ‘Are you crazy? Our kids don’t watch that!’ But it was [Ariana’s] favorite movie.” Joan is a soft-spoken firebrand. The Brooklyn-born, Barnard-educated 61-year-old was “goth before goth was goth,” she says, and name-checks Poe and Hawthorne as favored college companions. At home in Boca Raton, Florida, she made the macabre fun for Ariana and her older half brother, Frankie. Halloween was as big of a deal as Christmas. “I did the house up in things that would give normal children nightmares,” she says. “I would go to the butcher, get heart organs or lungs, and then be like, ‘Ariana, Frankie, this is a heart.’ The kids would paint blood on the walls. I remember Ariana’s little handprints.”
The family went to Disney World pretty regularly, where Ariana was drawn to baddies like Cruella de Vil and Maleficent. “If we had a choice of going to the Disney princess store or the villain store, it was always the villains,” Joan says. It’s worth noting that the biggest fights between mother and daughter “had to do with boys.”
At eight months pregnant with Ariana, Joan moved from New Jersey to Florida to open a marine communications equipment manufacturing company, which she still owns and operates. On the phone from her office, she explains that she and her older sister, Judy, always questioned the status quo. Ariana calls them “through-and-through feminist queens.” Judy was friendly with Gloria Steinem and was the first female Italian American president of the National Press Club. When Joan built her company, she did so with working mothers in mind: “I built this building with a day-care area. I actually had it certified. Employees brought their children, and Ariana was here almost every day.” I ask if she’s ever been tempted to quit her job, in light of her daughter’s astronomic success. Stupid question. “We’re very close,” she says of their relationship. “But I don’t live my life through her life. I have an amazing career. I work because it fulfills me as a person. Because I’m Joan, not Ariana, not Frankie. I would never want to lose Joan somewhere along the way.”
There’s a bouquet of white roses on the coffee table in Ariana’s hotel. The note: “To my darling Ariana: You are the true work of art! Love you dearly, Mommy.” It’s been almost a year since they fled a UK terrorist attack that claimed 22 lives, injuring 500 more, at the sold-out Manchester show of Ariana’s Dangerous Woman tour. Ariana is hesitant to talk about it. For one thing, the wound is still incredibly raw, but she’s also adamant that her story not overshadow those of the victims. So we talk around it. “When I got home from tour, I had really wild dizzy spells, this feeling like I couldn’t breathe,” she begins. “I would be in a good mood, fine and happy, and they would hit me out of nowhere. I’ve always had anxiety, but it had never been physical before. There were a couple of months straight where I felt so upside down.” She shared the experience with her friend Pharrell Williams. Together they created “Get Well Soon,” the final track on Sweetener.
“It’s all the voices in my head talking to one another,” she explains, before softly serenading me. “‘They say my system is overloaded,’” she sings, “and then the background vocals say, ‘Girl, what’s wrong with you? Come back down.’” The studio version is a veritable mille-feuille of vocal arrangement, stacking layers upon layers of Ariana’s voice until she lands, wholly, right-side-up.
Joan was in the audience the night tragedy struck and recounts the chaos. “I was like a fish swimming in the wrong direction. Everyone was leaving, and I was going toward the stage. The bomb went off, and I’m looking at these young adults with fear in their eyes. People were jumping from the upper seats to get out. I just started grabbing people. I could have been steering them.…” Her voice trails of, the what-ifs too painful to imagine. “I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew I was going to my daughter. Not to be overly dramatic—I struggle with this every day—but I didn’t know what I would find when I got to her. I sympathize with every parent who was waiting for a child. Those minutes when you don’t know what’s happening…there are no words.”
They immediately caught a flight back to Boca, where the future felt incredibly uncertain. Ariana cried endlessly and barely spoke for two days. It was unclear if she would ever want to perform again. Then Joan got a knock on her door. “It was two or three in the morning; she crawled into bed and said, ‘Mom, let’s be honest, I’m never not going to sing again. But I’m not going to sing again until I sing in Manchester first.’” They called her manager, Scooter Braun, and the One Love Manchester concert was born, helping raise $23 million for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund. Of how the event has changed Ariana, Joan says, “She loves a bit more fearlessly than she did before.” I gently broach the subject with Ariana, and the name Manchester alone triggers a huge teardrop to roll down her cheek. “You hear about these things,” she starts slowly. “You see it on the news, you tweet the hashtag. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. It makes you sad, you think about it for a little, and then people move on. But experiencing something like that firsthand, you think of everything differently.…” She pauses, swallowing the lump in her throat. “Everything is different.” Getting back onstage was “terrifying.” It still is sometimes. She credits her fans as being her primary source of courage. “It’s the most inspiring thing in the world that these kids pack the venue.
