Grande Dame

Grande Dame

Grande Dame

Don't Let Her Doll-Like Features Fool You. Sassy 20-Year-Old Pop Star Ariana Grande Is Not Afraid To Use Her Angelic Voice To Sound Off. Here, She Discusses Divas, Diet, And Why Music Is Her Dharma.

Don't Let Her Doll-Like Features Fool You. Sassy 20-Year-Old Pop Star Ariana Grande Is Not Afraid To Use Her Angelic Voice To Sound Off. Here, She Discusses Divas, Diet, And Why Music Is Her Dharma.

Photography: Tom Munro

Styling: Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele

I meet Ariana Grande the voice, which is enormous and booming, before I meet Ariana Grande the person, who is petite and delicate. It’s New York fashion week, and I’m loitering backstage at an event where Grande will sing “The Way,” her hit single, which has 125 million views on YouTube and counting. The Nickelodeon TV actress turned fledging pop star is in her dressing room warming up her vocal chords, crooning, which fills the auditorium packed with famous designers and celebrities with a sound that music critics refer to as “mini-Mariah Carey.” When she comes out, everyone gawks at her and her cheeks flush as bright red as her lipstick. “I was so embarrassed!” she says a few months later when we meet again. “I didn’t know everyone could hear me, and it was especially mortifying because it was, like, a fashion audience. I was like, argh!”

Grande’s slight, 20-year-old body is folded up on a black leather sofa in a photo studio in Manhattan. She is still starring in Nickelodeon’s Sam & Cat, which films in L.A., so this New York visit lasts only 24 hours and is scheduled by the minute, with meetings, appearances, and our photo shoot, which has just wrapped. She’s wearing a tight, white knit sweater cropped above her belly button and a flirty white skirt that flips up when she twirls around, which is often. Her hair is scooped back into her trademark high half-ponytail. “I use my hair as a mask, as a shield. I hide behind it and it’s what keeps me me. Some people make fun of me for it, but I don’t know who those some people are, so I don’t care.”

Her voice isn’t her only impressive characteristic. Grande’s diminutive stature belies a fierce attitude and vast array of opinions on everything from veganism to the supernatural. “In America, almost everybody thinks you need to have meat for protein. Protein, protein, protein! And what’s in dairy? Calcium, calcium, calcium. It’s those kinds of proteins that latch onto the insides of your bloodstream and make it easier for you to have a heart attack. Look, cows produce milk with nutrients for cows. Maybe that’s why Americans end up looking like cows!” After watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, Grande went vegan. “Ultimately, no one wants cow tit pus in their food, do they?” she deadpans.

The artist that she is most often compared to is Mariah Carey, and when her name comes up, Grande looks unsurprised, with an expression on her face that says, Gee, I’ve never heard that before. “I mean, it’s a huge compliment,” she says with a smile. “But when you hear my entire album, you’ll see that Mariah’s sound is much different than mine.” Despite their similar looks and range, Mariah wasn’t her biggest influence growing up, she says. Imogen Heap, India.Arie, and a slew of other divas, like Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Donna Summer, inspired her. And Beyoncé, of course. “That’s where I discovered my range. I grew up listening to Destiny’s Child. I would try so hard to mimic all Beyoncé’s little runs and ad-lib things. They are so precise. It’s like math. Remember the Destiny’s Child version of ‘Carol of the Bells?’ I took it apart, put it in GarageBand, and dissected it all. That’s how I learned about harmonies and runs and ad-libs. Thank you, Destiny’s Child!”

At this shoot, though, Ariana puts Madonna—old school, new, and everything in between—on her shoot playlist. There’s a reason for that: “She is my idol as far as attitude. I just love how she stands up for what she believes in and surprises people by not eff-ing up when they want her to so badly.” Grande knows a thing or two about the pressures of the media and how tabloid culture tempts young celebrities to fail. One of her good friends? The beleaguered Justin Bieber. She attempts to draw a parallel between the pop stars of today and Madonna and Houston’s early days: “I know that it’s sad to say this, but two decades ago, if people had to put their money on who would have died because of drugs faster, Whitney or Madonna, they would have put their money on Madonna.”

And while she was one of the thousands of fans who delivered flowers to the Bel-Air Hotel when Houston died, it is the Material Girl who she has always admired most. “Madonna has always surprised people and she has always had her head on straight. Even when she pretends not to. When she shocks people and everything, there is always a method behind it.” So will that be Grande’s press strategy from now on? “Know what I love the most about Madonna? When a bad review came out, she was the first person to say ‘Fuck you.’ When someone said she sounded like Minnie Mouse, she crawled into bed naked except for Minnie Mouse ears. It’s such a good attitude to have. It’s inspiring to me because there are times when I think I’ve been a weak, people-pleasing little mouse my whole life.”

Behold the birth of a new, tougher Ariana Grande. “That’s what I am learning right now, that I have to become stronger in this industry. I’ve learned over the past year that you don’t have time to chase after every person who doesn’t understand you. The people that know me know that I’m a nice girl. My fans know that I’m a nice girl. My friends know that I’m a nice girl. And ultimately, that’s all that matters.” She grabs her phone and shows me that an old black-and-white picture of Madonna is her background image, then she winks and says, “See, she taught me that.”

Credits: Makeup Patti Brand-Reese  Hair Dalina Rebollo  Digital technician Jun Ho Yang  Photo assistants Yvonne Allaway, Nick Krasznai, Xavier Muniz  Stylist assistants Kate Grella and Luna Michel  Production Bo Zhang (Management Artists)  Retouching Box Studios Equipment  rental ROOT Studios


HBD Mert Alas