I said what I said: Defiance as diversion in current pop music trends

Ariana Grande has dropped “yes, and?”, which is a track that sonically draws from Madonna’s Vogue and visually from Paula Abdul’s Cold Hearted Snake, forming a generically pleasing bop that never quite rises to the sum of its parts but is nonetheless EXTREMELY catchy. The “yes, and?” video frames the song as an anthem for pop stars vs critics. (Youtube link.)

On Celebitchy, my favorite celebrity gossip blog since Dlisted shuttered, Kaiser noted that it’s poor taste for Ariana to release a song dismissing criticism when she’s been on her worst behavior. I guess you could summarize what’s going on with this one sentence from the post:

Ari started f–king a married man who had a wife and child at home, then Ari threw a huge tantrum when [the wife] openly bad-mouthed her.

The lyrics do seem to be a direct response to that. Full lyrics on Billboard, but pointing here:

your business is yours and mine is mine
do you care so much whose dick i ride

It seems to directly address issues that you’d think Ariana would prefer we avoid discussing. (Releasing a big pop song is always the best way to avoid talking about things.) I would like to add that the seemingly direct approach is just a sophisticated method of PR smokescreen.

First off, the lyrics could also be referring to other parts of her famous love life; I suspect more people think about Pete Davidson in regards to Ariana and Dicks rather than her current paramour. Also, the chorus is focused on empowerment. So plausible deniability is strong.

The video has an entirely different message. The implicit cyclical nature of Music Video Ariana performing her song, then turning to a statue, which crumbles so she can perform the song again, has the same atmosphere as a music box which we can wind and open to play for us whenever we want. By the ending, critics who bad-mouth her have let loose, rescued by the liberation of Ariana, who only exists to entertain and better those who criticize.

Most of the criticism about Ariana lately has not been related to her music, though. She’s been filming Wicked and working on other projects for a while. She’s been making news in her personal life to the point that people who don’t pay attention to celebrity news might hear about it. But most people haven’t.

Sassy, defiant messaging is one of the mainstays of pop music, where the tropes are manufactured to appeal to the heightened emotions of adolescence. It’s probably different kids who got hyped listening to Rage Against the Machine saying “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” but Ariana intends to hit a similar nerve. In order to control the narrative surrounding Ariana, PR has decided to summon defiance (with a twist of empowerment as a treat).

“My life is none of your business, begone” is the attitude expressed here. It’s adjacent to Ariana’s real issues without directly addressing them: savvy PR in a performance borrowing elements from well-established pop hits that is meant to have us discussing Ariana in the same breath as Madonna and Paula Abdul. She is in ownership of her sexuality and liberated and cool, above all else, and fuck the haters.

Considering “the hater” is a new mother left at home with her baby, is such a high-budget and finely-tuned responding salvo tasteless? Sure, if you put it that way. But Ari put it in a sexy way! With a hat!

It’s also inevitable in pop music, which commodifies the entirety of a human in our hyper-capitalist era of everything-is-product. Taste is only relevant to the point that it doesn’t detract from the brand’s ability to generate capital. The permeability of barriers between individual and branding has become widespread in the social media era. Stars like Ariana Grande must sell herself as a product more expertly than anyone else, and the narrative she constructs is worth multimillions. Every single event, good or bad, must be a stepping stone that builds her value.

One of the main methods of getting big numbers currently remains TikTok. Sassy, defiant lyrics from this song are guaranteed to be isolated and disassociated from Ariana’s affair, instead given associations like funny memes, cool dances, and relatable posts.

Whatever commentators are saying on blogs, most people are going to be exposed to Ariana and this song in a way that makes it feel personal and intimate. Not about an affair that turned out kinda gross and depressing.

Another pop star who benefits a lot from this model, especially TikTok, is Doja Cat. She’s well-known for her personal behavior, which this Rolling Stone article touches upon.

On Friday, Doja Cat uploaded the selfie donning a shirt with the image of Sam Hyde, an internet-infamous edgelord with ties to both the alt-right and neo-Nazi movements.

There are a boatload of stories about Doja’s behavior online that I won’t recant here; she’s such an online person that you can just do a search and see everything for yourself.

Yet this is another case where the average person doesn’t know enough entertainment news to realize that Doja’s actual behavior is legitimately troubling; they’re much likelier to have heard of her social media posts where she fights and insults fans.

Reality Doja’s vocal idealogy is a problem to the degree that her PR — which often packages Doja like pop music, though she’s also a talented rapper — has no choice but to fold Pop Music Product Doja Cat into an especially defiant package. Chances are good that her social media posts insulting fans directly are PR the way that Ariana Grande announcing song titles wearing sweaters are. (UPROXX)

The Doja Cat Team (because we really must see pop stars as the entirety of the machine surrounding them, as well as the individual whose face covers the brand) is embracing her public flaws and steering the narrative as they want. It’s better to talk about Doja fighting fans and releasing a song where she doubles down (with lyrics like “bitch, I said what I said”) rather than letting the conversation focus on Doja’s alt-right associations. (Youtube link.)

The way that their Pop Star Branding handles the various “controversies” of their life is certainly tasteless, but there’s no other way for the product to work; it is part and parcel of becoming such a valuable brand. You can’t make the individual a better person, but you can amplify the most commercial aspects of them, which often means leaning into cathartic adolescent feelings for their mass-appeal and allowing virality to dissociate the artist from their actual issues. It’s a whole industry of turd-polishing set to a catchy beat. Oh my goodness, does the shiny turd have a catchy beat.

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