Ariana Grande SweetenerOn the eve of the release of Ariana Grande’s fourth studio album Sweetener, Jake Cleland charts the vocalist’s rise from Demon Hunter to Pop God.

Ariana Grande is a silhouette. Or could be – in a tumblr meme, “Who’s That Pokemon?” kind of way. Einstein, Bowie, Slash, Grande – that high ponytail sticking out like a satellite uplink to God. Speaking of which, the 25-year-old Floridian just played God in her own music video, God Is A Woman. She literally smashes the glass ceiling. Evangelical YouTubers are shook.

God Is A Woman, and the album it comes from, Sweetener, will define Ariana Grande. This isn’t prophecy, it’s just observation. Grande in 2018 is more bold and more influential than the voting public believed former Disney stars could ever possibly be. Sweetener is the endpoint for pop music. Everything that came before was just tuning up. This was a long road to walk.

In 2013, she released her debut album. Its lead single, The Way, was everything to a certain brand of person (the brand who wished Macklemore was around when Mariah Carey released Daydream). Besides her vocal range, music likers resonated with her occultish tendencies, exposed in an interview with Complex. Grande described the time she was creeping it up in Kansas City’s Stull Cemetery, apparently “known as one of the seven gates to Hell on Earth.” While in the car, she smelled sulfur, “the sign of a demon”, and saw a fly, “another sign of a demon”, and then took a picture which had “three super distinct faces… the faces of textbook demons.”

Well, a person is entitled to their beliefs. The ken to recognise demons from textbooks might come from her mum. By all accounts an adoring and encouraging parent, Mama Grande was “goth before goth was goth” and used to bring animal parts home so her children could paint the walls with blood. “I would go to the butcher, get heart organs or lungs, and then be like, ‘Ariana, Frankie, this is a heart.’ The kids would paint blood on the walls. I remember Ariana’s little handprints.”

In 2014, she upstaged Jessie J on her own song, donated shine to Iggy Azalea’s ailing career, and gave Zedd his biggest hit years before Stay became synonymous with radio. Break Free was almost a throwback to late-aughts EDM-pop. The video was bonkers and the bridge broke grammar, iconically. She reportedly told co-producer Max Martin she wouldn’t sing the lyric “Now that I’ve become who I really are,” but he hard sold her with: “It’s funny, just do it.”

In 2015, donuts cost her a gig at the White House. Cameras caught her saying “I hate America.” You can imagine how that blew up. Before she said it, she licked a donut on the display counter. While apologising, Grande sort of explained she was protesting America’s obesity epidemic. Those paying attention had been conditioned to accept this with a shrug.

In 2016, she made television relevant again with two appearances. There was Scream Queens, the new IP from American Horror Story/Glee’s Ryan Murphy, where Grande played alongside Emma Roberts. Not content to be another face in the clique, Grande’s death in the first episode was groundbreaking. She is the first person to die on television while tweeting their own death. Ariana Grande is the Neil Armstrong of popular music. Justin Bieber’s death-by-bulletstorm on CSI doesn’t come close.

Then there was Saturday Night Live, where Grande pulled double duty hosting and playing musical guest. Besides the performance, her real standout was the excruciating precision of her Jennifer Lawrence impression. This is also where she met her current fiance, Pete Davidson. Pete Davidson met his last girlfriend – Larry David’s daughter Cazzie – on SNL too. Hey, chill out while you’re at work, Pete Davidson.

In 2017, her career hit its lowest point. A suicide bomber targeted fans and staff at her concert at Manchester Arena. In spite of the trauma, her first move was to consecrate the venue before doing anything else. The benefit concert, One Love Manchester, pulled in Bieber, Coldplay, Niall Horan, Imogen Heap, Liam Gallagher and half a dozen other headliners two weeks after the attack. She told ELLE it left a profound impact. “You see it on the news, you tweet the hashtag. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. It makes you sad, you think about it for a little, and then people move on. But experiencing something like that first-hand, you think of everything differently… everything is different.”

Ariana Grande One Love Manchester
[Grande performing at the One Love Manchester concert]

This year, she is back on the up. Her biggest news item to date – besides her forthcoming album – is her engagement to Pete Davidson. They’re so extremely in love they got engaged after less than a month! Congratulations everybody. On Twitter, Grande is blocking out the haters. One stan said “The devil works hard but Scooter Braun works harder,” referring to Grande’s manager and the fact that Braun’s other protege, Justin Bieber, was also swept into premarital bliss with new fiancee Hailey Baldwin. Grande didn’t love it. “love is lit. sh-t happens. i hope to god it happens to you too. u deserve it,” she replied. Oops!

Grande has more to say – in her music and beyond it – than anyone else in the spotlight right now. In the current moment, where loudness is essential to being heard, that makes her powerful. Meanwhile, who can recall Perry and Swift’s albums from last year? The Carters just lost the top of the charts to 5 Seconds of Summer, Miley just retreated from social media, Kesha is still locked in legal hell, and Rihanna’s dining out on a two-year-old hit. With this little impact felt from the last microgeneration of Top 40ists, Ariana Grande is running virtually unopposed. Nothing but respect for this president.

Sweetener is out August 17 via Universal.

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