They’re smiling, holding signs saying, ‘Hate will never win.’” The tears are full-on now. “Why would I second-guess getting on a fucking stage and being there for them? That city, and their response? That changed my life.” She’d go on to complete the rest of her world tour, capping it off with a performance at A Concert for Charlottesville, another city reeling in the aftermath of senseless violence. A lot of mainstream top 40 types—those who, say, have a certain Reputation—are seemingly reluctant to take a political stance. The fear being, presumably, a loss of fan base and revenue. “That’s wild to me,” Ariana says. She is loud and proud in her anti-Trumpism and has aligned herself with gun reform and Black Lives Matter. I wonder if she’s gotten any backlash. “Of course!” she says. “There’s a lot of noise when you say anything about anything. But if I’m not going to say it, what’s the fucking point of being here? Not everyone is going to agree with you, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to shut up and sing my songs. I’m also going to be a human being who cares about other human beings; to be an ally and use my privilege to help educate people.” For her, the role of the artist is to “not only help people and comfort them, but also push people to think differently, raise questions, and push their boundaries mentally.”
There’s another song on Sweetener that I misjudge based on the title alone. I assume “The Light Is Coming” will be a sweet balm of a ballad in response to the darkest of days. Nope. It’s a bass-thumping dance track featuring Ariana’s friend, collaborator, and “big sis,” Nicki Minaj. (“That’s a ride-or-die situation. She is the best there is, male or female,” Ariana says.) “The light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole,” Ariana trills. But then, what is light without the dark? I think of Joan’s campy Halloween house, the Jaws party, those villains—and the bright star who draws her energy from them all.
Before I go, Ariana shows me her Met Gala manicure. It’s also The Last Judgement, this time decaled across her fingers, each nail gilded with a tiny 3-D gold frame. The detail is mind-blowing, and yet it’s a small tattoo of the female symbol that catches my eye. It’s on her middle finger. “Yeah, it comes in handy,” she says.
On June 5th, it was announced that Ariana Grande is the cover star of the July issue of British Vogue! Photographed by Craig McDean and styled by Kate Phelan with hair by Chris Appleton and make-up by Mark Carrasquillo, she wears a Chanel autumn/winter 2018 lace dress with jewelled straps for her #NewVogue debut. Check out an excerpt from the interview below!
At home in her curiously decorated mansion in Beverly Hills, she goes on to give Vogue a preview of her fourth album, Sweetener. “I think a lot of people have anxiety, especially right now,” she says, as a pounding song concludes. How is your anxiety, Hattersley asks? “My anxiety has anxiety… I’ve always had anxiety. I’ve never really spoken about it because I thought everyone had it, but when I got home from tour it was the most severe I think it’s ever been.” She was back in the studio the day after finishing her concert commitments in Asia, South America and Australia in September 2017, a decision, that is, she explains, down to being a workaholic. “Everybody thought I was crazy when I got home and wanted to hit the ground running.”
Read the full interview in the July issue, which is out on newsstands on June 8.
On May 29th, Ariana Grande has been revealed as the second of four artists to cover The FADER’s 2018 Summer Music Issue. The print issue hits newsstands in June, but ahead of the release, the magazine has shared the cover photo as well as highlights from Grande’s interview Wednesday morning (May 30). The pop star shared details on her next album, life after the Manchester bombing, and how her fans encourage her to be vulnerable.
Check out the full coverage below!
I don’t really want to start off by talking about Ariana Grande’s ponytail, but I can’t help it. Today, her silver hair has been built up with multiple extensions by her Grecian god of a hairdresser, Chris Appleton; as Ariana shuffles around a cavernous photo studio in slides she designed for Reebok, it bobs behind her like a loyal Pokémon. There’s detailed braiding going on in the front and pounds and pounds tied up in the back, with some pieces dyed a pleasing shade of lilac. When I first spot her across the room — alongside her mom, Joan, who is in full Calabasas momager drag — I release a long “yaaaas” under my breath.
The 24-year-old singer has worn variations of the high and tight hairstyle since 2013 and has rarely appeared in public without it. In 2014, after some people online started to beg for a new style, she explained in a Facebook note that it’s the only look she was comfortable wearing: years of bleaching and dying her hair red, when she was a teen actor on Nickelodeon, damaged it severely.
On the cover art for this spring’s “No Tears Left To Cry,” the lead single from Sweetener, her fourth album, out this August, she left her fans proverbially bald by being photographed with a ponytail that was 45 degrees lower than normal. As one viral tweet put it: “Ariana lowered her ponytail, it’s over for you bitches.”
Since releasing her first single at 19, Ariana has managed to defy the pop star convention of reinventing her look for each musical era. At the end of our interview, I ask if she considered going totally nuclear for this album cycle, like if she ever thought of shaving her head. After the year she’s had, she could certainly play the reinvention card.
She wraps her hair around her hand and gives it a comb and affectionate toss. “The pony has also gone through an evolution, and I’m proud of that,” she says with a heaping tablespoon of self-awareness. “Old pony? I don’t know if she’s that girl. But new pony? I like her. I mean, it’s like a Victoria Secret angel without angel wings. It’s still her without them, but when she’s with them it’s like, Ohh, I get it, she’s an angel.”
