Ariana Grande, for a Billboard cover story in December, delivered what has turned into something of a thesis statement for the pop star. “My dream has always been to be—obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does. I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren’t,” Grande said. “We have to do the teaser before the single, then do the single, and wait to do the preorder, and radio has to impact before the video, and we have to do the discount on this day, and all this shit. It’s just like, ‘Bruh, I just want to fucking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do. Why do they get to make records like that and I don’t?’ So I do and I did and I am, and I will continue to.”
This quote is from December 5, delivered shortly after she dropped single “Thank U, Next,” a career-defining track for the singer that spent seven weeks at the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. And Grande has operated with that M.O. since, releasing music at a clip not usually associated with pop stars, who have generally taken years off between carefully constructed album cycles. Grande also released “Imagine” and “7 Rings” in quick succession, before dropping Thank U, Next, the album, in February, about six months after August’s Sweetener. Pop radio stations at this point sound like an Ariana Grande Spotify playlist, as there are at least six different Grande songs in heavy rotation. She is dominating the charts—streaming, Billboard, radio—while also embarking on a worldwide tour. But lest you think that would in any way impede her productivity, though, Grande dropped on Monday yet another single, “Monopoly,” which—no surprise—finds itself at No. 1 on the iTunes chart 24 hours after its release.
The song is a duet with Victoria Monét, a close friend and longtime creative collaborator of Grande’s. The two were co-writers on “7 Rings,” Grande’s latest hit single, which has now spent eight weeks at the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 chart—and “Monopoly” is designed as a celebration of that success (or, as they put it on the album art, it’s “a thank u to them fans”). Grande obviously could command any sort of budget she wanted at this point for a video shoot or rollout, but she decidedly chose a low-key approach with this track. It feels very much like a song that two friends recorded on a whim and figured, Sure, why not, let’s release it!?! The video, similarly, has a dashed-off, homemade feel to it, emojis and pop-ups bopping around the two women.
The song itself is an assertion of their dominance, achieved via hard work (“Work so fuckin’ much, need a twinny, twin, twin,” they sing on the chorus). “And if they try come stoppin’ me,” Grande boasts in her verse, “I show them my discography” (this line is accompanied with a visual buffet of her album covers, flitting around her). Grande—ever attuned to the Internet chatter and swirling narratives about her—also references a recent New York Times story about the royalties arrangement for “7 Rings,” in which 90 percent of songwriting royalties are handed to Rodgers and Hammerstein. “You’d be straight for life if I gave you my PIN / Even though we gave up that 90 percent for the win,” she sings. It’s a good line, and certainly more aligned with the kind of confidence more typically associated with hip-hop artists. Grande is very much having a moment, these past six months, and she knows it.
The song has made headlines most extensively, though, for its apparent disclosure that Grande, or Monét, or both women (?), are bisexual. They sing on the chorus, “I like women and men,” and, in the video, they’re seen popping out of bathrooms for both genders. How we’re specifically meant to interpret the lyric in relation to their real-life preferences is unclear, but it is unlikely we’ll be getting much clarification, aside from a Grande tweet Monday night, in response to a fan who asserted that the singer doesn’t have to “label herself.” Grande replied, “I haven’t before and still don’t feel the need to now which is okay.”
Grande is in the midst of the sort of rare “can’t-miss” phase that is hard to come by and hard to replicate for a pop star, that occurs in one’s prime, an alignment of commercial success and cultural dominance (Grande has also recently become the most-followed woman on Instagram). She is perhaps onto something, as well, with her current strategy of saturating the market. In our short-attention-span culture, where there is always another song right up on the queue, another post to scroll down to on the feed, she is continuing to provide new songs, new posts, new content, new lyrics to speculate over, at a remarkable clip. To be an Ariana Grande fan right now is to be continually satiated. “I’ve been on a roll, where you been?” Grande and Monét sing on “Monopoly,” with the implicit suggestion that everyone else in pop, at the moment at least, is playing catch-up.
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