Star Power

Ariana Grande, This Is How to Be a Diva

The 21-year-old pop star is upset people think she’s a diva—but she should feel flattered. We salute a venerable lineage of strong women, big hair, and drama.

Ariana Grande has been on the phone to Miley Cyrus, apparently in despair, she told Britain’s Mirror. “I said, ‘Miley, I’m so sad—what do I do? This isn’t true. My heart is broken, I feel so bad.’”

What was Grande denying? That she had stolen Cyrus’s career-making wrecking ball, believing she needed a shocking selling point—after all, wrecking ball trumps top knot?

Worse, much worse.

Grande, who like Cyrus is 21, had been called a diva and was upset about it. So she called another really famous pop star to commiserate and ask for advice.

This is promising diva behavior.

And what did Cyrus tell her hair-tossing protégée, besides “Return the wrecking ball NOW, lady”?

“She was like, ‘Girl don’t even look at it,’” Grande said of Cyrus’s advice. “‘Just be happy that you're blessed. You have family and friends who love you, you have fans that love you who know what’s true and what’s not. It will blow over and tomorrow they’ll be talking about something else.’”

This is entirely classic diva self-delusion: your fans may indeed love you, but they have not the slightest idea what is true about your life. You rely on their unquestioning devotion.

Still, Grande seems to have been blown away by Cyrus’s wisdom. “She lives for love, and that’s something I do too,” she said, complimenting both her idol and herself. “She has a beautiful spirit, and that made me feel so much better.”

So far, evidence of Grande’s supposed diva-ishness amounts to, according to Bustle: demanding to be photographed from her left side, a feud with her Sam and Cat co-star Jennette McCurdy (don’t worry, me neither—it was some kind of kids’ show), walking away from signing autographs, insisting fans delete pictures of her at a meet-and-greet, insisting a photographer delete pictures of her after a photo shoot, being so impossible that her life coach Isaac Calpito quit, and then wishing her fans would “fucking die.”

Calpito took to Twitter to to make as nice as possible—while not denying that much.

How can one say this politely? Ms. Grande, you are not a diva. At best, if the stories are true, you sound petulant, cosseted, and bratty. But for true diva status, you need to hurl a phone at an assistant (Naomi Campbell). Or you are a big crazy Hollywood movie star with insane ambition who beats your children with wire coat-hangers and makes them clean the bathroom floor in the middle of the night (Joan Crawford).

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Or you are Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you sing yearningly, you marry a gay, the gays love you, and you suffer and die horribly (Judy Garland). You are the daughter of this person, and you sing, star in an Oscar-winning iconic role (Sally Bowles, Cabaret), and suffer even more, and survive, and stalk the most recent Oscars with a brilliant bolt of blue in your hair (Liza Minnelli).

Or you are Elizabeth Taylor: an on-screen vamp with the most tempestuously public love-life dramas (with Richard Burton). The husbands come and go, the hair gets bigger, and you become a figurehead in the early years of AIDS for a search for a cure, and the fight against ignorance and prejudice.

A true diva, Ms. Grande, sits through the indignity of having to do morning television to promote an album of “diva classics,” with the look of someone being stabbed with a hundred hot needles. And beware the perky morning anchors with their inane questions (Aretha Franklin). A true diva comes from nothing, knows the life-enhancing brilliance of big hair, and belts out songs in insane, glittery dresses (Shirley Bassey).

You don’t just stop at asking to be photographed from your left side (diva amateur hour), you insist, like Barbra Streisand, on reorganizing one of the famous late-night talk shows (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon), so you get to sit at the host’s desk, left profile in shot. (In fact, you are just Barbra Streisand, full stop.)

You should not be seen on streets, but in airports, in big coats and sunglasses. As a scrum envelopes you, you channel iceberg.

Whether they are true or not, you allow the general percolation of rumors of hotel floors having to be littered with rose petals for your late-night arrival, and of even your dogs having their own entourage (Mariah Carey).

You sing the most amazing pop, have terrible relationship and addiction problems, you rise, you fall, your songs remain (Whitney Houston). You play TV’s biggest bitch, you marry a bunch of times, faint at a 2011 post-Oscars party after squeezing into too tight a dress, and you are intelligent, mischievous fun (Joan Collins).

If you are young you must do more than sing about screwed-up relationships, you have them, too (Rihanna). Or you start nice, sex up, career off the tracks, shave your head in public, come back again, and then—shrug off all the sniping about your body shape and voice—and just do what the hell you want (Britney Spears).

A diva survives scandal, either by rebuilding a formidable career and public profile herself (Hillary Clinton), or by maintaining a Garbo-like silence for years before returning to the public eye with a stirring speech on cyber-bullying and launching herself on Twitter the same day (Monica Lewinsky, on Monday).

Brutally, Ms. Grande, to be a true diva you need to have lived a bit. You need to accumulate a grab-bag of career highs, career lows, addiction issues, terrible relationships, controversial public moments, unspecified fallings-out with Svengali-like management, dresses that zing, and dresses that suck.

You need scandal, then life after scandal. You need some scuff marks from the great merry-go-round we call life. You need to keep on rolling. Divas stand out, they are remarkable in every sense of that word. If the old divas were fetishized for their suffering, one hopes the new are admired and celebrated for their strength.

Grande herself said, “If you see a woman working hard who is successful—who doesn’t stop until she reaches her goal, who is strong and has wishes and dreams she wants to fulfill, and works hard every day—you label them a diva.

“But if you see a man doing that, you’re like, ‘He’s incredible, he’s an amazing businessman.’”

This means, worryingly, that Grande doesn’t know what a diva is. It doesn’t mean being in control and being criticized for it, it means being impossible, slightly or overly monstrous, and being criticized—and lionized—for that. And that is why men can be divas, too.

“It’s funny how a certain amount of success comes with a certain amount of weird, inaccurate depictions of you,” Grande told the Daily Telegraph. “But I feel like it will die down because it’s not something that I pay into. And also things can only last so long when there’s little truth to them. So that’s why I don’t trip over it.”

“It’s weird to me,” she said, “because I do see myself as a fairly positive, very friendly person.”

Oh no, never say that, Ms. Grande! Divas look like they’ve beamed in from their own special planets; that if, say, confronted by a supermarket, they would faint with incomprehension.

They don’t do normal life, they’re not the girl next door. They are not Reese Witherspoon—although she showed promise when, pulled over by cops last year, she said: “You’re about to find out who I am.” Atta-diva.

Encouragingly, Grande says, “If you want to call me a diva I’ll say, ‘Um, well, cool.’ Barbra Streisand is a diva; that’s amazing. Celine Dion is a diva; thank you. But if you want to call me a bitch, that’s not accurate. Because it’s just not in my nature.”

The problem is Grande has now painted herself into a bit of a nice-girl corner, which is a place no diva ever wants to be.

Besides causing an outrage, creating memorable songs, and having wild relationships, Ariana Grande’s most difficult task is to cultivate the diva’s most important accessory—an air of mystery, in a social media age that leaves precious little room for such. We wish Grande the coat-tossing best, but this would-be diva has it rough, especially when her best buddy has already co-opted that giant wrecking ball.