12 Days of Feminists: Ariana Grande

This year, we’re celebrating the women who showed up, raised their voices and fought for change—like singer and feminist force, Ariana Grande

Meaghan Wray
ariana grande feminist: grande in pink dress with mic, with illustration of four fists up in solidarity

(Photo: Getty; photo illustration: Joel Louzado)

At five feet tall, rocking the highest of ponytails and the tallest of thigh-high boots, Ariana Grande may not at first “appear” to be the feminist force of nature that she’s grown into. But if you’ve been watching her closely over the past few years, you may have noticed something—she is small, but damn is she mighty.

Ari is always proving that she’s more than just her exes and her image—and 2018 was no exception. It’s true that a lot of people discredit her brand of feminism, saying her open expression of sexuality is actually regressive—that the way she dresses, presents herself and acts automatically strips her of the agency she has over her body. But Grande is determined to get the message out that feminist expression doesn’t look the same for everyone.

Take, arguably, her biggest song this year, “God Is a Woman,” from her latest studio album, Sweetener. (FYI, both song and album were just nominated for GRAMMYs.) Chock full of feminist lyrics and imagery, Ari reimagined Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam with herself as Adam, and had Madonna recite Samuel L. Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 speech (“and I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my sisters”) from Pulp Fiction while Grande wielded a mallet, wearing elbow-length gloves that read “POWER.” While some criticized the song’s chorus for being focused on male pleasure—with lyrics like “you, you love it how I move you/you, you love it how I touch you”—they’ve forgotten that sexual liberation is, for many women, a crucial part to reclaiming their bodies.

On that subject, in November, Grande thank u, next’ed Twitter’s resident misogynist bully, Piers Morgan, in a perfect thread of clapbacks after he charged her and British all-female pop band Little Mix for the highly unoriginal crime of using their bodies to sell records. With eloquence and a dash of sarcasm, Grande put Morgan’s flippant double standard and critique of young women’s sexuality on blast—while also perfectly defining her personal brand of feminism: “Women can be sexual AND talented, naked and dignified. It’s OUR choice & we will keep fighting till people understand.”

Let’s talk about selling records for real for a second. Sweetener debuted on top of the Billboard 200, and its first two singles—“No Tears Left to Cry” and “God Is a Woman”—were in the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 at the same time. Money-wise? In its first week, Sweetener garnered 127,000 in actual album sales; her fastest-selling album yet. In “Successful,” also from Sweetener, Grande rightfully celebrates her career achievements—an act often portrayed as egotistical or unwarranted for womenand encourages her fans, even just by the act of singing along with the catchy lyrics, to do the same. On the flip side, in “Thank u, next,” she finds empowerment in what many women categorize as failure: romantic breakups.

When talking about Ari’s exes, it’s impossible to not acknowledge Mac Miller. When the 26-year-old rapper died of a fentanyl overdose in September, something unsurprising happened—she was blamed, as women often are, for not sticking around and taking care of him as he struggled with addiction. Miller’s defenders came at her with disturbing messages like “you did an evil thing” and “you should have stayed with him if he had a problem, as his girlfriend.” Despite her obvious pain at Miller’s loss, Grande had another important message for her female fans—this time, about all the things they don’t need to be: babysitters or mothers for the men in their life.

I wish I could say that Grande’s work around challenging sexist female tropes is done, but sadly, I’m sure 2019 will bring more of the same. On the bright side, I know that Ari will keep blasting the bigoted with kindness, a bit of smart sarcasm and the wrath of 1,000 acrylic nails.

Related:

12 Days of Feminists: Chrystia Freeland
12 Days of Feminists: Constance Wu
12 Days of Feminists: Tracee Ellis Ross
12 Days of Feminists: Vivek Shraya
12 Days of Feminists: Amber Tamblyn
12 Days of Feminists: Lizzo
12 Days of Feminists: Christine Blasey Ford
12 Days of Feminists: Meghan Markle
12 Days of Feminists: Serena Williams

 

 

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