Ariana Grande is everything but the diva

Beyonce. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Beyonce. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSEPHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, MARI SARII, RCA/SONY
Katy Perry. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Katy Perry. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSEPHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, MARI SARII, RCA/SONY
Kelly Clarkson. -- PHOTO: RCA/SONY
Kelly Clarkson. -- PHOTO: RCA/SONYPHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, MARI SARII, RCA/SONY
Adele. -- PHOTO: MARI SARII
Adele. -- PHOTO: MARI SARIIPHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, MARI SARII, RCA/SONY
American pop singer Ariana Grande (left) in Tokyo (above).
American pop singer Ariana Grande (left) in Tokyo (above).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, UNIVERSAL MUSIC JAPAN
American pop singer Ariana Grande (left) in Tokyo (above).
American pop singer Ariana Grande (left) in Tokyo (above).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, UNIVERSAL MUSIC JAPAN
American pop singer Ariana Grande (left) in Tokyo (above).
American pop singer Ariana Grande (left) in Tokyo (above).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, UNIVERSAL MUSIC JAPAN

Pint-sized, bubbly singer Ariana Grande says negative publicity is part and parcel of being in the big league

For her vocal prowess, American pop sensation Ariana Grande has been compared with Mariah Carey, one of the original power divas of the previous generation.

Unfortunately for her, the diva label, as is often the case, does not stop at her performances on stage. It is an albatross around the neck that furthermore indicts personal behaviour and character.

Indeed, Grande has been slammed by the international press in recent weeks for being a demanding diva and being brusque to her fans.

To her credit, she meets such negativity head-on and swats it away with the panache of a bona fide diva.

When a singer enters the pop diva league, it comes with extra attention, both good and bad, she says.

"You want to defend yourself and stand up for yourself, but then you have to sort of realise that those sort of things are just little fake blips on the road. They're just sort of momentary, possible distractions. The biggest challenge is not to let them distract you.

"In an industry like this, the media builds you up to tear you down and to build you up again. But I feel that knowing that, going into all of this, is a very key thing. So I'm fine."

Life! met the petite entertainer last weekend at a group media interview in Tokyo, where she went to promote her second and latest album, My Everything (2014, above), and to perform a half-hour showcase at DiverCity Tokyo Plaza.

Without mentioning specific incidents, the 21-year-old singer acknowledges that her meteoric rise to fame since her debut album became No. 1 last year has meant every hiccup in her career comes under media scrutiny, "even bumps and hiccups I don't even have".

Speaking to journalists from Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia, she says: "Some of them came out of nowhere. Some of them were completely fabricated because someone was having a bad day. That wasn't me - that was them having a bad day and putting that hate out there and sort of make something up about somebody."

She was probably referring to the recent slate of negative press she has been receiving, including behaving like a diva during a press photo shoot in Australia, and being icy cold towards fans who had won a contest to meet her at the MTV Video Music Awards in Inglewood, California, last month.

At this interview, there was no sign of a Grande-sized diva attitude.

Instead, reporters encountered a bubbly singer who offered them high- fives mid-interview and called fans her "besties" while taking selfies with them.

Her relationship with her fans is "intimate" and more like a "friendship", she continues. "I go through my DMs (direct messages on Twitter), I see what they tweet every day, every night. They make me laugh, we talk about things and I help them with problems. Sometimes, I feel like a life coach."

She might have learnt her lesson or maybe her management has made her see the light, but Life! found her to be self- assured and ready to speak her mind.

It is a trait she has shown even as a child. She recalls the time she performed for the first time in front of a live audience, when a four-year-old Grande took on the role of a bumble bee in the play, Three Billy Goats Gruff, in a day camp in Florida.

She recounts: "I was supposed to sting the billy goat. I remember I wasn't supposed to do this, but I ripped the stinger off my costume, poked the billy goat in the nose and walked off stage. The audience was laughing."

Seventeen years later, she still has the audience in the palm of her hands.

Last Sunday, while performing four songs at megamall DiverCity Tokyo Plaza in a figure- hugging crop top and plaid mini skirt with knee-high socks and heels, she braved the heat and never missed a beat. The several hundred fans screamed in glee as she showed off her vocals chops on her hits Problem, Baby I and Break Your Heart Right Back.

Here was a performer who does not wilt when she steps away from the studio and onto a stage in front of a live crowd.

Why would she? She has been doing this for a long time.

At eight, she started in music and acting, dabbling in musical theatre and performing in small productions. Her mother Joan Grande is the chief executive officer of a telephone and alarm system company, while her father owns a graphic design firm. She has an older half- brother, Frankie.

