If you don’t know who Ariana Grande is, congratulations! You neither watch nor have anyone young enough in your life who watches Nickelodeon (Or, alternatively, sorry! You neither get high nor have anyone high enough in your life who watches Nickelodeon). But you should get accustomed to her name since she’s basically a mini-Mariah with enough scattered spunkiness to stick around for a while. Anyway, her newest music video came out recently and instead of the silly glitz and glam characteristics of her life, a startling message was revealed. In Ariana Grande’s “Right There” ft. Big Sean, she shares secrets of what life inside of the Nickelodeon Star Making Complex is like, and warns of the large-scale social implications of what happens within it.
Ariana structures her video around three characters — Juliet, Romeo, and the Priest from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (in case you didn’t get the reference). She plays Juliet, an unidentified Caucasian-Ken doll plays Romeo, and Big Sean plays the Priest. The obvious miscasting of Big Sean as a priest is intentional. Ariana wants her audience to feel the same discomfort she was forced to endure after being miscast in several Nickelodeon projects as tweenagers when she’s actually Miley’s age and should be out in Hollywood naked and dancing. Ariana is telling the world about the vicious way the Nickelodeon complex destroys the identities and stunts the mental and physical growth of the stars it creates.
Contrary to popular opinion, Ariana Grande’s ceaselessly eccentric fan-waving is not a reminder for everyone to tune in to The Michael J Fox Show on NBC Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. — it is a symbolization of the labor she and many others were forced to put in at the Nickelodeon complex. Day and night, night and day, the choreography and acting lessons and baking sessions never stopped. Her face looks strained and her hand wary because very little is able to break the grip of a tween-star-producing-machine the likes of Nickelodeon.
It’s so crazy in the Nickelodeon complex that instead of taking selfies in the mirror with your friends while you pregame, you have to wear masquerade masks and POSE! POSE! POSE! Since this scene of false-preparation takes up a significant chunk of the music video’s temporal reality, it has to be significant; Ariana is remarking on the narcissism inherent with successfully becoming a superstar.
Not since Dziga Vertov’s commentary on Russian public life in 1929’s Man With A Movie Camera has such coordinated chaos appeared so majestically on screen. An entire royal crew of performers joins Ariana once she descends the stairs of her castle and reaches the dance floor. Perfection ensues. But through the hand-dancing and hip-swishing, Ariana’s eyes beg her audience to understand that this dance is not for fun. It is for business, and in this business, the people die before the music does.
Ariana’s ball stops being classy all of a sudden when the dancers reveal their true selves to be camera-ready, foolishly clad children desperate to throw themselves off of balconies and into the pool while still drenched in expensive clothes and jewelry. This is the visual manifestation of Ariana’s thesis — that wide-scale cultural decay is the consequence of unleashing Nickelodeon’s children onto the world, and the complex itself must be stopped. She wants to be the first to say it in order to avoid the curse of it. No unexpected pregnancies or lobotomies or marriages to Nick Cannon are in her future. Instead, she places herself on the side of social justice and progress. She can be like the preppy racially-ambiguous Lorde.
Ariana Grande makes an incredibly significant move in “Right There” by deciding to keep Romeo alive. She keeps Romeo alive because he is symbolic of the American people, and she’d never commit mass genocide or kill off the majority of her fan base. Romeo and his friends successfully sneak into Ariana’s party (a.k.a. the Nickelodeon Complex) in a move that suggests the average American is far too hungry for fame and willing to risk almost anything for it. But instead of being met with rejection, tragedy, or his own fan to wave around for eternity, Romeo’s presence makes Ariana happy! She wants us to know that even though she comes from evil, she is not the incarnation of it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 11, 2013