During the cover shoot for this story, she’s just like the Ariana I’ve seen in concert and followed on social media: absurdly warm, a theatre kid through and through. When the stereo malfunctions on set, she sings throaty Christmas carols to everyone’s delight. Every day, she sends her best friends good-morning voice notes in a cartoonishly demonic tone. She’s the kind of person who finds out her song is the No. 1 single in 80 countries and the only words she shares with her followers are an emoji-filled “Holy ass titty, thank you so much, what??????”
At the end of our day, her team carefully coordinates her exit. A Range Rover backs all the way into the massive studio and security leads her inside as if they’re escorting a head of state. It seems like this will be the new normal for the rest of her life.
In May of 2017, Ariana performed to a sold-out crowd at a Manchester, U.K. stop on her Dangerous Woman world tour, which was originally planned to take her to six continents over eight months. Shortly after the show was over, a bomber set off an explosion in the arena’s foyer. Her concerts attract a fairly young crowd, so the area was bustling with parents waiting to pick up their kids. The explosion killed 23 people and injured over 500. It was the deadliest terror attack in the U.K. in over a decade.
Ariana and her crew were still backstage when it happened, and no one on her team was hurt. Hours after they’d been cleared out of the arena safely, she tweeted, “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”
Even almost a year later, she still can’t talk that much about it. She hasn’t sat down for an interview in months, and pretty much has cut off all communication from the outside world. At the first mention of the word Manchester during our chat, she begins to tear up and at several points breaks down into sobbing. As she explains to me, “I guess I thought with time, and therapy, and writing, and pouring my heart out, and talking to my friends and family that it would be easier to talk about, but it’s still so hard to find the words. When you’re so close to something so tragic and terrifying and opposite of what music and concerts are supposed to be, it kind of leaves you without any ground beneath your feet.”
In the hours after the attack, Lloyd’s of London, the bank that insured her tour, called her manager, Scooter Braun, and said they’d cover Ariana’s full pay for the rest of the schedule dates. Because she would have avoided the cost of putting on the shows, she actually stood to make more by canceling. But as Scooter later tells me, “It wasn’t about the money for her. It was about showing her fans and the world that she is who she says she is and being strong for them.”
They suspended the tour for seven dates, but Ariana wanted to go back on the road. Scooter suggested they play Manchester again, and they quickly organized what became One Love Manchester, a benefit concert that raised over $23 million for the victims and their families. On June 3, a day before the event was set to take place, a terrorist attack hit London: a van driver on London Bridge ran into a crowd and killed eight people. Ariana and other key artists on the bill — Chris Martin, Katy Perry, and Marcus Mumford — all stressed that they needed to play now more than ever.
At the end of the concert, after all the acts came together to sing Ariana’s “One Last Time,” she slowly walked to the front of the stage alone. She started singing “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, backed only by a piano. She crushed the bridge the first time, but then she went back, repeating it with such stunning conviction that it was impossible not to hear the song — one you’ve heard your whole life — in a completely new way. In the footage of this moment, every person is openly sobbing. Ariana finished the song through tears and you could hear her crying in the mic, the first time she broke her tough front all night. She somehow managed to sing the chorus one more time.
When I ask her why she chose to close the concert with that song, she starts to cry again. The song was her grandpa’s favorite, she says, and she would sing it to him at home when she was a little girl with an abnormally powerful voice. “He would always tell me to sing it in my concerts. He would always say, ‘You know what you should end with? “Over the Rainbow.”’ And I never did it until that moment. When I was getting ready to do it, I was thinking about him and I felt his presence so heavily around me. He was the person I was closest to in my life. He was everything I wanted to be: as a businessman, as a gentleman, as a human being, as a friend, everything. He was just perfect to me.”
“Here is my bleeding heart, and here is a trap beat behind it.”
In the days after the Manchester attack, when she was recuperating at her childhood home in Boca Raton, Florida, he was there too. “I found a stack of stationery next to my bed in a Ziploc baggie, and he had written on it, ‘For Ariana.’ I don’t remember seeing it before, and it was next to my bed.” She says she ended the show with that song because it was meant to be: “He tapped me on the shoulder and told me to.”
She says the tears came at that moment because it was when she was truly one with her audience. “The fact that all of those people were able to turn something that represented the most heinous of humanity into something beautiful and unifying and loving is just wild.”
The tour picked back up after One Love Manchester, and Ariana spent June, July, and August on a whirlwind journey across Europe, Latin America, and Asia. “We pushed through and we got home, and once things slowed down, everyone started to really feel it,” she says. “That’s when the process really began. We were riding this adrenaline wave and being strong with each other. Once we got home, we were like, ‘WHEW. Now the real work begins,’ and I’m sobbing.”
Way before any of this, Ariana knew it was time to elevate herself. In 2016, she met with Pharrell and told him: “Take me somewhere completely new — let’s just go.” The pair made “a million” songs together, and she says she enjoyed the freedom to create without a label’s imposed due date. Most importantly, though, as Ariana recalls, he sat her down, pointed at her heart, and told her it was time she show her fans what’s really going on in there. Over email, he explained his producer role with her as “part listener, part therapist, part stenographer.”
