Why is it that talented young actresses that get their start on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel almost always go off the deep end as soon as they hit adulthood? One day they’re clean-cut and wholesome and the perfect role-model for our kids, and then they turn 18 or 21 and turn into partying-hard, overly-sexualized pop stars who care nothing about the influence they’re having on their young fans. This is an issue that has bothered me for some time, being the father of three girls. Two of my girls are still in their tween years so I’m especially concerned as they watch their favorite shows on Disney and Nickelodeon. All of these shows feature attractive young stars that fit the clean-cut description that I mentioned above. Sometimes I’ll watch a little of their shows with them and I have to admit that the formula works as far as television goes. Their shows are clean and fun and my kids love them. However, over the last 10 years or so, as I’ve paid attention to celebrity headlines and watched these young stars transition poorly into adulthood, I find it hard to watch my kid’s shows without wondering how the current crop of cute and bubbly stars will fare just a few short years from now. I find the whole thing very sad and curious. Why must it be this way? What follows is part of a blog post that recently appeared at Pluggedin.com. Writer, Adam Holz is pondering the same question and he even hits on one possible reason for this unfortunate pattern.
Excerpt from “How Do We Solve A Problem Like Ariana?” – Adam Holz
One of the most saddening, maddeningly predictable aspects of my job is watching the budding careers of adolescent stars soar into the stratosphere … then plunge into racy, risqué territory when they exit their teen years and begin the tricky transition into being an “adult” entertainer. Virtually without exception in the last 15 years or so—and quite frequently in the decades before that timeframe—these one-time adolescent entertainers feel the need to trade their typically wholesome, relatively innocent image for something outright tawdry.
The depth and speed of that descent into sexually explicit material varies. But with occasional exceptions (Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson come to mind), sometimes it seems like that’s what happens to almost all the rest: Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Hilary Duff, Joe Jonas, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the list goes on. It doesn’t seem to make any difference how much they talk in interviews about subjects like virginity and Jesus, making good choices, and being a good role model. For all of the artists in that quick list (and so many more, too), the end point has been—in the most simple, common denominator term—singing about sex. Often in graphic, lurid and reckless ways. It reminds me of the ominous promise made by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”
Even knowing the black-hole-like pull of that trend, however, I find myself irrationally hoping against hope that each new star will be the one to rewrite that script, evading the assimilation that seems to ensnare them all. Alas, it’s a fool’s hope.
Which brings us to Ariana Grande … and the most recent iteration.
When Grande’s debut album Yours Truly came out last September, some commentators proclaimed her a more conservative and chaste alternative to Miley Cyrus (whose career at that point was veering in an ever more sensationalized and sensual direction.) Admittedly, those folks didn’t look too carefully at Grande’s lyrics, because even a year ago there were some obvious sexual references.
Even with those allusions to intimacy, however, I was a bit taken aback at how racy the content on Grande’s second effort,My Everything, actually is.
I won’t go into all the nitty-gritty details here that my review does. But I think it’s worth mentioning a few lines, just for context. On “Be My Baby,” for example, Grande brazenly tells a would-be beau that if he wants to be her man, he’s got to prove himself sexually first. In essence she says she’s only interested in romance if he’s good in bed: “If you know how to be my lover,” she sings, “Maybe you can be my baby.”
The message Grande sends her legion of tween and teen Sam & Cat fans? That sex is what really matters—not love, commitment or integrity. In fact, she suggests that sex is so important that it has to come first.
I wish that were the only problem here. But it’s just one of 12 tracks experimenting with similarly dangerous and degrading messages. “Love Me Harder” includes sexually explicit lyrics too provocative for Plugged In to print verbatim, as does “Hands on Me,” where Grande comments on her lover’s aroused anatomy.
Even knowing the trajectory young stars usually take these days, I simply wasn’t prepared for how far and how fast Ariana Grande really has been assimilated by the system. Which brings me to my next point: It is a system. Disney and Nickelodeon know how to groom young talent. And when the time comes, there’s a veritable pop-culture industrial complex of writers, producers and musicians waiting to propel young stars in a more racy direction.
Let me expand on that. After parsing the lyrics and messages on My Everything, I was really curious whether this racy material was something Ariana wrote herself. In other words, is this her vision of adulthood? Or someone else’s?
Eager Wikipedia contributors have already posted the songwriting and production credits for each track on the album. And guess what? Even accepting the possibility that a few errors lurk in the list, it’s more than clear that the songs were written almost entirely by men—and men significantly older than Ariana Grande. Hitmaker extraordinaire Max Martin—who’s more than twice as old as Grande at 43—was one of six men who wrote the borderline pornographic “Love Me Harder,” for instance. Grande only gets partial writing credits on four songs.
Does that creep you out at all? That middle-aged men are writing sexy-sleazy lyrics for a 21-year-old young woman to sing? It does me. And I can’t help but wonder what goes through Ariana’s head when she’s singing songs about wanting sex to be “harder” … among other crude and caustic moments. We’ll probably never know if it makes her feel queasy or uncomfortable, whether she feels any qualms or believes she has any say in how risqué her own material is.
“You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” Indeed.
That said, at the end of the day Grande did choose to sing these songs—whether it was out of personal approval or the perception that she just had to do it to take her career to the so-called “next level.” And she does have to own them. Because I suspect most of her fans won’t stop to consider that this album’s eroticized messages weren’t, for the most part, written by their idol. Instead, they’ll likely believe that these messages about sexuality are what she really values, what she thinks is important and what she would say is a good way to live. And those fans may very well imitate her choices in their own lives.
Read the full article here at Pluggedin.com.
MY CONCLUSION: I award a SPLAT to Ariana Grande, a very talented girl who has allowed herself to be caught up in this system. However, it’s my sincere hope and prayer that she will someday free herself from this marketing machine that is controlling her career and her life. I hope that soon Ariana and Miley and Justin and Selena and all the rest will realize that in portraying this image of young, free, and fun-loving, they are actually the most bound-up slaves of us all. The pop star image is fake and will only bring pleasure for a short time. No matter how much the marketing machine tries to control them, they still have a choice to pick a life of value and self-worth. They, like all of us, have a choice to leave the SPLAT behind and become a real STAR. Not the artificial stars that we see on TV, but the kind of STAR that comes from living a life that produces good for themselves and for those who are watching them. This kind of life is within easy reach, even for someone like Ariana Grande. She need only allow the God of the Bible into her life and He’ll help her become a true STAR.
2 thoughts on “Ariana Grande & the Pop Star Machine”
Like you, I question the entire apparatus of pop stardom. Yes, I realize, these children grow to adulthood and wish to declare that they no longer are children. It’s completely understandable. And I think these young performers have been surrounded by agents, coaches, etc. who persuade them that to declare adulthood requires a stroll through the sewers.
Just once, it would be nice if they grew up to be like Tracey Chapman or Natalie Merchant, or even Alanis Morisette.
Good examples of positive role models, Deby. Another that I can think of is Adele.