Saturday, October 25, 2014

9 questions you're too embarrassed to ask about Ariana Grande

Ariana performs in Chicago (Timothy Hiatt / Getty)

Ariana Grande is one of the biggest names in pop music this summer. For those who haven't been paying attention, it might seem like she came out of nowhere and rocketed into the national spotlight. And, indeed, with two albums in two years, Grande's ascent to pop-stardom has been swift.

Here's a recap of Grande's career thus far, and thoughts on what her future prospects look like.

1) Who is Ariana Grande?

Ariana Grande (pronounced gran-dey) is a 21-year-old actress turned singer-songwriter. She is known for her hit songs "The Way" and "Problem." She's five-feet tall, she (almost) has the lungs of Mariah Carey, and she opened for Justin Bieber after her debut album launched.

2) Is that her real name?

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Ariana Grande is unamused. (Jim Spellman/Getty)

Pretty much. Ariana Grande's birth name is Ariana Grande-Butera. Grande is her mother's maiden name. She does not have a middle name, as she made very clear in this tweet. She is "Italian American , half Sicilian and half Abruzzese."

3) How did she get famous?

Ariana Grande began her career when she premiered in 2008 in the Broadway musical 13. In 2010, she also began a role on the Nickelodeon show Victorious, where she played Cat Valentine. Eventually, Victorious was cancelled, but Grande's character was spun off in 2012 to the show Sam & Cat, where she had a more central role than she had on Victorious.

Grande has a couple of advantages over other child stars. First, she started later than many of them. When she began her career at 13, Grande was already old enough to decide what she wanted to do and how she wanted to accomplish it.

More importantly though, there was already a very clear distinction between whom she played on Nickelodeon and who she was in real life because — unlike Britney Spears, for example — she had always been a character on television instead of a dramatized version of herself.

She released her first album Yours Truly while filming Sam & Cat, after being scouted by Scooter Braun, the god of pop-managers, who also found and promoted Justin Bieber. "I don't think she needs to worry about anything other than being who she is," Braun told Complex Magazine.

She has since abandoned acting to pursue her music career. Nickelodeon announced in July that, despite great ratings, Sam & Cat had been cancelled after just one season.

4) Whom is she compared to?

Because of her vocal range, Grande is often compared to power vocalist Mariah Carey. Her vocal range, at four octaves, isn't quite the five octaves and two notes that Carey has, but it's not too shabby. Grande called Mariah Carey the greatest vocalist who ever lived because of "her range, her ability, and her control." Just listen to her cover Carey's "Emotions":

5) Can she dance?

Nope. Nope. Not at all.

Ariana Grande is a horrible dancer. When she performed songs on her first album, she followed the path of powerhouse vocalists like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion: she stood still and let her voice do the heavy lifting.

But in the promotion for her new album, Grande has tried to make the transition to pop princess, which means she's trying to dance. For Grande, most dancing is really just hair flipping. Watch her try here:

6) Is that the biggest struggle in her life?

No. Demons are.

Grande has been very clear that she does not believe humans are the only intelligent beings on this planet. She told Complex Magazine about a time that she photographed "three distinct faces" of demons, but later deleted the photo because it was "666 megabytes." Grande told Complex that she is very afraid of demons and something she calls black matter:

"Every time I closed my eyes I started seeing these really disturbing images with, like, red shapes. Then I opened my eyes and got back on the phone and was like, "I'm really scared and I don't want to go to bed tonight." And then I scooched over to the left side of my bed, because that's where the best service is in my room, and there was this massive black matter. I don't know what it was. It was like a cloud of something black right next to me. I started crying."

7) Why is she so popular this summer?

This summer, in a drought of new music, Ariana Grande released two songs: a pop anthem and a star-studded collaboration. Her single "Problem" featuring Iggy Azalea was a contender for song of the summer. Then she released "Break Free," a pop R&B jam that shows off Grande's massive soprano range.

8) Why is her new album such a big deal?

Grande's success has been the product of a massive marketing campaign. Grande's sophomore album is being released by Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group, and is promising to be a triple threat. In addition to a full album, Grande has released a music video with Iggy Azalea, will perform at the VMAs, and will debut a host of commercials for Target and Beats headphones.

In addition, My Everything was produced by pop god Max Martin. Martin is the producer that made Britney Spears a huge success and helped Taylor Swift turn the corner from country-rock to international pop star. As evidenced from the first single off My Everything, "Problem," Grande, too, is trying to make the transition from young talent with a golden voice to superstar. And she's doing so under Martin's direction, which gives her a distinct advantage.

9) Is Ariana Granda the next pop-queen?

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Ariana Grande performs in concert (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty)

The easiest answer here is maybe. Grande has potential. Her first studio album, Yours Trulydebuted atop on the Billboard chart, putting her in the same ranks as Britney Spears and Beyoncé, but also Ashlee Simpson. The first album for each of those artists debuted at no. 1. For Britney and Beyoncé, that meant infinite fame. For Ashlee Simpson, not so much. Unlike Simpson, Grande certainly has a natural talent in her impressive vocal range. That, by itself, could propel her to further fame.

But this summer has allowed Grande to exist in a competition vacuum. No other major female pop star has released a big hit this summer, so she has mostly had the charts to herself (excluding Iggy, who is, for all intents and purposes, a rapper). Once Grande has to compete for teenage fans with a new Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, or Rihanna release this fall, we'll see just what her pop legacy will look like.

Grande's new album, My Everything, will be released August 25.

Read more from Vox's 9 Questions series: NormcoreIsrael-PalestineGwenyth Paltrowthe Caliphate.

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