Ariana was sick of straightforward song structures and wanted lots of plot twists, which is one of Pharrell’s particular strengths. Take, for example, “The Light Is Coming,” a twitchy new wave track — a far cry from the easily digestible songs of her past. That kind of creative experimentation might make a major label skittish, but as Pharrell told me, the events in Manchester gave a hard reset to the project’s expectations. Half of the tracks that make up the album’s final tracklist are produced by him.
“In all honesty, I feel like [after Manchester] was when different people from the record company actually started to understand what we were trying to do,” Pharrell said. “It’s unfortunate that that situation is what gave it context, but they were able to really see it then. And that’s the truth.”
“The Light” was made with a guest feature in mind, and Ariana auditioned eight rappers for the spot — “I don’t mean to sound like a terrible person, but I wasn’t in love with any of it” — before turning to her friend Nicki Minaj. She texted Nicki the song and asked if she would be interested in the spot. In Ariana’s words, Nicki was like, “Ho-lee-shit-I-love-this,” and called her on up on a rainy morning at 5:00 a.m. to come hear the verse. “I went in my slippers and pajamas to the studio and she killed it,” she says. “That’s what Nicki Minaj does, she elevates a record. If you’re going to have a rapper on a song, they need to really really really be there for a reason, and she does that every single time.”
On “Borderline,” another Pharrell production, Missy Elliott makes a guest appearance, an experience that Ariana has been aiming for since she was crazy young, dancing in her room to Missy’s music, and studying her music videos directed by Dave Meyers, who ended up directing the clip for “No Tears Left To Cry.”
The other half of the album was produced by the most trusted and scientific hitmaker in pop, Max Martin. This is a lot of the work that Ariana produced after Manchester, and she says she got the songwriting bug this time around. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that an artist’s new album is their most personal album yet, but for Ariana it’s really true.
On “Get Well Soon,” she traces her way through the intimate corners of an anxiety attack. “Girl what’s wrong with you? / Come back down.” Eventually, she sings herself back to stability. She wrote the lyrics right after she experienced one, and her words are backed by piano, some bells, and a thousand refractions of her gorgeous voice. “The thing that makes me feel OK with opening up and finally allowing myself to be vulnerable is that I know [my fans] feel the same feelings,” she says. “I’ve talked to them about it. I have fans that have become friends of mine. I have their numbers, and we talk all the time. I played [the song] for them before I played it for my label. They were like, ‘Thank you,’ when they heard that one. It was so scary to do that, but to see them be like, ‘I get it, I feel that too’…”
These creative risks signal a more thoughtful phase in her career. “I’ve always just been like a shiny, singing, 5-6-7-8, sexy-dance…sexy thing. But now it’s like, ‘OK … issa bop — but issa message. Issa bop but also has chunks of my soul in it. Here you go. Also, I cried 10 hundred times in the session writing it for you. Here is my bleeding heart, and here is a trap beat behind it.’ There’s definitely some crying-on-the-dancefloor stuff on this one.” She balances gravitas with snackable joy on “No Tears,” the garage-inflected anthem that introduced people to this new sonic era. On “God Is A Woman,” a choir backs her over a beat you could probably get excommunicated for dancing the right way to.
A few weeks after our interview, Ariana posted to her Instagram story that she decided to add five tracks to her album, bringing the total tracklist up to 15 songs. We hopped on the phone to talk about the last-minute creative push, and Ariana seems even happier and more energized than before.
After recently reaching an “emotional rock bottom,” she revisited some of the songs she had decided to initially cut. The additions are three more from the Pharrell sessions, one from the Max camp, and one with her close past collaborator producer Tommy Brown. She first worried that these songs were “too emotionally honest” and might make her fans worried, but after some of the fears she was writing about came true, she gave them a second look. “There are parts of my life that they would love to know about,” she says, “and hard times that I have been dealing with for the past year-and-a-half that they deserve to know about because they love me endlessly and care. I don’t want to hide any pain from them because I can relate to their pain. Why not be in it together?”
She explains to me she that realized she had still been putting up emotional walls. “I guess I was kind of running on zero and pretending to be at a 10 for about 10 months,” she says. “It took me getting to, I deserve to be at a 10, and fuck it, and let’s fucking go, and now I feel so free and happy as fuck. Reaching that feeling made me look at the songs and be like What? What?! I wasn’t going to put this on the album? Oh my god, this is a bop! What was I fucking thinking? How did I get in my own head about blah-blah-blah that I would dare take this off the album.”
Recovery is a real process, and fortunately Ariana has taken some time for herself. Lately, she’s been heads-down on her album while enjoying living a serene life in L.A. with her seven dogs. She says she’s been watching an intense amount of Grey’s Anatomy, finishing five seasons — that’s over 100 hours — in just the past month. She swears that she’s a total Christina but also shares Izzie’s emotional side; if there’s a better show about a group of friends managing to process a seemingly endless trail of grief, I can’t think of one.
