Ariana Grande Doesn’t ‘Break Free’ of Mediocrity on Saturday Night Live


By most accounts, Chris Pratt and Ariana Grande have won the summer of 2014. Guardians of the Galaxy, the geek blockbuster bonanza that catapulted Pratt from Parks and Recreation ensemble player to major Hollywood heatthrob status, is still breaking records for both its soundtrack and its box-office appeal. Between the MTV VMA-winning “Problem,” her unstoppable collaboration with Iggy Azalea, My Everything, her sophomore full-length, out August 25, and a mile-long, star-studded list of collaborations in the bag, Grande has reached peak pop stardom shortly after her 21st birthday. Booking both Pratt and Grande for Saturday Night Live‘s 40th season opener was a veritable feat and a perfect pairing after a stellar summer, but the expectations that come with that kind of billing are equally huge, and only one of the two lived up to the hype.

And the one who did? Yeah, Pratt doesn’t have a “Problem” at all — but Grande had plenty.

See also: Miley Cyrus Redeems Herself on SNL

In the past, musical guests have thrived when they’ve taken the opportunity to shake things up on the SNL stage. Miley Cyrus’s acoustic rendition of “We Can’t Stop” was breathtaking; Sam Smith’s orchestral take on “Lay Me Down” was lovely. Grande started off strong with “Break Free” by perching atop a piano and breaking the EDM anthem down with a jazzy intro, and for a fleeting second, it seemed like Grande’s SNL set would go the way of her comrades in pop before her. Had she stayed put, instead of tripping into tired choreography and inconsistent, breathless vocals, maybe we’d actually be able to understand what she’s singing, instead of fixating on the (stunning!) high notes and furrowing eyebrows over the rest of it. Maybe “Break Free” translates better in the live setting Grande’s more typically accustomed to, with the deafening, shrill screams of the audience keeping her energy afloat, but it didn’t work on SNL. At all. (And neither did those cat ears.)

As for “Love Me Harder,” the addition of the Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye and the r&b grooves of the band behind her seemed to anchor Grande in a way “Break Free” couldn’t hope to, even as she was upstaged by both Tesfaye and the vocal track behind her. Whether it’s Zedd or Iggy or Nicki or any of the other pop heavyweights who’ve joined Grande in the studio, she thrives in a collaborative setting, and the choice to bring out the Weeknd on SNL was a good one to show this off. She wasn’t necessarily the star of her own moment, but if the options are this, a perfectly approachable Grande goofing off onstage with a solid performer, or Grande prancing around while trying to keep up with her own chorus, we’ll go with the former.

Searching Twitter for “Ariana Grande SNL” brought about a treasure trove of delighted Arianators and confused grown-ups, along with some head-scratch-inducing fan art involving produce. Behold, the power of diction and the internet on the next page!

Ariana and Abel: literally killing it.

Mom got shut down for making the pop-prince-and-princess love connection.


The most gorgeous mumbling around.

“Enunciation” apparently wasn’t the name of the game, but hey.

Nah, they definitely weren’t cute and trendy, and she probably DID scare a bunch of babies, even though babies should be asleep because SNL is on late, parents.

And then her SNL appearance inspired some nutritious fan art:

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