Ariana Grande treats (my) identities like property

On “Monopoly,” queerbaiting, and why I still can’t cancel her yet.

April 23, 2019

It’s been more than 6 months since Ariana Grande dropped the title track to her fifth LP thank u next— single-handedly bringing the women-led pop music genre back into the mainstream after more than a year of dirty sprite rappers dominating the charts.

“thank u, next”; and the immediate success of the LP’s follow-up singles has confirmed her status as Avatar Ari: the Last Vocalbender. If you understand that convoluted reference, then you must know that she can bend more than just her vocals, as she mastered racial-bending too following the release of 7 rings.

This era has, thus, forced me to include this lengthy preface.

Simply because I need to be frank with not just the readers, and to myself, but to every community that I figuratively belong to. I still listen to “thank u, next” at least 6 months within every 24-hour timespan. That’s possible— don’t argue with me. If you’re riding public transit after midnight, and you spot a queer-looking, bleached blonde, slightly lightskinned-ed Black guy with earphones firmly jammed into the holes which God provided him, and he’s tearing up whilst mumbling incoherently—that’s me. And that mumbling is me chanting to myself that second fucking verse where she sings about meeting herself.

That song is a literal substitute for crisis help line. Listen, you can’t judge me any more than I judge myself already.

Now that we’re done with that extremely unnecessary, but necessary tangent, let’s press play on today’s actual topic: “Monopoly,” Grande’s recent release: a collaborative duet with long-time collaborator, close-friend, and owner of one of the 7 rings ,Victoria Monét.

If you do a quick Google™ search, you’ll find an ocean of reviews about the cheeky duet; however, that’s not what I’m here to do. “Monopoly” has an all-too-familiar message of growth, independence, and self-awareness. Subjects understandably central to Grande’s artistry considering the trauma conga line of highly-publicized tragedies that she’s been forced to confront in the last few years.

It’s these tragedies pooled in with the controversies that I briefly—well, briefly is a stretch—touched upon, that has made this release much bigger than just a trap-fluenced single that fades out into fun banter (“Where you been Cletus?!” asks Monét. Not here, but I do appreciate any reference to Nutty Professor).

It’s ignited a much Grande-r, well, nuanced, discussion of whether our generation’s pop messiah is consciously perpetuating a political identity which may, or may not, be hers.

It’s ignited a much “Grande-r,” well, nuanced, discussion of whether our generation’s pop messiah is consciously perpetuating a political identity which may, or may not, be hers.

The identity in question is Grande’s sexual preference— or rather preferences. People are listening to “Monopoly,” and “coming out” on the other end asking themselves: “is ‘Monopoly’ Ariana’s way of coming out as queer?”

It may seem like a leap, but considering just how personal next is, Grande making a declaration through lyrics isn’t exactly a reach. I am sure, however, as someone who has the double-whammo of being queer and Black, that, it’s never right to make assumptions about anyone’s sexual identity–– in spite of how “obvious” it may seem to you. Many agree, and Grande has yet to publicly confirm or deny whether she is truly “clang, clang, clang-ing on the trolley as a friend of Dorothy.”

Regardless, stans and non-stans alike, are asking us to consider if “Monopoly” may just be another example of queerbaiting. They are calling out Grande for purposefully exploiting her profoundly queer fanbase— and they aren’t doing so without precedence.

The casual Top 40 listener is unaware of Grande’s racial background, and that absolutely can’t be separated as to why some reactions to the single have been skeptical.

Let’s keep this all the way real. Grande is a pure-blooded Italian (white) woman. Her natural skin-tone is eerily similar to Casper the Ghost in Casper Meets Wendy starring Hilary Duff; her last name is properly pronounced “gràn-de,” as opposed to the Latino pronunciation— gifting her more credence to play with Blackness and pink trap houses; and her use of AAVE is often dependent on when she decides it’s appropriate to project herself as articulate.

Her race-baiting, in itself, is so blatant, that, I don’t even have to look for a neat ‘transition word’ to smoothly shift the discussion into queer-baiting. All the ingredients are there. Take that cut-scene in the “thank u, next” video where Grande implicitly states, with slight discomfort, that she has never dated someone “with no front tooth’”(front tooth being an allusion to a penis— one explicitly belonging to a man). Oh, and Aubrey. “That chick she’s dating.”

Now mix it in a bowl with that dubious, quasi lesbi-ana ending for the video to “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” and bake on it. You end up with a tasty-looking cake, topped with what you think is edible glitter. That glitter is not edible— that glitter is a heaping pile of pretty justifiable concerns. Those concerns, like unwanted glitter, will follow you everywhere you go. Also, the human body can’t physically digest glitter, so, there’s that.

I interpret “Monopoly” as far less of an ode to bi- and pan- sexuality, and more of a declaration of independence with a moderate dash of “Big Petty Energy” similar to the “anti-ain’t men shit” anthems canonised by the likes of TLC, Destiny’s Child, and 3LW.

That’s still not enough for me to walk into the dumpster fire that is defending Ariana Grande’s ability to freely move in and out of spaces that I can’t.

The women repeatedly ask the object of their [supposed] affection “where you’ve been,” but it’s still clear to me that the question is entirely rhetorical. That’s still not enough for me to walk into the dumpster fire that is defending Ariana Grande’s ability to freely move in and out of spaces that I can’t. I’m only human, and for that, cannot achieve such an ethereal state of cognitive dissonance.

Grande’s process of trying to manage the symptoms of PTSD while refusing to shy away from the public is completely admirable— I’m still there myself. Conversely, harnessing the aesthetics of Blackness and queerness to the extent that the general public forgets its origins is the very opposite of that. Even if it’s done unconsciously— it’s shit.

Those aspects of Grande’s still-growing 25-year-old identity aren’t mutually exclusive. So, I can’t cancel her which is really teaching me about some goddamn patience. “Monopoly” is a bop. Even if it wasn’t, it’d be one due to the sheer presence of the consistently overlooked Victoria Monét—who unlike her duet partner, identifies as a Black queer woman—shining at the forefront of the tune.

Monét’s white friend, however, needs to have better discussions with people besides herself. Monopolizing on what us marginalized yutes are socialized from birth to distance ourselves from—well, that’ll never be met with a next.

thank u, ondi

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