She says therapy has been helpful for her — she’s actually been in it her whole life and has always been a fan. “It has helped me deal with so much. I think it’s great for everybody. Especially in this regard. Therapy is the best. It really is.”
It’s also the first time she’s lived a home life in maybe forever, and she’s relished it. “I feel like all of a sudden I woke up and I’m an adult. It’s really crazy for me,” she says in disbelief. She likes to wake up at 6:30 in the morning and watch her house get enveloped by the early morning L.A. mist, a “yummy dream cloudland,” she says.
“I’ve never been this vulnerable to myself. I feel like I graduated almost.”
In the year before our interview, Ariana’s only real public appearances were for political causes. Last November, she appeared as the youngest act at A Concert for Charlottesville, a musical benefit in Virginia that was organized by Dave Matthews after Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist when Neo-Nazis stormed the city. In March, she was one of the headliners at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., the demonstration of students against gun violence after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “We’re in such a trying time and people have been responding with acceptance, love, inclusion, and passion,” she says. “This generation, they’re standing up and they’re not going to take no for an answer.”
When the kids from Parkland came to Los Angeles, Scooter arranged for them to meet her before their protest took place. They sat around the floor of his living room in a circle and talked about theatre, their shared experiences, and she opened up about Manchester, specifically about what happens when time passes after a tragic event and things quiet down. They became fast friends and hugged and cried a lot.
“That sums up who she is,” Scooter told me. “That’s when you see the best of her: when the cameras aren’t on. Because a lot of people know how to turn it on for the cameras. She is who she is all of the time.”
A weird thing to think about is that Ariana Grande almost didn’t make it as a singer — she wasn’t always seen as an easily relatable person with superhuman talents. On Nickelodeon, she played the always-oblivious sidekick Cat Valentine in the performing arts school comedy Victorious, which was a star vehicle for Victoria Justice. Eventually, that role translated into a goofy spin-off called Sam & Cat, which had a successful first season but ended after 36 episodes. She recorded a few songs for the show’s bubblegum soundtracks and made guest appearances on a couple of Nick stars’ projects, but nothing really made a dent beyond her young TV audience. Sony had passed on her, and Nickelodeon didn’t think of her as more than a secondary character. So she pursued music on her own terms on YouTube, under her very early ’00s username “osnapitzari.”
In one clip she uploaded in 2007, when she was 14, she stands in front of a loop pedal machine and uses different recordings of her voice to create a multi-layered track with herself as every instrument as well as the lead vocalist. It’s super cute and psychotically impressive. A couple of years later, in 2012 — with peak “old pony” — she recorded a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Die In Your Arms.” That got the attention of Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, who signed her shortly after. Her 2013 debut, Yours Truly, a poppy R&B album mostly produced by Babyface, debuted at No. 1, and so did its 2014 follow up, My Everything, which made Ariana a fixture of the Billboard top 10.
Ariana’s four-octave range, which is stronger than pretty much any of the current pop singers in her lane, made her a star. She’s got an especially light head voice, which makes her high notes sound like glitter cannons shooting through rainbows, especially when her vocal tracks are layered on top of each other. In a now-iconic 2016 Twitter thread, it was determined that she does in fact “Have The Range.”
For an example of her skill, consider the slightly underperforming but beloved 2016 single “Into You.” It’s an intense love song that kicks off with a lyric that Lorde remarked on Twitter was maybe the closest thing to “pop perfection” she’s ever heard: “I’m so into you / I can barely breathe.” Near the song’s end, after the epic bridge, the chorus repeats a few times with a swirl of harmonies and ad-libs.
“Those moments to me are when a song comes together,” Ariana says. “When you get to the chorus, you do a couple of ad lib takes and you do all the harmonies in the world. My favorite things are vocal production, harmonies, and vocal arrangement. That’s when a song has its legs.”
For me, as a gay man — and I’m a little embarrassed to say this — those transcendent musical moments and the way I react to them let me know that being gay is not a choice and I was in fact born this way. Although queer fandom is a given for most pop stars, Ariana’s seems especially deserved. “I grew up singing in gay bars,” she says. “I grew up with a gay brother, who is my best friend. Boys taught me how to do my makeup. This is an authentic love.” The second verse of “No Tears Left To Cry,” she tells me, is about “the sweet cuties” in her tour meet-and-greets who have come out to her.
Here’s how she says their interactions go:
Fan: Hi mom.
Ariana: Hi babe.
Fan: I’m gay.
Ariana: Work! Really?
Fan: That was my first time saying that to anyone.
Ariana: WHAT!? NO FUCKING WAY, COME HERE!
It’s moments like this that have her excited to share this album and get back out on tour, despite everything she’s gone through over the past year. If the Ariana Doctrine is to go around the world spreading love and positivity in the face of hate, she’s making music that matches the ambitions of those grown-up goals. “I’ve never been this vulnerable to myself,” she says. “I feel like I graduated almost. I feel like for a long time the songs were great, but they weren’t songs that made me feel something the way these songs do.”
