Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ariana Grande’s Love Me Harder—but not too hard

by Melissa Scott

After watching the American Music Awards, my respect for Ariana Grande shot way up. Her vocals were jaw-dropping, and she knew exactly how to keep the audience’s attention. She demonstrated the perfect mix of confidence and modesty, and unlike other artists’ performances, she rarely lip synced. On the rare occasion that she did, it was only to maintain coordination with the combining verses of her songs.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
While I've never been a diehard fan of hers, I have nothing against her music. But after seeing her perform--a solo version of “Problem,” her collaboration of “Bang Bang” with Nicki Minaj and Jessie J, and finally “Love Me Harder” with The Weeknd--on stage, I can only advocate for her immense talent.

I admit her music video for “Love Me Harder,” bores a little. With nearly ninety percent of the video capturing Grande’s body rolling slowly around on the floor of a darkened room, and the other ten percent focusing on her perfectly make up-crafted eyes, the sexual innuendos are just tedious.

The video opens with dramatic lightning shooting through a sky streaming with orange clouds. Throughout the video, Grande and The Weeknd apparently withstand water, wind and earth, just to attempt to love “harder.”

“Our visuals are really about this tug of war of just loving harder and the compromise of giving in and needing more and wanting more,” director Hannah Lux Davis said in a behind the scenes exclusive that Grande released before the video’s release.

As Grande writhes around a grainy floor, The Weeknd braves an indoor rain storm. By the end of the video, they meet each other, singing the chorus back-to-back. The video at least maintains the generic theme of being unable to face the wants and needs of a relationship. However, both Grande's and the Weeknd’s vocals and harmonizing stun, and their dazzling dynamics and perfect pitch save the video. Since the music is faultless, the mediocrity of the visual doesn't really matter. And Grande is as gorgeous as ever.

Bette Midler disagreed. Following her interview with the U.K. Telegraph on Monday, the sixty-eight year old Midler voiced her distaste for Grande’s sexualized position in her music video. The Divine Miss M reproached Grande for going so far down the sex route to sell her music, rather than relying on her talent alone. She referred to the “pornification” of today’s pop music. 

“It’s always surprising to see someone like Ariana Grande with that silly high voice, a very wholesome voice, slithering around on a couch looking so ridiculous,” Midler scolded. “I mean, it’s silly beyond belief and I don’t know who’s telling her to do it. I wish they’d stop.” She finished, “but it’s not my business, I’m not her mother. Or her manager. Maybe they tell them that’s what you’ve got to do. Sex sells. Sex has always sold.”

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
When The Telegraph asked her what advice she might have for Grande, and any other young women wanting to break into the music business today, Midler replied, “trust your talent. You don't have to make a whore out of yourself to get ahead. You really don’t.”

Barely a day after Midler’s interview released, Grande tore twitter with a clear if-I’m-the-pot-you're-the-kettle response. She uploaded a photo featuring a young Divine Miss M dancing and performing in a scanty mermaid-bikini costume. Captioning the picture, Grande retorted, “Bette was always a feminist who stood for women being able to do whatever the F they wanted without judgment! Not sure where that Bette went but I want that sexy mermaid back.” She then ended the tweet, “Always a fan no matter what my love.”

Midler quickly backtracked and apologized for her comments. Tweeting back at Grande, Midler admitted, “About my screed on Ariana Grande, all I can say is spoken like a reformed old whore! She does have a beautiful voice, on a couch or off.”

Midler probably shouldn't have thrown Grande a direct call-out, especially during the upsurge of Grande’s success. But I think she has a point. Watching Grande perform live changed my initial opinion of her. She’s not just another pretty and candied pop star. She can actually hit notes that rival those of Mariah Carey. Grande’s talent is enormous, and squeezing her into a skin-tight bra, while she thrashes around sexily on a chair, in someway diminishes that talent.  
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