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Ariana Grande stole the Grammys spotlight without even showing up

She created her own private outfit reveal and a very long commercial in the middle of the broadcast.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Ariana Grande, arguably the world’s biggest pop star right now, wasn’t at the event that refers to itself as “music’s biggest night.” It wasn’t because she got snubbed — Sweetener actually picked up an award for Best Pop Vocal Album, netting her first ever Grammy, and “thank u, next” wasn’t eligible this year — it was because she’d sparred with the event’s producers on her performance.

But it didn’t matter, because Grande stole the night anyway.

Smack in the middle of the awards show, after she’d already won her award, Grande dropped a series of Instagram photos revealing her in the custom Zac Posen gown she’d had made for the event. “When @zacposen makes you a custom gown it doesn’t matter if you’re singing or not,” she wrote in the caption.

That the dress was Cinderella-esque likely wasn’t a coincidence. She’s had a tumultuous two years, including a terrorist attack at her concert, the death of an ex-boyfriend, and a very public whirlwind romance, followed by an even more public broken engagement. Grande has adopted the aesthetics of rom-coms and glitz in her music videos and larger public image. It wasn’t a surprise to see that had she shown up to the Grammys, she’d be dressed just like one of the most iconic romantic heroines in the western canon.

But it wasn’t just her dress that pulled attention away from what was happening onstage. Almost immediately after the post, CBS aired a commercial for Apple Music that featured an entire minute of her latest single “7 rings,” sung by a memoji version of Grande.

It’s just one example of the ways in which certain individual celebrities have the singular ability to overshadow the rest of their industry. On the Thursday before the Grammys, Grande confirmed on Twitter that she had pulled out of the show. Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich told the Associated Press that though they wanted Grande to perform, “she felt it was too late for her to pull something together for sure.”

Grande, however, disputed his comments on Twitter. “i’ve kept my mouth shut but now you’re lying about me,” she wrote. “i can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken. it was when my creativity & self expression was stifled by you, that i decided not to attend. i hope the show is exactly what you want it to be and more.”

So no, we didn’t end up getting to see an Ariana Grande performance at tonight’s Grammys, but in some ways, we sort of did. Just because celebrities aren’t physically there — and it seemed like hardly any were — doesn’t mean that the pop culture machine stops turning, and just because Grande wasn’t at “music’s biggest night” doesn’t mean that 2019 won’t continue being her year.