Break up with appropriation, Ariana, I’m bored

A close up picture of a woman smiling into the camera, wearing a blue hooded sweater, with the words "Baby Doll" tattooed on her finger which is held up to her face.
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Ariana Grande has been navigating trysts with controversy for years, all of which have seemed to occur in the general public’s periphery. Though many of her problematic actions have garnered public attention, like her anti-American comments and donut licking back in 2015, most of her antics haven’t been subject to the often irreversible damage of callout culture. That is to say, public outcry hasn’t warranted her being “cancelled” and amidst it all, the pop princess has continued to deal out hit after hit. Her prolific inclinations as an artist allowed her missteps to be relatively removed from her rapidly growing fame.

For a time.

However, upon the release of her latest album, thank u, next, Grande has made a catastrophic number of blunders — and these mistakes have not been eclipsed by her transformative new record. Instead, many desire that she be held accountable.

As Grande’s body of work has increased, so has her predisposition to muddling about in very hot water. Double-double, toil and trouble, among the public’s lit torches, the cauldron was bound to bubble.

thank you, next has thus far been well-received. The album’s release drew praise from die-hard fans and critics alike for being a fitting response to last year’s Sweetener — an auditory fact-checking of the album’s hefty dose of optimism. Grande herself has acknowledged “no tears left to cry” was an egregious miscalculation. And this is a fair judgement when taking into account the number of very public traumas she’s had to endure over the last few years.

From Manchester’s 2017 terrorist attack to the death of her former boyfriend Mac Miller, Grande has undergone enough tragedy for a lifetime and then some. thank u, next delivers a reality check and is a metamorphosing of artistry that closely tracks her own growth and change.

Regardless of what the album is successful in articulating, a number of controversies threaten to be a blight on the celebration of such a triumphant work.

The first of thank u, next’s criticisms zeroed in on Grande’s aestheticizing of Japanese culture with the single “7 Rings.” What many are calling Grande’s blatant appropriation of Japanese culture is just one item on a growing list of audience discontent.

Her use of Japanese characters on the single’s cover art, without any discernible purpose, would have been enough in and of itself. But Grande proceeded to flaunt a commemorative tattoo that contained an embarrassing flaw, and upon being alerted to this fact, sealed her own tomb of disrespect by stating, “It hurt like fuck n still looks tight.” It was confirmation of what many already identified as appropriation, but the flippancy of her response to criticism was all the more damning.

But the head-shaking acts of reckless disregard don’t stop there, folks.

Proving that any new single can be an equal opportunity for massive lapses in judgement, the release of thank u, next was accompanied by a new music video for the single, “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored.” While lyrically the song contains no real demeanor of problematic content, the video more than compensates.

The video follows Grande as she attempts to seduce a young man who is clearly spoken for. She does so by mimicking the style of his girlfriend (a woman who bears a striking resemblance to herself). Over lavish poolside flirtation and eerie mirrored halls, Grande switches her sexual attention from the man to his girlfriend throughout the video. It’s a stock replication of any trashy “obsessive, female deviant” trope you’ve ever seen, complete with a gratuitous lesbian almost-kiss.

At this point it’s hard to parse out if this act of queerbaiting is the result of carelessness, narcissism or an incompatible marriage of the two.

Grande has been hyperbolically referred to as a queer icon before, for no clear reason other than her mastery of pop music. And while this latest video could mark her own artistic foray into exploring her sexuality, there’s been no word on it yet. For now, the video reads simply as a new transgression against yet another community Grande is not apart of.

None of these recent missteps are brand-new behavior; appropriation and general lack of respect are all things we’ve seen from Grande before. Many have criticized her for her appropriation of black culture in appearance and manner of speech. Perhaps the vocal nature of recent criticisms derive from what The Hollywood Reporter has called Ariana Grande fatigue, the public’s oversaturation with all things Ariana Grande. But as the list of offensive behavior slowly unravels beside her most recent album, the question of why the public is growing less forgiving of the singer’s mistakes pales in comparison to the question of what offensive thing she will do next.

As a queer, Black and Japanese woman, Grande is truly making great leaps in representation for me, specifically. So for that, thank u, Ariana. And I wait with baited breath as I ask: what’s next?

Areyon Jolivette covers queer media. Contact her at [email protected].