Towards the end of our time together, she tells me the story of a day that summed up what her life has been like lately. It takes place on a foggy, rainy day — her favorite kind. “I was driving home from work and I just felt an overwhelming peace wash over me,” she remembers. “I just started tearing up — tears of gratitude because of perspective, because of growth, opening up and finding the ground again because of music, friends, and love. I was just overwhelmed by how simple it can be if you let it.”
On May 17th, the list of TIME’s 2018 Next Generation Leaders have been announced, and it features Ariana Grande herself! Check out the full photoshoot and interview below!
She has a lot of reasons to be happy. At 24, Grande is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and she’s coming out with new music two years after her last album, the blockbuster Dangerous Woman. Her latest single is called “No Tears Left to Cry.” Going off the title, you’d expect a big torch ballad—she’s run out of tears! Instead, it’s a triumphant, ’90s-house-inflected pop confection, part breathy vocals and part spunky, spoken-word playfulness. She chose it carefully: “The intro is slow, and then it picks up,” she says. “And it’s about picking things up.”
Grande made a song about resilience because she has had to be resilient, in ways that are difficult to imagine, after a terrorist detonated a bomb outside her May 22, 2017, concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people and leaving more than 500 injured. What happened is part of the song, but the song is not about what happened. Instead of being elegiac, it’s joyful and lush, and Grande is proud of it, and of herself. “When I started to take care of myself more, then came balance, and freedom, and joy,” she says. “It poured out into the music.” In the video for the song, she’s upside-down, the way life used to feel. “We’ve messed with the idea of not being able to find the ground again,” she says, “because I feel like I’m finally landing back on my feet now.”
Grande is petite, with Kewpie-doll eyes and a wide, easy smile. She often wears her hair in a big ponytail, but today it is pulled back into an elaborate topknot, with little wisps of hair coming down behind her ears like a halo. When she talks, she is earnest and enthusiastic—you can hear her theater-kid roots.
Grande grew up in South Florida; her mom was the CEO of a communications company and her father a successful graphic designer. As a child, she always wanted to perform. “I loved wearing Halloween masks in June and doing stand-up in my kitchen for my grandparents,” she says. She was precocious and driven. “My friend from preschool found a notebook that we must have written when we were 5 or 6 years old that was like, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” she says. “Mine said, ‘I want to be on Nickelodeon and then I want to sing.’”
She performed in local theater, then on Broadway in the musical 13. When she was 16, she was cast on the Nickelodeon show Victorious, which made her a star, though mostly with younger viewers, and she dabbled in bubblegum pop. She signed with Republic Records after the label’s chairman saw videos of her covering Whitney Houston and Adele on YouTube.
Her first official single, “The Way,” was released in 2013. It didn’t sound like the music she had recorded for Nickelodeon; it was breezy, catchy throwback soul, and it showed off her towering voice, which at times sounds almost instrumental. (Even die-hard fans have pointed out that, depending on how Grande sings, it can be hard to make out her lyrics—a critique she clearly takes in stride. At one point during our interview, after finishing a winding thought, she turned to me and asked, “Did I enunciate?” and then flashed a mischievous smile.)
Her first album, Yours Truly, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide, and her follow-ups, My Everything and Dangerous Woman, did even better. She released a string of chart-topping collaborations, including “Problem” (featuring Iggy Azalea), “Love Me Harder” (featuring the Weeknd) and “Side to Side” (featuring Nicki Minaj). She toured the world. Got labeled a diva, as happens to pretty much all women in music. Became the third most followed person on Instagram. It was a lot to handle, even though she had wanted success. “There was an adjustment period, because my life changed drastically,” she says. She has settled into it by now. “If I want to go out, then I’m going to go out as Ariana Grande and be O.K. with it,” she says. “If I’m feeling less O.K., I’ll probably stay in bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy.”
Everything was different, Grande says, when she was making her new album. First off, she took the lead on writing songs, which she had never really done before. “I was just so excited about singing,” she says of her previous efforts. “So I co-wrote, but I was never as involved.” She was also vocal with her producers—namely Max Martin, Savan Kotecha and Pharrell Williams, three of the most reliable hitmakers in music—about experimenting with her sound. “There was nothing I wouldn’t try,” she says. She told Williams she wanted to “make the weirdest thing we can first.” There are several moments on the record—both on the lead single and on an anthemic, sultry banger called “God Is a Woman”—in which Grande’s voice is layered so that it sounds like a choir, but really, it’s only her, multiplied. On another song, “Get Well Soon,” her vocals are interwoven in dense layers of sound, creating an otherworldly effect. “It’s like I’m talking to all of my thoughts in my head,” she says, “and they’re singing back to me.”
Here’s what Scooter Braun, Grande’s manager, tells me about what happened last summer, after the terrorist attack in Manchester. Grande had flown home to stay at her grand-mother’s house in Boca Raton, Fla., and Braun met her there, where he asked her to do something that, he says, he knew at the time was unfair. “I said, ‘We need to get a concert and get back out there.’ She looked at me like I was insane. She said, ‘I can never sing these songs again. I can’t put on these outfits. Don’t put me in this position.’” They decided to cancel the rest of the tour.
