Truth be told, I think I'm fairly late getting on the Ariana bandwagon. I didn't watch Victorious, or iCarly, or Sam and Cat. The extent of my knowledge of these shows was, in fact, exclusively limited to her co-stars (or, I guess those shows' main stars, Victoria Justice and Miranda Cosgrove, respectively.) And when her rise to super-stardom became impossible to ignore? I kinda just dismissed her as another bi-product of the Disney/Nickelodeon tween-machine.
It started, then, as a guilty pleasure. "The Way" popped up in my Pandora stream and I immediately took to it, knowing nothing about the song (including, at the time, who it was by.)
"Damn, THAT's the Ariana Grande people keep talking about?"
But still, I wasn't totally convinced. Auto-tune and brilliant songwriting made a pop star out of Hilary Duff (who, lets be real, couldn't actually sing a lick) and even managed to pull something catchy out of Lindsay Lohan. So it wasn't a real stretch to imagine that it could work it's magic for Ariana as well, right?
Being the curious soul that I am, then, I did some more digging. The first place I looked? Live performances, of course! I mean really, the ability to sing live is the easiest way to tell the frauds from the truly talented.
Alright, if you're on Ellen, to me that immediately adds some cred. And while you can watch the video for yourself to decide how you feel, to me the most perfect part were its obvious imperfections. The girl has some pipes, that much is made fairly clear. But 30 seconds into the video when she tries, but doesn't quiteee hit that high note? THAT is an artist.
Unless you're playing a CD or a pre-recording, the exercise of singing live is that you take the good with the bad. And while that's not, by any means, an excuse to sing poorly (Britney and Madonna), part of the appeal of actually going to a concert is that you get to feel like the experience you had there was one wholly unique to you as a fan (and to the concert you attended). I mean think about it. If every concert were the same, then the moments that you "shared" with the artist, irrespective of the thousands and thousands of other fans who were also there, aren't anything that special. Even with the advent of YouTube and smartphone videos and social sharing, you can't replicate the emotional and physical appeal of actually being THERE. Experience, ironically, is progressing away from seeing anything and everything, to seeing only the things that really matter. That's why when something like this (below) happens, people tend to remember it.
(Sidenote: The uh... somewhat intense defense (and fanatical Ariana-centric user comments) below the video should speak for themselves. What exactly that means, I'm scared to guess.)
Anyway, from there (Ellen) I was so, so in. Which would probably be fairly embarrassing for me to admit except that I openly root/campaign/fanboy for 5th Harmony to succeed (meaning my "embarrassing" quotient is already at rock bottom.) So what then, was the harm in digging further?
"Almost is Never Enough" is probably my favorite song released this year. So much so, that it was Almost (but not) Enough to make me see The Mortal Instruments. (See what I did there?) I've already gushed out my appreciation for it in an earlier post, so I wont re-hash that now. Just know that the nostalgic peripheries it creates are absolutely a real thing.
Despite her... admittedly youthful appearance, Grande is 20. Practically middle-aged, at a time when her industry peers (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, Victoria Justice) are "discovered" and working at 12. And so, I came to the only rational conclusion available to me.
Ariana Grande isn't human.
She's a robot.
She has to be.
I mean really, there is no other possible answer. How else to explain her meteoric rise from talented, but under-utilized sidekick on Victorious (whose lead ALSO wanted to be, and is, a singer) to the biggest young-female star on the planet?
She has 7.1 million followers on Instagram, 9.6 Million followers on Twitter and her recently released album debuted at #1 (the first female artist to do so with her first album since Kesha).
But those baseline numbers alone aren't what convinces me. Selena Gomez has those (although the chasm between their talent as singers is staggering), and so does Miley. The ones that make it beyond Disney/Nick are usually... cut from a similar cloth. Child stars who, with the exception of probably Shia Labeouf, capitalize on their tremendous (if temporary) popularity and leverage that into a career in music.
So what's different about Ariana? Superficially it's difficult to tell. She's short. And she's cute. She changes her hair color (from red, to brown, to dirty blond) but never her overall look (fun, flowery dresses and sometimes a headband). Her stated musical influences range from iconic/standard (Whitney/Mariah) to... fairly unorthodox (India.Arie and Big Sean). None of these traits is particularly outstanding since EVERYONE that I listed previously (and even most of the ones I didn't) has a similar combination of characteristics. But taken in their totality, they manifest into a greater understanding of why her appeal is so broad.
Talent, these days at least, is not enough to make a star. You can find a thousand people on YouTube who can sing, and frankly, who can sing well enough for me to want to go to their concert. And so there has to be some other variable. Some other undefinable characteristic that keeps the dearth of talent competitions (X-Factor, The Voice, The Sing Off, American Idol, America's Got Talent) afloat, and people still interested in their results.
In this regard, and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I think I have an answer to "why." It starts with the way she looks. And no, not whether she's pretty enough. Hers is, you see, the perfect balance of appealing, but not overly so. The downfall of every really attractive girl on any reality show ever (including, ironically, The Bachelor and Bachelorette), is that a large portion of the voting fan-base (teenage to adult girls/women) tends to feel threatened by someone who is stunningly attractive. And maybe they'd never admit this but the results, inevitably, are what they are.
Ariana, like Jennifer Lawrence, is pretty but more "aw-shucks" than say... Olivia Wilde or Angelina Jolie. And she's also squeaky clean (Miley? Hello? Is anyone out there?) and really, could have been someone that you knew growing up (aka, super highly relatable).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she always looks the same. Always. Which makes her superhumanly safe. You know exactly what you're going to get and that allows you to take her music for what it is (as opposed to, for example, being distracted by a bald head or a meat suit.)
Anyway, all of this just adds up to the perfect superstar. Like when Simon Cowell says "we've got a future pop star here," he literally means everything that Ariana represents. And that just shouldn't ever happen. I mean, there has to be a flaw somewhere, right? A "Zac Efron to Rehab" type bombshell? She met her last boyfriend on Twitter for heaven's sake!
... or maybe not. This video proves it. Anyone that can turn "99-Problems" into a bluesy, jazzy hit certainly doesn't have a single one (and certainly isn't human either.)