Ariana Grande’s Music Videos: Problematic and Dangerous

This wasn’t always the case. Ariana Grande’s music videos being problematic and dangerous. In the best interest of Grande’s career as an elite singer, she and her agent and her staff must stop taking unnecessary attention away from Grande’s vocals.

Ariana Grande started her short-stunt acting career (okay, maybe more like a 3 year acting career, but she’s hardly an actress nowadays) on Nickelodeon. She starred as the red-haired Cat Valentine, a ditsy character mainly played for up for laughs, in a show that first aired in 2009 called Victorious.

catvalentinemrpurple

Lol what is she doing with a giraffe? Her favorite animal is a seahorse!

Since being on the show she’s changed up her look drastically, swapping out red hair dye for ponytails and flowery dresses for shorter skirts. She’s gone from innocent princess to diva queen, as this is shown in her casting for Scream Queens. Even though she was used heavily in the marketing for the show in 2015, she was killed off in the first episode. I’ve heard she’s made a re-appearance in the show since then, but it’s safe to say that her contribution to the show was more hype than character. It should be noted that I have no qualms about this transformation. In fact, it may be seen as very natural since she’s been in the public eye at a very young age. It’s only normal to go through an exploratory stage during teenage years, and plus, women should be able to wear whatever they feel like wearing.

ArianaGrandeScreamQueens.jpg

How does all this relate to her music videos, you ask? Well, I think Ariana Grande has set a precedence for becoming distracted. She experienced early success and received recognition from a Broadway musical production called 13 in 2007 as Charlotte, one of the cheerleaders in the play. Why the heck then did Grande have these stints as an actress thereafter? I think it’s agreeable to say that she’s known for her music. Clearly, this endeavor has been very profitable as all three of her albums have yielded her humongous popularity. Shouldn’t she try to build a career around this aspect of her life? Why engage in any other high-profile activities?

Since producing her first album, Yours Truly, in 2013, she’s made 19 music videos. Let’s take a look at her first one with Zach Miller in The Way.

Okay, so she’s already made the switch into ponytails and short skirts here. More importantly, she’s playing a character in this story. The lyrics go: “I love the way you make me feel, I love it, I love it.” So it makes sense that a music video that would accompany The Way is flirty and light-hearted with Zach Miller, the rapper. And that is exactly what we get. Everytime Ariana is on screen without Zach, she’s usually dancing or playing with balloons the way Bill Clinton would. And this is not an isolated instance that I specifically picked out. In her music video with Big Sean in Right There, she’s personifying her early identity as a princess, wearing a long regal dress throughout a majority of the video. It’s easy to focus on her vocals in these videos, because the music video relates to what she is singing about in the song.

Now we make our way over to her second album, My Everything, in 2014. This was after Grande got hit by a wing of a Victoria’s Secret model. What she was wearing then seems to have really affected her line of outfits for future shows and performances.

arianagrandevictoriassecretshow

High top boots, underwear-like pants, sports-bra resembling top, skin-tight clothes. Sorry for lack of better descriptors. I have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to fashion. However, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that Ariana Grande blends in with the models here.

Once again, it should be emphasized that I have no problem with Ariana Grande sexualizing herself as long as that was her choice (and not a byproduct of external forces). And there’s evidence to suggest that this is indeed her own conscious decision.

To prove to my readers that I am okay with a sexualized Ariana Grande, let’s talk about a music video I really like: Break Free.

I don’t like this video for the same reasons I would have liked The Way or Right There. This is because there is a big discord between what is being sung and what is being displayed on screen. Based on narrative alone, you’d think the lyrics would be about a space princess kicking some serious alien butt. However, what Ariana Grande sings in Break Free is closer to a feminist anthem about detaching from male courtship.

The reason why I do like the music video is because of its energetic and quirky charm. Take a quick scroll through the video to the end where it’s a retro disco dance party in a spaceship. What the heck is that elephant thing doing there?!? It’s just all so weird and I love it. To say that Ariana Grande isn’t sexualized here would be crazy. I mean, for crying out loud, missiles come flying out of her boobs (!), much like whip cream did in Katy Perry’s California Gurls.

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What the heck is going on?

So why do I suddenly take offense to Grande’s latest string of music videos from her album, Dangerous Woman? What makes these videos so different than her previous outings?

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From: Let Me Love You, Dangerous Woman, and Into You

This is where I draw the line. I understand that this new album is appropriately titled, “Dangerous Woman,” often talking about sex and other promiscuous activity. I have to ask then… why is Ariana Grande constantly posing for the camera? Ariana Grande is not a model, nor is she a sexual object. She is a singer. There are certainly other ways to portray the themes of her album without zooming in on her boobs and butt, dressing her up in lingerie, and putting her on a bed. Take a look at a music video by another top-class vocalist, Christina Aguilera, where a song about sex is translated more tastefully. The camera work mimics more of cinema than photo shoot.