Two days later, Braun was on a flight, and he landed to find 16 text messages from Grande saying, “Call me. I need to speak to you.” When they finally spoke, she said, “If I don’t do something, these people died in vain.” They decided to put on a concert in Manchester to benefit the families that were affected.
The minute they arrived, just days after the bombing, they set out to help. They went to the hospital and sat with survivors. They met with families of the deceased. As the concert loomed, they began to worry that people would be too afraid to show up.
But more than 50,000 people turned out. A dozen other artists—including Justin Bieber, Coldplay and Katy Perry—flew in to perform. Grande closed the night with a performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” with tears streaming down her face. The show, called One Love Manchester, was broadcast live on British TV and streamed all over the world, alongside information about how to donate; it helped raise over $12 million for victims of the bombing and their families. The city of Manchester named Grande an honorary citizen, citing her “great many selfless acts and demonstrations of community spirit.”
“We put a lot on her shoulders,” Braun says. “And she took over. You know, for the rest of her life, she can say that she is exactly who she claims to be.”
So that’s what happened. After the Manchester show, Grande finished the tour. And then she went dark for a while.
Grande had built a career on the fizzy, ebullient joy of music as escape: the spine-tingling voice, the thrilling live shows, the polished music videos. Now, even though she had nothing to do with the attack, she had become central to the narrative in a way that made it inexorable. And yet what had she really lost, compared with so many others? People had lost children, parents, partners, friends. To make art that was explicitly about it would look exploitative. But to ignore it would be disingenuous.
She knows I am going to ask her about this before I have even said the words. She can see it in my eyes, and I can see it in hers, and she begins to cry—not graceful tears, but deep, choking sobs. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’ll do my best.”
Slowly, she starts to elaborate: “There are so many people who have suffered such loss and pain.” Her own grief feels both enormous and insignificant. “The processing part is going to take forever,” she says, and sobs again. She doesn’t want to talk about the attack. “I don’t want to give it that much power,” she says. “Something so negative. It’s the absolute worst of humanity. That’s why I did my best to react the way I did. The last thing I would ever want is for my fans to see something like that happen and think it won.”
“Music is supposed to be the safest thing in the world,” she continues. “I think that’s why it’s still so heavy on my heart every single day.” She takes a deep breath. “I wish there was more that I could fix. You think with time it’ll become easier to talk about. Or you’ll make peace with it. But every day I wait for that peace to come and it’s still very painful.” There is no tidy resolution. There is no why. It just happened. Grande looks up at the sky. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “What was the question?”
The bee has been a symbol of Manchester for years; it’s a nod to the city’s hardworking citizens, the worker bees who built up the region during the Industrial Revolution. After the attack, thousands of people in Manchester got bee tattoos. So did Grande and members of her crew. Now she sees bees everywhere. There’s one at the very end of the video for “No Tears Left to Cry,” in the final frame, buzzing away.
It’s part of how she carries what happened in Manchester with her. She performed at the Charlottesville, Va., unity concert as well as the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., and she met with some of the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting. “They’re so young but so brilliant and so strong,” she says. “We had a lot to talk about with what we’ve both been through.”
Her new album, Grande says, is called Sweetener. She decided to call it that because that’s the message she wanted to give to her fans: that you can take a bad situation and make it better. “When you’re handed a challenge,” she says, “instead of sitting there and complaining about it, why not try to make something beautiful?”
That sentiment hits home for Grande as well. “I’m happy,” she says, and tears spill out of her eyes again. She wipes them away. “I’m crying,” she says, “but I’m happy.”
On May 1st, Ariana Grande took over the whole night of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as they had sketches, interviews, surprises, and even the first ever televised performance of No Tears Left To Cry! She’s also announced that she will be performing the song at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards!
Ariana says that she will be dropping content on the 20th of each month leading up to the album release. She has also announced her 4th sudio album title called Sweetener, and revealed some songs off of the tracklist!
- God Is A Woman
- The Light Is Coming
Check out the photos and videos below!
On April 24th, it was announced that Ariana Grande will be taking over The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on May 1st!
She will join the host for a full hour of “talk, sketches, and a few surprises” on the hit NBC late night program on Tuesday. Her appearance will also include the broadcast performance debut of her new single, No Tears Left to Cry.
“As you’ve probably seen, I’ve been posting a bunch of my favorite videos from my fans singing ‘No Tears Left to Cry,’ ” Grande said in an clip, posted both to her Instagram Story and to Fallon’s Instagram account. “But I just want to quickly preface this next one ’cause it’s one of my favorites, definitely top three. And I think you’re going to love it too. Check it out!”
A parody of “No Tears Left to Cry” then played of Fallon singing the news of her takeover. “Yay see you May 1 on [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon]!” Grande said next. “I can’t wait! ”
On February 22nd, Troye Sivan announced that he and the Dangerous Woman herself have an upcoming collaboration. He spilled the tea in a recent interview on the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw.
