Storiana Grande: Up There with Wes Anderson & Yayoi Kusama
A few weeks ago, on my way to an art museum, I posted to my Insta stories stating that Ariana Grande’s stories are art. I added the option for people to answer that they agree, or that I should convince them. The majority voted I should convince them, so here I am.
What I didn’t fully consider was that this meant I’d have to first lay out a definition or criteria for what is art. Maybe I bit off more than I can chew, but I like a challenge.
My Definition of Art
I reserve use of the term ‘art’ in my own personal lexicon for what I deem great art or good art. As it’s pretty universally agreed that art is subjective, we all have free rein to do that. So I’ll be assessing Grande’s stories firstly under my own personal criteria, and secondly by more standard definitions of art or its purposes.
My criteria is: Literally anything, as long as it is creative, breaks a boundary or pushes the world forward in some way, and is sincere. By my definition, a scientist can be an artist. As can a comedian. A janitor. A parent.
I like art best when it comes with a consistent style or theme or story or point and the artist has created an entire world, where every element and detail tells the very same story, is of the very same invented universe. Beyonce did that with Lemonade and I’m still not over it. Wes Anderson does it. Yayoi Kusama does it.
Purposes of Art
Throughout history art has been employed for many purposes, so looking at its roles may be an easier way to spot it in the wild than saying what it is or isn’t. Six of its main functions are
- To delight or entertain
- To commemorate or celebrate
- As worship and for rituals
- For commentary
- For persuasion
- As self-expression.
Often it fulfils more than one of these functions at a time.
Grande’s Stories Checking All The Boxes
So let’s go through the criteria.
Visually and as regards content, a firm yep! They’re aesthetically thoughtful. From the mostly black and white palette, to the always tiny, always the same two fonts for captions. Her visual treatment is a consistent, signature style taken a step further than just following some brand guidelines – because the style itself is true to the entire story. Her songwriting is dark, deep, personal, sad and lonely. It’s also poppy, sweet, fun and full of love and celebration. Like Chris Richards said in the Washington Post, “Ariana Grande reached the height of her fame by making heavy feel light.”
Her stories showcase that same world, the same character. Consistently the same content – friends, pets, family, looks, loves (people, films, music), moods, daydream-inducing weather. Those are fairly normal parts of all our lives, but it becomes the creative Arianaverse version of itself when it’s made black and white, when this tiny person pops her tiny captions on somewhere random yet somehow still perfectly placed, and written with the exact tone she speaks with. You can 100% hear her voice when you read her captions. It’s also creative in what she chooses to share. Content is selective and curated for specific themes mentioned – friends, family, looks, etc. *Chefs kiss*
It’s standard practice for artists to have sketchbooks and notebooks, where they collect inspiration and ideas, and create preliminary and preparatory work for the bigger, finished pieces they’ll showcase. That’s true for poets, painters, filmmakers, everyone. The world FUCKING LOVES to see these. It’s why we’ve preserved Francis Bacon’s entire studio. When we love something, we want the behind the scenes, because we adore every step of the journey. We are intrigued to see the process and the person, not just the product.
Other artists have used digital ‘sketchbook’ style snippets, but Grande’s stories are monumental for a few reasons. Like a sketchbook, they’re all her, not a camera crew, or a marketing team. They’re on the fly and contain moments of inspiration that seem to directly contribute to the direction of the ‘end product’. I feel like we all fucking love Thank U, Next because we saw her get there. We got the process and the person before we got the product. As the stories/sketchbook are public, curated and styled by the artist, it’s a perfect end-product in itself too. *Applause Emoji*
How I assess for sincerity is very scientific: I check if it hits me in the gut. If it makes me feel emotion – anything from fear to worry to joy or bliss, then I believe the artist is creating work from a place of sincerity. I believe that the more honestly in-touch an artist is with their own truths, the more sincere their work, and the harder their art hits.
Her stories consistently convey sincere moments of love, rest, celebration, adoration, appreciation, joy, awe, amazement, hope, steadfastness, togetherness, humility, respect and kindness. The feels shared pair perfectly with the content shared – friends, family, etc. It’s not about a visually perfect picture or video, it’s about the feels, and the subject. This is VERY art. *Invents icon emoji to add here*
STANDARD ART ROLES: ✓
Her stories also check almost all of the boxes for the 6 purposes of art:
1. To delight or entertain: Clips of those perfect vocals direct from the recording studio, thank u, no next, I’m going to replay that one over and over for a bit.
2. To commemorate or celebrate: Sharing images and videos of time with friends, her beloved Nonna and Joan, (her grandmother and mother), and her late grandfather.
3. To play a part in worship or rituals: Mmmmm….I mean, probably, but I can’t recall an exact example. (Feel free to suggest one to be added @elvacarri)
4. & 5. For commentary and persuasion: Amidst the friends and family and pets, she also uses the medium to speak out on issues like abortion rights, and encourage people to vote – which you can register to do at her live shows – because her stories are consistent with the overall created universe. These messages do stick out a little as less art, and more PSA, but they’re still consistent with her tone and themes of love and respect.
6. As self-expression. Uhm duh, yes – this comes in so many delightful forms. My personal favourite is just her sharing pictures of moody, cloudy skies, which she adores. Obviously sharing of her music, but also the outpourings of love for her friends and family and fans, and her absolute amazement and awe of her own successes. The sincerity comes in here too. It feels so real, that I honestly sometimes forget that what I’m watching isn’t something a mate just DMd me, but a public posting of a megastar artist who I do not actually know.
Her stories are the epitome of a well-built, artistically invented universe, and one I very much enjoy visiting as a standalone body of work, or indeed as part of the entire Arianaverse.