Growing up in the public eye has brought mixed fortunes to the cast of young Americans staking their claim for the heady promises of showbiz. Their ascent, so exposed and driven, can either lead to new and challenging opportunities, or the crash-and-burn consequences of adolescent instinct, depending on their determination and objectives. As Britney reached for the shaver, for example, Justin was calculating a more judicious career move.
Twenty-year-old Ariana Grande is propelled by the most genuine of motivations: authenticity. Remaining true to herself, and preserving a belief in the virtues of her art, has expedited her rise from kids TV star to credible pop chanteuse. Instead of rebelling against the clean image she’d portrayed as Cat Valentine in Nickelodeon’s Victorious and offshoot Sam & Cat, Ariana chose naked ambition over naked portraits.
“Music is the most important thing in the world for me,” she tells Clash. “So, I feel like I’m provocative when I need to be, and I love feeling sexy and I love stepping up and being fun and everything. But for me, the main focus is the music, and I am glad that that comes across.”
Her focus was undeterred by the 18-hour days and grueling schedules endured while juggling TV commitments with recording sessions, clashing during the making of last year’s debut album, ‘Yours Truly’. The commitment paid off as the album smashed in at the top of the US chart in September, and broke top 10s across the globe, while her subtle maturation was evident in the astute pairings within – namely Mac Miller’s roguish rap on bouncy breakout single ‘The Way’, and Big Sean’s self-assured swagger on ‘Right There’.
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Ariana Grande, ‘The Way’ feat. Mac Miller
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Ariana’s honeyed vocals – lazily but justifiably compared to Mariah Carey’s – are confident yet sweet, suggestive but not offensive. It’s little wonder she’s an icon to millions of young girls.
“I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, what can I do to shock people today?’” she says, hinting at her more controversial peers. “I just think like, ‘Okay, let’s go make music’. I mean, I like the idea of separating myself from my younger image in a gradual, authentic way – I don’t really feel comfortable doing something out of control to convey my maturity, because it doesn’t feel genuine to me. So I will convey sexiness and maturity in ways that I’m comfortable with, but that’s not my priority when it comes to the music. It just speaks for itself. Like, it’s so different already that people are getting the point. So I would rather just focus on the music.”
In a country that thrives on reinvention and triumph, Grande is assertively leading pop’s new guard, and achieving her own American Dream is credited to a work ethic she inherited from her mother – the CEO of a military communications manufacturer. “I love working,” she explains. “It makes me happy. When I have too much time off it makes me feel very weird. So I get that from my mom.”
Considering her inalienable rights, Ariana’s pursuit of happiness is currently being concentrated on inner peace over material wealth. “I’m very happy with the work part of my life,” she begins proudly, “and as far as the personal part of my life, I’m constantly working on achieving my spiritual happiness and fulfillment in my heart. I go to the Kabbalah Center all the time, and I meditate, and I’m always talking to my friends about life and sitting outside until late at night and we’re always helping each other out.
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A lot of people just want to be famous – I never wanted that. I just wanted to make music…
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“There’s a personal part of it all that people don’t really think about, but it’s a lot of pressure and you have to make sure that you have all the right people around you to keep going, and make sure you’re at your strongest and ready to keep going. I’m definitely very lucky with my friends and my family.”
‘Yours Truly’ was over two years in the making – its protraction attributed to Ariana’s dissatisfaction with the direction and its digressing relevance to her amassing years; turning 18, she started over again, redoing tracks until she was completely satisfied with her new course. In contrast, her second album was effortlessly conceived, and comes just under a year after her debut, slated as it is for release later in 2014.
“I found my niche with the first album,” she reasons, “and then with this second one, I just started trying all new things and taking risks while still trying to remain as authentic in myself as I probably could. And it all sort of fell into place very quickly.”
The album is preceded by killer lead single ‘Problem’, which evokes classic ’90s R&B with its jubilant vocal peaks and jazzy sax loop, and feature’s Big Sean’s breathy chorus and Iggy Azalea spitting on fiery form. As we speak, Ariana is still practically breathless from her show-stealing performance of the track with Azalea at the previous night’s Billboard Music Awards – the dynamic duo, along with the UK’s own Charli XCX, who guested on Iggy’s ‘Fancy’, exemplified the tenacious product of the girl power generation.
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Ariana Grande, ‘Problem’ feat. Iggy Azalea
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“That was one of the most fun parts of the performance last night,” Ariana gushes, “to be on stage with so many young ambitious artists who are just getting started really, and I think they’re so fantastic. I love their attitude.”
Again, the disparity of Ariana’s charm and Iggy’s front proved a victory, and shrewdly widened each of their appeals to an international TV audience. “I feel like if you try new things and you experiment and are constantly putting out music and you just do what feels good as long as it feels authentic,” she says, using that word again, “then all those things you can feel and you can reach as many people as you want.”
Post-show praise and celebrations were curtailed, however, as Ariana literally stepped off-stage in Vegas to be whisked to the airport, flew back to LA, caught her own performance on TV at home with her family, then edited her new video with the director and friends in her bedroom until 5am.
“That’s the part of the American Dream that I think some people who really want to be recognised don’t realise,” she sighs, “how much work goes along with it. Because a lot of people just want to be famous – I never wanted that; I just wanted to make music, so I feel like it’s got to come from the right place.”
It’s an attitude that’s clearly working. Throw in a management team shared with Justin Bieber, the credible acclaim already garnered, 15 million Twitter followers, and a Little Black Book of supportive famous friends, and all the ingredients of a megastar fall into place.
Yet, even the prospect of platinum sales proves trivial to the immaterial girl: “I don’t think that success brings happiness,” she concludes, thoughtfully. “I think that achieving happiness is a success, like whatever that means to you. I don’t think that selling a lot of records makes you happy – I think that will make you temporarily happy and you’ll feel great and you’ll be like, ‘Hey, I just did this great song and sold a bunch of records!’
“I think that the idea of the American Dream, of success bringing happiness, is very superficial. I think that happiness comes from a different place. I feel like people have more to offer than just being really successful. The American Dream is a very wide, vast, weird topic for me, because it’s all very confusing and conflicting in my mind, but I do feel like everybody needs to keep trying, you know what I mean? I think that people need to try as hard as they can to achieve their happiness and their success, and I hope that they go hand-in-hand.”
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Ariana Grande, ‘Right There’ feat. Big Sean
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Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Jones Crow
‘Problem’ is out now in the US and is released in the UK in July. Find Ariana Grande online here.
This interview is taken from the new, American Dream-themed issue of Clash magazine. Buy a copy here.