— Ariana Grande Today (@ArianaTodayNet) February 23, 2018
The singer confirmed on his Twitter that he and his “pop queen” have a song coming out. Sivan gave no info as to whether it would be on his upcoming sophomore album, which is expected to drop this year.
Yes!!! The rumours are trumours!! @arianagrande is my pop queen and i can’t wait for you guys to hear our song🌹❤💓
— troye sivan (@troyesivan) February 23, 2018
After more than half a year of traveling, Ariana Grande closed out her “Dangerous Woman World Tour” on the shores of Hong Kong. Before her last show, in the East Asian city, the powerhouse singer joined the likes of Gigi Hadid, Nina Dobrev, Rae Sremmurd and more by announcing herself as the brand-new global ambassador for sneaker giant, Reebok.
To celebrate the partnership, Billboard tagged along in the final 48 to experience Grande’s complete itinerary to the fullest.
Tuesday, September 19
8PM: Arrive to Hong Kong.
We kicked things off by flying into the city Tuesday evening, but Grande needed to give her body time to recover; she just had a show a few days before in Taiwan.
“I only got here last night, but hopefully tonight I’ll get to go around a little and explore,” Grande told us when we saw her the following morning. “I’ve always wanted to come [to Hong Kong]. It’s been on my list for a long time, so I’m very happy to be ending my tour here. And hopefully, I’ll get to do as many things as I can before we leave tomorrow. I don’t want to go though, I really don’t want to.”
Wednesday, September 20
9AM: Morning workout.
To make the most of Hong Kong’s one-of-a-kind skyline views, we stayed at the trendy East Hotel, which features bright, floor-to-ceiling windows in every room. It was also right outside the city center, away from the crowded streets making it a great place to work out.
Thankfully, Grande’s trainer, Harley Pasternak—who has also worked with artists including Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Kanye West—travels with her from time to time and we were lucky enough to snag a session with him. We started with a walk to the spacious Quarry Bay Park, which is about 15 minutes from the hotel, and once we got there, he raised the intensity by having us jog and do lunges up and down the field.
You see, Pasternak’s priority isn’t to overwork any of his clients’ bodies, the only thing he wants them to do is to keep moving. “There are no moves than can compensate for a lack of steps,” he explained to Billboard. “We’ve gone so extreme about our approach to fitness with top-selling DVDs being Insanity, P90X and Madness, but you don’t need to do any of that. I train 50 of the best bodies in the world and none of them do that. No one needs to do that.”
Ariana then added, “For the longest time, I was like, how is that more effective than doing a full-fledged workout? It really is. I feel better when I’m moving around a lot. I could do a really hard workout and then sit around all day and not feel as good as if I am constantly moving”
2PM: It’s time to dance!
After lunch, we regrouped for the best dance session ever with Grande (yup, you read that right) and the twin geniuses behind the tour’s choreography, brothers Brian and Scott Nicholson. If you think they took it easy on us, think again. We learned the intro for the show’s opening number, “Be Alright,” and though it was no easy feat, the positive energy from the trio made it easy to let loose and just have fun.
“We were like, we’re going to teach them something kind of hard to see what happens,” Brian admitted. “It’s literally a day in the life on tour. We really wanted to show you what we go through. We went for it and everyone crushed it. Overall, it was about being free and having a good time. That’s what Scott, Ariana and I wanted to get across.”
Thursday, September 21
11AM: Whatever floats your (junk) boat.
And in comes the sightseeing. Beyond Hong Kong’s skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of the city are the harbors and mountains surrounding it. To get the closest look possible, we hopped on a traditional Chinese sailing ship called a “junk boat” that took us to an island across from where we were staying. The waves may be rocky, but as you looked back to the skyline and forward to the peaks beyond, the views are a can’t-miss opportunity for any traveler, especially if you’re on a time crunch like us.
2PM: Lunch on Lamma Island.
Though Grande was busy prepping for her last show, her trainer Pasternak confirmed she would have totally been down to try local seafood. “Out of nowhere, I’ll ask her what she ate that day,” he said. “She’ll be like, ‘I’m bored, I need more dinner options.’ So I’ll tell her to call me so we can talk it out. When she’s in a new country, I’ll make a list of all the local foods and restaurants I want her to experience. She’s good about crossing things off the list because she’s really open to experiencing different foods of the world.”
7PM: Get your black bunny ears ready!
The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Last, but not least, Grande gifted us with VIP tickets to the very last leg of her tour. There’s nothing like seeing an artist say farewell to life on the road; it was incredible to be part of something so special.
“I don’t even want to go home and relax,” Grande shared. “At the same time, it’s been a lot emotionally. It’s been very challenging for all of us involved. So it would be nice to really hold my loved ones close for a little while, stay home for a little bit. But knowing me, I’m going to be in the studio because I love it, and I want to create. I started an album already a year ago, over a year ago, but I want to keep creating, and it’s not done yet. So I’m going to take my sweet ass time, so I’ll be rested and ready to go again as soon as possible.”