I have only recently become an Ariana Grande fan. When she first came onto the scene as a teenager, I thought she had a good voice and catchy songs, but I wasn’t truly sold on her. But, with her song “Focus” and her most recent album, Dangerous Woman, I’ve started to turn a corner (which you can read about here).
I’ve also recently started to listen to Pandora while I work at my new job and, for whatever reason, Pandora thinks I want to hear a lot of Ariana Grande. Not a bad judgment, given that I do really like a few of her singles. But as I kept hearing her songs over and over and over again, I realized something. I don’t really like any of her other music besides what I hear on the radio. Part of the reason is I think she’s more of a Top 40 artist in the sense that she and her production team can make great hits for radio, but outside of those radio hits the rest of her catalog is just kind of mediocre.
But another reason is because of one of her songs in particular. The hook/chorus to the song begins with “We got that ‘hood love!…” On my first listen to the song, it was certainly jarring, but I let it slide. It was only after hearing this song multiple times did it annoy me, and shockingly, frustrate me. What does this white girl know about “hood love”? Her use of this phrase was only made worse when I saw the title of the song was “Bad Decisions.” And this is where my thoughts started to run wild.
You see, the line “We got that ‘hood love” is very problematic. First off, it literally doesn’t make sense. The word “hood” is not an adjective, it’s a noun, and it shouldn’t be used to modify another noun, especially an abstract noun like “love.” This to me is just another example of a white/non-black person appropriating AAVE to sound cool. Like when your white friend heard the word “ratchet” on TV for the first time and now everything they see is suddenly “ratchet.”
But in a more figurative sense, this line pisses me off because of Ariana’s use of it in the context of her overall mystique. It reminded me of what I read in her feature on this year’s Time 100. Her feature was written by playwright Jason Robert Brown, who helped discover her. He wrote that he knew from the beginning that Grande would be underestimated because she was “a white girl who wants to sing R&B” and because she dates rappers. And while it’s pretty obvious that white singers who have “soulful” voices reach unparalleled mainstream success compared to their black counterparts (read Adele, Justin Timberlake, Meagan Trainor, Christina Aguilera, newcomer Alessia Cara, the list goes on), Brown had the nerve to say that Grande would be “underestimated.”
And why would her dating rappers be a cause to take her less seriously? Could it be that rappers and rap music are considered the lowest form of artistry and entertainment there is? NO WAY! I would have never guessed. Rap as a genre has consistently been the most disrespected form of music in American society. This is because, whether we like to admit it or not, rap music is undeniably a product of blackness and black culture. And as racism persists in this day and age, anything that’s too black we tend to avoid like the plague. Even though rap does embody many of the things that is wrong with our society (misogyny, misogynoir, and a feverish obsession with money and power), this image of rap is over-represented in our society, while the deeper, underlying meanings of rap — those of rebellion, struggle, revolution, and oppression — are ignored. Many rappers still embody the original intent of rap as a genre today.
But back to Ariana. Through listening to many of her songs, I now see that she’s trying really hard to embody the R&B style. She had a very public relationship with Big Sean, a rapper. She thinks it’s okay for her to talk about “the hood” like she’s an around-the-way girl. But Ariana, can you explain what exactly “hood love” is in a way that doesn’t connote blackness, i.e. isn’t racist? We’ll wait.
….That’s right, you can’t.
It’s a common trope for today’s white female artists in music to wear blackness when they want to shed their good girl images. Have you seen anything Miley Cyrus has done since 2013? Even the ultimate good girl Taylor Swift has done this, both with her video for “Shake It Off” and her collab with Kendrick Lamar for “Bad Blood.”
Hence why Ariana titled her song where she speaks about the ‘hood, “Bad Decisions.” Hence why she collabbed with Lil Wayne on “Let Me Love You” (which is a song I am not ashamed to say, I love). She is equating blackness with badness, with departing from what is right and pure (read, whiteness). But no, Ariana. You do not get to suddenly talk about the ‘hood because you’ve dated rappers. Because you sing “R&B.” We have got to stop allowing white and non-black people to access blackness because they are proximal to it. That is not their pass. That is not their culture to claim.
So that’s why I’m not really feeling her anymore. She fetishizes black men and black culture in the same way the Kardashian/Jenner clan does, she’s just more low-key about it. I do have hope for her, though. I am thrilled that she embraces feminism and shuts down sexist men who try to tell her who she can and can’t be. I’m excited that she’s owning her own sexuality. I hope she continues to grow; she is, after all, not even 23 yet. But, if she is going to continue in the direction she’s going, I think it would be best if she knew her place in proximity of a culture that is not her own.