Singer and actress Ariana Grande, 21, has everything going for her to become America’s next pop culture princess. Her YouTube covers from her pre-superstar days have millions of views. She spent years in front of the cameras on beloved Nickelodeon shows, resulting in a fiercely loyal fanbase of young girls and tweens. This summer, her pop career exploded with hit (“Problem”) after hit (“Break Free”) after hit (“Bang Bang”), the latter of which united her with Nicki Minaj, signaling acceptance within the A-list music crowd.
As it happens when any celebrity starts to experience massive fame, the detractors start sharpening their knives. So it’s not too surprising that in the last month, Grande has had a flood of negative headlines in the press, with stories all that claim virtually the same thing: She’s already very high-maintenance and exhibiting diva-esque behavior. (Requiring to only be photographed from the left side of her face; refusing to answer certain questions; acting rude to fans, etc.)
At first glance, this isn’t a damaging claim: Which pop star isn’t demanding? Doesn’t that come with the territory? On some level, sure. But Grande is in a particularly precarious position. Because despite the fact that she’s had a lot of success recently (her latest album “My Everything” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in August) she’s still a very, very new name. And as we’ve learned repeatedly through the trials and tribulations of many stars, our culture has a strange fascination with seeing the “fall” of a newcomer as much as the “rise.” (See: Spears, Britney.) If too many wrong moves are made in the very beginning, the Grande takeover could be over before it even really begins — and the narrative of her reputation will be out of her control.
So what can she do to battle this potential image problem? First and foremost, fix the most damaging claims that involve the lifeblood that makes or breaks a new performer, particularly one aimed at a younger crowd: The fans. Last month, a blog post went viral when a father detailed how his daughters were crushed during an ill-fated meeting with Grande, after they won an art contest to “hang out” with her at the MTV Video Music Awards (after laboring over art projects to prove how much they idolized her). The pop star barely acknowledged the winners, he said, only snapping at them to delete candid photos of her.
Later, Grande defended herself and explained she had to walk away from the girls immediately because she got emotional when they gave her a drawing of her and her late grandfather. (Grande talked about him in public so frequently that #RIPGrandpaGrande became a worldwide trending topic when he died this summer.) In an updated post, the girls’ father said he was contacted by Grande’s rep who asked him to change the blog with this explanation. When he told the rep that Grande was dismissive before his daughters showed her the drawing, the publicist responded “that this post had become a legitimate news story and that it was Ariana’s album release week, and the story was making her uncomfortable.”
Unfortunately for Grande, while she laughs off the rumors about how funny these “lies” are, stories like that overshadow all of the effort she does put in with her fans. On the outside, she seems as sweet as can be: Constant tweets to her beloved 19 million Twitter followers (“Arianators”), taking selfies, meeting people at shows, etc. However, by acting one way in public and having unflattering stories leak from behind the scenes, it makes the kindness seem like a complete facade for publicity reasons.
Other stories are piling on, too: This week, the New York Daily News reported that after a Manhattan radio show, Grande had some unkind words for her fans. According to an industry source: “She did autographs and pics and was all smiles until she got into the elevator. And as soon as the doors shut she said, ‘I hope they all (expletive) die.’”
Grande’s reps declined to comment on the story. They also didn’t offer much of an explanation recently when Grande abruptly dropped two tour dates off her first headlining tour early next year. Fans in the Washington area (Patriot Center) and Houston (Toyota Center) flipped out on Twitter when the two shows from the Honeymoon Tour suddenly disappeared off Ticketmaster on the day of the ticket pre-sale, with zero explanation. When contacted, reps at both venues said that the shows had been removed from the tour because Grande had “another commitment.” Grande’s publicist said the tour “changed routing.”
At this point in Grande’s career, it’s all about being transparent. That’s why artists frequently take to social media when an appearance is canceled and explain. By just letting the dates drop without a word, that’s going to create some very angry tweens.
The upcoming tour is also a sore spot for some fans because of the astronomical price: The VIP package to meet Grande cashes in at a whopping $495. Not completely unusual for a major tour, but what’s really twisting the knife is that you don’t even get a photo with Grande — it’s a group picture. Even Grande defenders aren’t pleased.
As those issues have been building, her reputation in the industry is one of difficulty. Again, pretty standard for celebrities. Yet many are a combination of amused and concerned that someone who’s just starting out can act that way. In an already famous incident, during a photoshoot in Australia, Grande allegedly bailed on photographers when she didn’t like the photos being taken. Members of the media were also given strict instructions not to ask about her relationships; her mysteriously-canceled Nickelodeon show “Sam and Cat”; Justin Bieber; her grandfather; and several other topics.
Grande’s behavior has already been dissected by people in the entertainment world. According to Page Six, E! host Giuliana Rancic also ran into problems during a red carpet interview with Grande, as her managers made everyone scramble to shoot her from the left side.
“It’s one thing if it’s Mariah [Carey],” Rancic said name-checking the singer that Grande is compared to most often. “I’ll get on any side…I’ll do whatever it takes. But when you’re new on the block, trying to earn your stripes…Try to earn a great reputation, try to go overboard to please people.”
While more of these headlines arrive every day, rumors or not, Grande continues to lightly debunk them all, mostly on Twitter.
What’s much more effective: Showing instead of telling. While just a few of the stories can be dismissed as rumors, it remains a growing problem as more and more anecdotes are spilling forth with very similar details.
Grande has a hugely successful career in front of her, but the fastest way to go from a budding superstar to a late-night TV punchline is to become known more for your behavior than your music. (See: Bieber, Justin.) If she can get out in front of these stories and prove that she really is grateful for all of the love in her direction, the only thing her fans will be able to do is love her back.