Breaking Free: Tracing the Meteoric Rise of Ariana Grande

Posted September 19, 2015 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Rising pop singer proves she has the chops to compete with the bigger divas

The headlines this summer haven’t been exactly all that encouraging for rising pop music princess Ariana Grande. Since the strange doughnut shop scandal, now dubbed as “DonutGate” by buzzy gossip sites, the 22-year old singer has been on the move to repair her image, while also proving she’s the one to watch in pop music. The first part is crucial: licking unpurchased artisan doughnuts and shouting “I hate America” is a dangerous recipe to career suicide.

She’s apologized not just once. But many times. One in an extended statement published on her Twitter handleTwo of them are in video form on YouTube. One of those videos apparently wasn’t good enough after self-proclaimed body language experts pointed out how laughable and unbelievable the singer seemed.

Regardless of how honest Grande seemed, the scandal is now water under the bridge, and looks like a silly game when compared to the media war concerning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and “Emailgate.” It’s old news, and doesn’t overshadow the talent of the prissy pop star. Her voice has often been compared to heyday-era Mariah Carey. And lately that strong empowering voice has been etched into a slew of radio staples. Many of them are guest supported (i.e. the Iggy Azalea-supported “Problem,” the Mac Miller “The Way,” Zedd’s “Break Free,” the Jessie J/Nicki Minaj-powered “Bang Bang”).

With catchy melodies, urban beats and some of the industry’s most-forward songwriters and producers on deck, Grande’s pool of hits have only multiplied. Last year’s release of My Everything, Grande’s sophomore album, surprisingly wowed the ears of music critics, including this one. And as predicted, a flow of very successful singles were ultimately revealed. Five of those songs have already crossed the RIAA-platinum certified finishing line. “The way you get five hits is to have five strong songs that could all be first singles,” Republic Records executive VP Charlie Walk told Billboard this past April.

Although most of her catalog seems to be packaged with intoxicating club-ready riffs, The Weeknd-guested “Love Me Harder,” her slowest ballad to ever hit the Top Ten, proves she’s not just an uptempo adrenaline junkie.

This week Grande, 22, added a few more notches in her celebrity belt when she revealed ARI By Ariana Grande, a new fragrance created by LUXE labs. As if she’s honing in on her innocent Nickelodeon period, she’s often described the scent as “sweet, girly and marsmellow-y.” The final selection of the ARI perfume, which included input by her openly gay brother Frankie, seems to be marketed to the teen demo, those who can easily crown Grande with a dozen more Teen Choice Awards. But the biggest breakout moment happened when the bubbling diva went viral after appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Her media blitz pit stop with Fallon included a round of Wheel of Musical Impressions, a fun quasi-karaoke game that leaves the Roots tweaking songs in the style of the selected artist. The wheel options allowed Grande to impersonate the voices of a trifecta of pop divas: Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Celine Dion. And honest to God, she nailed them perfectly. Almost the entire time, Grande had a look of seriousness planted on her. A smile appeared once or twice, but no serious outbursts of laughter. In those moments, she was imitating the legends that have come before her, mimicking every one of their respected nuances to the tee.

The old proverb “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” may be a justifiable rule of thumb for Grande, who still has yet to kick crossover into the hierarchy of top-tier female crooners, but this week’s “a-ha” moment granted a clear window into Grande’s marvelous gift. She has proven to be the possessor of the chops that may one day beat them at their own game.

Grande, who announced a new single (“Focus”) dropping “very soon,” is currently in the middle of her “Honeymoon” international tour with R&B singer Prince Royale.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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