Everyone and their mom knows about Ariana Grande. OK, maybe not *everyone* — but your teen definitely knows about (and probably LOVES) her.
Full disclosure: I don’t get it. Sure, her music is undeniable pop fun, but it took one listen to her giving an interview for me to say she is not for me.
As hard as this is for me to say (because I like to think my thoughts on everything matter), my opinion is utterly drowned out in the face of her being the third-most followed person on instagram with 149 million followers, her 61.8 followers on Twitter, and her insane billboard record-breaking hits.
Humbling as it is, her appeal to teens makes it worth my while to discover what exactly it is that has catapulted her from mere child actress to ultimate teen icon:
She is accessible.
Just like my generation did with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, teens today love knowing that they’ve grown up right alongside some of today’s hottest celebrities. Grande came onto the map back in 2010 on the Nickelodeon show Victorious, transitioned to a starring role on the spinoff Sam & Cat — both of which positioned her to sign with a record label and release her first album in 2013. Not only has she been on the radar for teens since they first started caring about celebrities, but she also goes out of her way to interact with her fans through social media. Grande is constantly liking and replying to tweets from her followers and even dropped major hints about her most recent project on her social media platforms. Teens feel like Ariana is accessible, and believe that she isn’t all that different from them. She comes off as relatable, and teens are eating it up.
She’s pushing boundaries.
As I mentioned previously, Grande’s music is chart-topping and record-breaking, making her an exciting artist to watch for any music fan. She’s the only artist (of all time!) 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. But she is also pushing the envelope in other ways. In 2018, she made headlines with her feminist single God is a Woman, which is consistent with the fact that women pretty much run her business ventures (read about who those women are and what they do at the end of this Billboard article). She also turns heads when it comes to her sexuality, especially after the release of the music video for her single Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored and its M. Night Shyamalan level plot twist at the end. She is also featured on a track with her BFF and longtime writing partner Victoria Monet, who identifies as bisexual, and sings, “I like women and men.” While there is still speculation about what all of that means for Grande’s own sexuality, and for the LGBTQ+ community that questions her motives, it is clear to her fans that she fits right into the fluidity-obsessed Gen Z world.
She’s been through it.
I think the biggest reason teens “stan” their queen Ari is that she has managed to stay successful and creative in the midst of some incredibly challenging and traumatic life events. In 2017, her concert at the Manchester Arena was the target of a terrorist attack that left 23 people dead and hundreds more injured. In the latter part of 2018, her ex-boyfriend rapper Mac Miller died by drug overdose mere months after their breakup. The end of her (brief) engagement to Pete Davidson was very, very public. Even one of these events would be a lot for any 20-something, but the fact that all of it happened to her pretty much back to back in her mid-20s is almost unbelievable. In a feat that surpasses my capacity for reason, her greatest successes as an artist have come from those events, evidence of her ability to transform trauma into an authentic expression of art. Teens love watching her overcome and grown, and they are inspired by her resilience.
While Grande is not necessarily my cup of tea, her following among teens is undeniably strong. For better or worse, she is an artist that encapsulates many of the values that Gen Z holds dear, meaning she could be around for a long time. If your teen is a fan, ask them what they like about her, talk about what they feel are her strongest qualities, and encourage them to think critically about some of the ways she is influencing our culture. If your teen is not a fan of hers, ask about the artists they do care about, what makes them worthy of their attention, and open the door for an ongoing conversation about the various ways they are impacting their fans, both positive and negative. All in all, it doesn’t hurt to understand why your teen cares about certain artists, especially those that are dominating most pop culture conversations. And who knows — maybe you’ll also end up playing her music in the car with your teen and happily sing along.