The Quiet Independence of Ariana Grande

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Ariana Grande unwittingly has become the face of female empowerment, whether she knows it or not. Her past high-profile relationships with celebrities like Big Sean, Ricky Alvarez, and Mac Miller have served to embellish her status as a popstar, but it was not until two critical moments in her 25th year coincided, one a milestone, the other a tragedy, that she emerged as a symbol of hope, strength, and womanhood. 2018 has been historic for women, between the amplification of the #MeToo Movement and the recent midterms that saw a record number of female candidates elected to office.

Ariana Grande has had a remarkable year to begin with, between the release of her album, Sweetener, her break-up with rapper Mac Miller, and her subsequent and rapid engagement to Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson.

She began dating Miller, whom she had previously worked with on “The Way” in 2012, in 2016. They broke up this past May, with reports surfacing that the rapper was and had been battling substance abuse, and Grande had finally decided she could no longer remain in what was becoming a toxic relationship. Following the breakup, Grande spoke out positively with a photo of Milleron her Instagram Story along with the caption, “This is one of my best friends in the whole world and favorite people on the planet Malcolm McCormick. I respect and adore him endlessly and am grateful to have him in my life in any form, at all times regardless of how our relationship changes or what the universe holds for each of us! Unconditional love is not selfish. It is wanting the best for that person even if at the moment, it's not you. I can't wait to know and support you forever and I'm so proud of you!!"

Grande then quickly and famously moved on to a romantic relationship with Davidson. The new couple became engaged within weeks, and were not shy about boasting of their new love bliss, both in public and via social media. The affection came to an abrupt halt on September 7th at the jarring news that Miller had been found dead of a drug overdose.

Grande again took to Instagram to address the untimely tragedy: “i really can't wrap my head around it. we talked about this. so many times. i'm so mad, i'm so sad i don't know what to do. you were my dearest friend. for so long. above anything else. i'm so sorry i couldn't fix or take your pain away. i really wanted to. the kindest, sweetest soul with demons he never deserved. i hope you're okay now.”

Her integrity in light of the past few months that could cripple anyone echoes her strength following the bombing at her concert on May 22, 2017 in Manchester, England where 22 innocent fans were senselessly murdered, and upwards of 500 injured. Grande postponed the rest of her Dangerous Woman tour and held a benefit concert to raise funds for the victims and their families. It is too easy to neglect to credit the quiet courage of Grande’s decision to carry on with her tour after such a brief hiatus. We can only imagine the trauma of knowing young fans lost their lives at what should have been a fun, exciting, carefree event. The attacker, a suspected suicide bomber, was motivated by sheer hate and malice. Grande could have stepped away from the stage indefinitely and no one could have blamed her, but instead she chose to honor the victims, her fans, and to continue sharing her gift, her voice.

While the death of an ex and the subsequent end of an engagement do not exist on the same plane of tragedy as this terrorist attack, Grande has not escaped public scrutiny. She has been criticized for “abandoning” a sick Miller and boasting her newfound happiness with Davidson. People called her insensitive and went so far as to blame her for propelling Miller into his final overdose. Her decision to openly step away from both relationships is not an indication of her lack of love for either Miller or Davidson. Conversely, she has shared her appreciation for the both of them several times over. Grande made the decision to prioritize herself, her life, her happiness, and her health, and many see this as a failure as a partner, and an act of selfishness as a woman. Grande is not the type to gnash her teeth at her critics.

After she reportedly decided to postpone her nuptials in light of Miller’s death, Grande and Davidson confirmed their official split in October. Davidson made colorful jokes about the break-up on SNL, and Ariana stayed true to her musical roots- she released a song. “thank u, next” candidly discusses Grande’s past relationships, what she learned and continues to value about her exes, and her conviction and excitement about future loves. She may have experienced heartbreak, but she understands the significance of each relationship. She sings, “Say I've loved and I've lost / But that's not what I see / So, look what I got / Look what you taught me.”

This song is a message to her exes, to herself, and to fellow women who feel the need to justify ending a relationship. Grande emphasizes every partnership as a finite learning experience that serves to expand one’s worldview and allow for growth. And there is no shame in walking away from any relationship for any reason. Grande won’t indulge the comments of vicious online critics who believe she should have stayed with Miller and saved him: she tweeted in response to one hateful comment, “I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be. I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety & prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem.”  She did stay, she did try, but it is not her responsibility to lose her own life in order to save his, and that is a message that we do not hear enough.

 

Thank u, Ariana.