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Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” and the vicarious thrill of spending money we’ll never have

Why do rich celebrities make us feel richer than we are?


Ariana Grande’s new song “7 Rings,” and its accompanying video, both of which serve as a three-minute crash course on what it’s like to have endless money and no qualms about spending it, debuted to a fairly one-note response.

Search the term on Twitter, and you’ll see what I mean: droves of people expressing that they are broke, but they are happy that Grande is rich. Or they are broke, but they are going to pretend to be rich. They are broke, but they feel rich. They are broke, but they are going to spend their last dollar. They are broke, but they are ordering a fancier coffee today. Or, most optimistically, we are all broke, but “7 Rings will fix the economy.”

Five years after Lorde appeared on the scene co-opting the sonic textures of hip-hop while sneering at its wealth fascination, eight months after the first sugary rap-pop collaboration from Tiffany & Co, a few weeks after even the New York Times came to the realization that rap is popular culture and Cardi B’s Cinderella story will appear in future social studies textbooks, “7 Rings” is such a crystallization of its moment that it feels like the only logical first bop of 2019. What could possibly make more sense this January than the princess of buoyant, life-affirming choruses bragging about Louboutins and borrowing her ad libs from Travis Scott?


Part of the fun of “7 Rings” — which is based on The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” — comes from the fact that Ariana Grande is perhaps the only person in the world who could credibly release a trap-infused rework of a Rodgers and Hammerstein joint. She’s also, I hope, the only pop star who would dare to put a Barbie palace and an homage to Two Chainz’ pink trap house in the same video.

But more importantly: The plot of the song is Ariana shopping, for herself and for her friends — six of whom she gifted matching Tiffany diamond rings last fall. The plot of the song is money. “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it,” goes the chorus, propped up by a list of specifics. “Look at my neck, look at my jet,” Grande orders. “Happiness is the same price as red-bottoms,” she explains patiently. Following a year of discussion about rich people hair maintenance, she leans into the joke: “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it.”

We cannot relate. However, we have GIFs to share. Oddly, we are not bent out of shape about it. We are, if anything, grateful. There is something about this excess — as opposed to Paul Manafort’s ostrich jacket excess or a Google executive’s Burning Man excess — that makes it lack the sting. For some reason, we love and cherish wealth disparity when it’s handled by pop stars: “Shut up and take my money” is as common a refrain on fandom Twitter as “run me over with your car,” but I doubt I’ll live to see anyone tweet the same at the CEO of Pfizer.

“If you’re tired of being poor, just listen to ‘7 Rings’ by Ariana Grande and you’ll suddenly be a rich bitch,” the tweets say, which is not true and is also not so bad. Maybe celebrities have money specifically for the purpose of letting us experience it vicariously. Or, they have it, so we might as well delight in it. What else are we going to do?

The tycoons and tech gods sure aren’t letting us have any fun with their money. The public good they purport to serve is almost always actually their own business interests, even when they’re boasting major charitable donations, and each time they speak we’re reminded only of the eyeball-popping tension between their enormous sense of self-importance and simultaneous refusal to accept responsibility for anything that results from their actions.

A person like Ariana Grande, on the other hand, has been publicly put through the wringer for events that were in no way her fault and which caused her extreme personal pain, yet the sole objective of her career is to dole out three-minute reprieves to the rest of us. I am glad to have her. I am glad that other people have her. She is not stealing my personal information or fudging the tenets of democracy. She is telling me I’m successful and beautiful, neither of which is as true as it could be, but feels good to hear all the same.

“I’d rather spoil all my friends with my riches,” Grande promises, midway through the song. Honestly, thank you!

I’m not arguing that a multi-millionaire buying expensive jewelry for a few members of her inner circle constitutes wealth redistribution. But I am arguing that it’s Friday, I’m at work, and if Ariana Grande were to take on a typical billionaire’s grating posture of frugality, not only would I know she’s lying, I’d also be watching a boring music video.