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After Manchester, how should Ariana Grande be perceived?

Flickr: Emma

Ariana Grande is a name with brand new meaning this week. It conjures images of the devastated families of the twenty-two victims who were killed in the Manchester attack, the suicide bomber involved, and a community who are fighting through fear to become strong and united against terrorism. But can anyone remember what we used to think about Ariana Grande before all this?

‘Lolita’ is a word that springs to mind. Yes, Ariana’s image is one that is very appealing to children, and yet is overtly sexual. But perhaps it’s not her fault but her managers’, who have marketed her towards young girls despite her sexually explicit lyrics, causing children to end up singing about having so much sex that they have to walk “side to side”.

Why does she appeal to children so much? Her appearance is a big clue. It would be wrong to blame Ariana or her managers for the way she looks naturally – it’s not her fault she has big eyes, or a youthful face. It’s not even her fault that she rose to fame in children’s TV shows – after all, she was a child at the time. Children grow up and mature, and most become sexual eventually, and that’s ok. It’s more the bunny ears, the sexy school-girl clothes that make her look like a Claire’s accessories model from the noughties, and her continued high-profile activity in children’s entertainment such as most recently in Beauty and the Beast, paired with sexuality, that some take issue with.

But is this really a problem? It’s only wrong if you think that the nine-year-old girls who go to her concerts are somehow absorbing a message that they should have sex before they’re too old, or are learning something negative about their self-worth. It doesn’t seem impossible for this message to be consciously or unconsciously incorporated into a child’s mentality. However, it also seems plausible that a child who doesn’t know what sex is might only see the fearless confidence of Ariana’s performances, leaving them blissfully ignorant of the sexual undertones of her music. The adult themes of her music might be aimed at adults after all.

Ariana’s image is one that is very appealing to children, and yet is overtly sexual.

This debate over sexuality in childrens’ characters and culture is obviously not restricted to Ariana Grande and her music. Pop stars have been dressing in childlike and yet sexual ways for a long time – Britney Spears’ schoolgirl character in Baby One More Time springs to mind. But none of these pop icons have been targeted by extremism like Ariana and her fans were in Manchester, and it’s put a new spin on her as an icon.

Extremists inspired by the so-called Islamic State don’t advocate feminism, and their intention was certainly not to attack the hypersexualisation and objectification of women by patriarchal record labels. They did it because they see women, particularly powerful and sexually confident women, as a threat and something to be undermined.

So even if you find it unsettling to see children being bombarded with sexuality, surely it must make you dislike Ariana’s image a little less to know that IS hate it so much? Your enemy’s enemy is your friend, and in a world where Donald Trump is president, feminism can certainly use all the friends it can get, even if we don’t completely agree with everything they do. In addition to this, Ariana is known for swift responses to sexist comments, such as  recently tweeting to a fan: “We are not objects or prizes. We are QUEENS.” This can hardly be said to be anything but a healthy message for young girls.

Whatever conclusion we each reach about Ariana Grande and her managements’ values, and whether or not they aid or counteract the feminist movement, it is undeniable that what happened in Manchester will change what we think of when we hear her name for a long time to come.

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