Ariana Grande is not a model, nor is she a sexual object. She is a singer.

If you are going to sincerely deny the creative license of music video creators to conceal more parts of Ariana Grande’s body while still getting across the message of her songs, then you just want to see Grande in a porno. It can be done my friends, a music video about sex that still allows the singer to remain a singer and less of an actress, dancer, or model.

For skeptics who think this article is simply a fixation on Ariana Grande’s clothing choices or describing a problem squarely on the shoulders of male-gaze, let’s take a look at a damning performance from Grande at the VMAs a couple weeks ago.

Are you kidding me? Is that Ariana Grande… singing while she is cycling?!? This is absurd. Have you ever seen Adele do that? Have you ever seen Celine Dion do that? No. I don’t believe it.

This performance proves that Grande has her priorities in all the wrong places. Sure, there is performance value in a theatrical performance, but never should a performance get in the way of a great vocals. In the same way, I think Grande is only hurting her singing career and reputation by focusing more on her looks and finances than her songs and image. To put it simply, it is distracting. And this isn’t just a problem with her male demographic. I’ve heard many girls say that she is dislikable, even as they have to admit she is a talented singer. If she could somehow remove any facade that she currently has, I think she would easily be widely-recognized as one of this generation’s greatest unimpeded singers.

While this post is indeed a scathing critique on Ariana Grande, it should be said that I wouldn’t even care about this if I didn’t think Grande had the talent to do something more with her career. Do I have a problem with Katy Perry and her California Gurls music video? No, I don’t. Do I have a problem with Kim Kardashian publishing a book about her selfies? No, I don’t.

kimkardashianselfie

But Ariana Grande has real potential. She doesn’t need her looks to reach fame and success. And to say that her music videos aren’t perpetuating any preexisting images that might be damaging to her career would simply be false. I think if Grande really focused on being known for her music and not for anything else, then she would give me the impression that her music comes first and being a controversial, provocative public figure comes second. Who knows, then maybe I would be commending her vocal performance at the VMAs instead of condoning it. Come on, you’re better than this. Let’s get our priorities straight and put the focus back in your music.

 

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2 thoughts on “Ariana Grande’s Music Videos: Problematic and Dangerous

  1. (Minor correction – Victorious was on Nickelodeon.)

    A couple thoughts: First, Ariana is hardly the first diva-style singer to approach and perhaps overstep the line of “pop puppet” (a term Colton uses for singers who lean more on production and theatrics than vocal performance; think Katy Perry, Britney, etc.). Christina Aguilera, one of the three or four most accomplished female pop vocalists of the past quarter century, had a famously panned album called Stripped where she presented herself a sexy, promiscuous pop star. In fact, I think this type of identity exploration process is fairly routine for someone who has spent their entire post-adolescent life in the spotlight and is seeking an identity. If we’re lucky, Ariana will bounce back with an album (and marketing campaign) that hits Ariana’s strengths much better, much like Christina came responded with Back to Basics.

    Also, the nature of the pop music business is: If you are young and female and attractive, there’s a ton of incentive to sexualize yourself from a business perspective — it gets eyes and magazine covers. Basically from the start of her career — including plenty on My Everything — Ariana has had a least some of this image-focused, sexualized presentation of herself (think “Bang Bang”). She’s trying to straddle the line between sex icon and pure talent, which is a tough go.

    Take a look down the bestselling artists of all time. A lucky few have had huge success going the pure vocal talent route — Whitney Houston, Adele, Celine Dion. More developed success with a focus on savvy and image and presentation (usually as a sex icon) rather than vocals: Britney, Katy Perry, Madonna, Rihanna. But basically all of the giants who have split the focus — mega-talents who also used their attractiveness as a tool have had some trouble reconciling that presentation component with the artistic component at some point in their career: Mariah Carey and Xtina are the super-obvious examples. Taylor Swift has also faced that challenge increasingly, though her “mega-talent” is earnest songwriting, not expressive vocals. And Lady Gaga is curious because of the way she turns her sexuality into something gnarly, almost baroque, as an artistic statement.

    Anyways, I’m not really disagreeing with you. I’m just saying that it’s not surprising that she’s struggling to find balance between being a sex icon and a vocal diva when you look at the context. It must be really, really hard to continue to evolve artistically but also drive sales.

    • Hey Dan! Thanks for commenting. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say on my thoughts. And thanks for the correction. I have updated the post with the correct information.

      I didn’t realize Aguilera had an album called Stripped that was heavily criticized. I’ll have to listen to more of her music to see if I think she, among others, are facing the same dilemma Ariana is as this “pop puppet.” That idiom certainly doesn’t have a nice ring to it. In any case, I suppose I should probably give Grande a bit more leniency in regards to her identity exploration or financial pursuits. I don’t mean to be harsh, but it does hurt me as a fan of her music that she’s going in a direction that seems damaging to her musical career. Like you say, I’m just hoping for some sort of rebound or refocusing of her goals.

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