Excerpts from Ariana Grande Elle Cover

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Ariana Grande

There’s another song on Sweetener that I misjudge based on the title alone. I assume “The Light Is Coming” will be a sweet balm of a ballad in response to the darkest of days. Nope. It’s a bass-thumping dance track featuring Ariana’s friend, collaborator, and “big sis,” Nicki Minaj. (“That’s a ride-or-die situation. She is the best there is, male or female,” Ariana says.) “The light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole,” Ariana trills. But then, what is light without the dark? I think of Joan’s campy Halloween house, the Jaws party, those villains—and the bright star who draws her energy from them all.She’s been in therapy for more than 10 years, since around the time her parents divorced, and thus traffics in self-awareness. “It’s work,” she tells me, sitting on the couch in her hotel suite overlooking Central Park. “I’m a 25-year-old woman. But I’ve also spent the past handful of years growing up under very extraordinary circumstances. And I know how that story goes.…” Cut to former child star in a mug shot. And scene.Ariana Grande on ElleShe takes me on a “really big trip” marveling at outer space. But within her intergalactic musings is the search for perspective: “The planets, the stars, there’s nothing more humbling than that shit. We get so stressed about little things when, in the big picture, we’re just a speck of dust on this tiny planet in this enormous solar system that is also a speck in a huge, mysterious black hole situation, and we don’t even know what it is!” She takes a breath. “Thinking about how small we are, it’s crazy. We are nothing.”She speaks of the strength of community in this “tough, wild, chaotic time right now” and considers just how divided the nation is. Her call to action: “Everyone has to have uncomfortable conversations with their relatives. Instead of unfriending people on Facebook who share different political views, comment! Have a conversation! Try to spread the fucking light.” She’s become something of a feminist hero for her ability to shut down sexism and misogyny with a single tweet. The most recent of which, at press time, regards her ex, rapper Mac Miller, who allegedly drove drunk and crashed his car shortly after their breakup. A Twitter user suggested it was Ariana’s fault. “How absurd that you minimize female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship,” she wrote. “Shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem…please stop doing that.” The user apologized. She accepted.Ariana GrandeIt’s been almost a year since they fled a UK terrorist attack that claimed 22 lives, injuring 500 more, at the sold-out Manchester show of Ariana’s Dangerous Woman tour. Ariana is hesitant to talk about it. For one thing, the wound is still incredibly raw, but she’s also adamant that her story not overshadow those of the victims. So we talk around it. “When I got home from tour, I had really wild dizzy spells, this feeling like I couldn’t breathe,” she begins. “I would be in a good mood, fine and happy, and they would hit me out of nowhere. I’ve always had anxiety, but it had never been physical before. There were a couple of months straight where I felt so upside down.” She shared the experience with her friend Pharrell Williams. Together they created “Get Well Soon,” the final track on Sweetener.Joan was in the audience the night tragedy struck and recounts the chaos. “I was like a fish swimming in the wrong direction. Everyone was leaving, and I was going toward the stage. The bomb went off, and I’m looking at these young adults with fear in their eyes. People were jumping from the upper seats to get out. I just started grabbing people. I could have been steering them.…” Her voice trails of, the what-ifs too painful to imagine. “I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew I was going to my daughter. Not to be overly dramatic—I struggle with this every day—but I didn’t know what I would find when I got to her. I sympathize with every parent who was waiting for a child. Those minutes when you don’t know what’s happening…there are no words.”SweetenerThey immediately caught a flight back to Boca, where the future felt incredibly uncertain. Ariana cried endlessly and barely spoke for two days. It was unclear if she would ever want to perform again. Then Joan got a knock on her door. “It was two or three in the morning; she crawled into bed and said, ‘Mom, let’s be honest, I’m never not going to sing again. But I’m not going to sing again until I sing in Manchester first.’” They called her manager, Scooter Braun, and the One Love Manchester concert was born, helping raise $23 million for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund. Hair by Josh Liu; makeup by Patrick Ta; manicure by Natalie Martins at Nail Swag; produced by Nathalie Akiya at Kranky ProduktionsThis article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of ELLE.