As one of the world’s biggest stars, Ariana Grande has had to get used to her life experiences playing out within the public eye – both the dramatic highs and the brutal lows.
We are taught that everyone has the right to a private life, though this appears to be a right that figures as recognisable as Ariana find themselves surrendering fairly early on in their careers. Each of her moments of joy become a collective cause for celebration – take her romantic at-home wedding to husband Dalton Gomez, which brought smiles to the faces of fans across the world when the news hit social media earlier this year.
It is, of course, a double-edged sword. Few can deny that Ariana has had an incredibly difficult few years, with every painful moment made public to millions and pored over in the media in excruciating detail. A break-up can be difficult at the best of times, let alone if dealing with such an event quietly and being allowed to heal in private isn’t even an option available to you.
A broken engagement, of course, is one thing – many of the events that Ariana has dealt with over the last few years are quite another. In September 2018, she became the undeserving target of cruel backlash after thousands of ill-advised social media users blamed her for the death of friend, collaborator and ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, who had tragically died of an accidental drug overdose aged 26 – it was a loss that Ariana herself was grieving at the time.
This came just fifteen months after the tragic events of 22nd May 2017, a date that thousands will forever associate with unimaginable trauma. Shortly after Ariana had finished a performance in Manchester, a member of the Islamist extremist group ISIS detonated an explosive at the venue, killing 22 and injuring hundreds of others. It’s an event that left her with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something which she continues to deal with to this day.
The idea of dealing with such a series of events in the space of just a few years is difficult to comprehend, let alone with the eyes of the world on you.
“I’m a person who’s been through a lot and doesn’t know what to say about any of it to myself, let alone the world,” she told Vogue in 2019.
“I’m walking this fine line between healing myself and not letting the things that I’ve gone through be picked at before I’m ready.”
Many of the experiences that Ariana has dealt with can be recognised within her music, which she has undeniably used as a way of coping with the grief of the last few years. Her fourth studio album, sweetener, arrived in August 2018 and concluded with a powerful tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing in the form of the closing track, get well soon. Concluding with around 40 seconds of silence, the song’s final runtime of 5 minutes and 22 seconds references 5/22, the date that the attack took place.
The album was followed by Ariana’s fifth studio album, thank u, next, just six months later. Written following the death of Mac Miller and her split from then-fiance Pete Davidson, many of the album’s lyrics address her much-publicised personal battles directly. Her refreshing honesty is something that many of Ariana’s fans have come to adore.
“I’ve been open in my art and open in my DMs and my conversations with my fans directly, and I want to be there for them, so I share things that I think they’ll find comfort in knowing that I go through as well,” she says.
“But also there are a lot of things that I swallow on a daily basis that I don’t want to share with them, because they’re mine. But they know that. They can literally see it in my eyes. They know when I’m disconnected, when I’m happy, when I’m tired. It’s this weird thing we have. We’re like fucking E.T. and Elliott.”
It’s clear to see that Ariana has no lack of self-awareness when it comes to just how much her fans care about her. In fact, so close is the bond that Ariana shares with her fans that she has even been known to send listeners clips of unreleased music to ask their opinions on tracks before approaching her label with this new material.
“Everyone thinks I’m crazy for doing it, but I care about what they have to say more than I care about what anyone at my label has to say,” Ariana explains.
With the support of her fanbase, Ariana has faced her lowest points with incredible perseverance – and she’s come out stronger on the other side. Her wedding to Dalton Gomez is just the latest in a series of much-deserved personal victories, each one a marker of how far the star has come.
Perhaps most telling of this change of fortune is the shift in her musical style following the release of her latest album, Positions. Whilst its predecessors – recorded during Ariana’s most painful years – featured themes of heartbreak, grief and struggles with her mental health, Positions sees Ariana in a much better, much more self-assured place.
She owes a lot of her recovery, she says, to therapy. Back in 2018, she told fans on Twitter that therapy had saved her life ‘so many times’. Now she’s keen to give fans the same opportunities to heal from their own traumas – last week, Ariana announced a partnership with online therapy platform BetterHelp in which she would be covering the cost of one month’s therapy for thousands of her fans. The offer was so popular amongst her fanbase that the final giveaway totalled over $3,000,000.
Given how much Ariana has changed over the years, it’s almost a certainty that she’ll enter a new era before too long. The short break before sweetener and thank u, next is just one testament to her work ethic, as is the fact that Positions arrived a mere few months after Ariana told fans that she had no plans to release new music during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the amount that I’ve worked this year, which was supposed to be my ‘off’ year, is crazy,” she told The Zach Sang Show in October 2020. “I’ve never been more non-stop in my entire life.”
The work has paid off for her once again, as Positions debuted at the top of album charts across the globe. However, Ariana maintains that whilst her wild chart success is appreciated, that’s not what it’s all about.
“I need to not put the pressure on myself to out-do what I’ve done,” she said, “It’s not the point of being an artist, it’s not why I started singing.”
“I was just as happy singing in gay bars after a show of thirteen (people). It’s about singing, it’s about loving music and how it feels to sing.”
“It’s really cool to have number ones and to have a Grammy. It’s amazing and I’m grateful and I’ll always be celebratory of those achievements, but I think – to me – I’m successful by being able to make something that I’m proud of and sing.”
We certainly hope that her success lasts for years to come – most would agree that she has more than earned it.