Grande, who says she grew up listening to pop, R&B, musical theatre and rap music, credits her family for her "musical education".

"My family had exquisite taste in music and there was always music playing. I listened to a lot of oldies as well; my grandparents were always playing music from the 1950s and 1960s, such as doowop. I got a very good musical education from my family at a young age."

By age 14, she made her Broadway debut. For her supporting role as a cheerleader in the children's musical 13, she won a National Youth Theatre Association Award.

Although she loved to sing at the time, she thought she was too young to get involved in the music industry as a career singer. "It wasn't until later on that I took singing seriously. I knew it was what I wanted to do, but I think as a young girl to get involved that early... it was a lot of pressure," she says.

In 2010, she landed the role as one of the main characters, Cat Valentine, on Nickelodeon television series Victorious. She did well on the award-winning show, which revolved around a group of teenagers attending a performing arts school, and shortly after, she got her own spin-off show, Sam & Cat.

Although Sam & Cat was shortlived - it ended its two-season run in July this year - it matters not a whit, for the Florida native's music career has already blasted off into the stratosphere.

Her debut album, Yours Truly (2013), hit the No. 1 spot on the US Billboard 200 chart, moving 138,000 copies in the first week of its release. It produced several chart-topping singles, including The Way, Baby I and Right There.

The album revealed Grande as a soulful singer with a big voice, whose music gave a nod to the 1990s R&B divas such as Carey and Christina Aguilera.

Grande, who writes and co-writes some of her own songs, says she "comes up with melodies and concepts all the time", recording voice notes on her telephone whenever she is inspired. "My friends will be like, 'What the hell is she doing?', and I'm like, don't mind me."

Last month, she dropped her sophomore effort, My Everything, an album that stuck to her R&B-meets-pop roots but energised with the fast beats of electronic dance music.

"Electronic dance music is huge for a good reason. It's beneficial to both pop artists and DJ-producers and ultimately makes for a great product," she says, adding that working with DJ-producers not only offers a "great opportunity for pop artists to try something new and reach a new audience, but also for the DJs and producers to try something new as well".

The first single off the album, Problem, featuring Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Songs such as the love ballad My Everything and club-worthy anthem Break Free, a track she recorded with Russian-German DJ-producer Zedd, are also faring well on the charts.

To sing Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart, a song penned by Harry Styles of English boyband One Direction, also from the new release, she has to put on her "acting hat".

She says: "It's about loving somebody so much that you would be willing to share him with somebody else. Which, er, must be a very strong love. I have to do a bit of acting when I sing that song because I could not share my man with somebody - hell, no."

Would Styles make a good lover? "I never thought of him like that," she says with a laugh.

Romantically, she has been linked to one of her music collaborators, American hip-hop artist Big Sean, 26. But whoever he turns out to be, he needs to love dogs.

Grande says with the excitement of a teenager: "What I'd like to do in future is start a big, beautiful farm, go around Los Angeles and whatever cities I could, and rescue the puppies from the kill shelters, and unwanted animals.

"They could exist there and be loved, and I would hire a whole bunch of animal-loving crazy people to go every day and make sure they feel so much love and compassion."

melk@sph.com.sg

My Everything is out in stores.


Other female power singers

Adele

British R&B singer-songwriter Adele has the big pipes to bring the house down and she uses those vocal chops to move her fans with her brand of vintage pop-soul that speak of love and heartbreak. The 26-year-old is responsible for timeless love ballads including Make You Feel My Love and Someone Like You. She is one of the most successful female vocalists to have emerged in the past few years. Her sophomore album 21 (2012) earned her six Grammy Awards, two Brit Awards and three American Music Awards.

Kelly Clarkson

The original American Idol, now 32, is the most successful singer from the reality television series.

She is one of the few versatile singers who have managed to find a niche in the competitive pop music market, swinging from dance-pop to contemporary pop to rock.

Six studio albums later, Clarkson, known for her robust vocal range with a slight rasp, remains just as relevant.

Perhaps the key to her success has been her ability to churn out empowering anthems such as Breakaway, Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) and Because Of You.

Katy Perry

The American pop singer has the winning combination of big vocal chops and some of the catchiest melodies in recent pop history.

The 29-year-old rose to fame in 2008 on the back of her single I Kissed A Girl and catapulted to pop diva league with her third album, Teenage Dream (2010). That record became the first by a female artist to produce five No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 songs.

Although her hits such as Teenage Dream and Firework sound like simple, club-pop ditties, they are among the hardest pop songs to sing, requiring good control and an extensive vocal range.

Beyonce

American R&B singer Beyonce is the modern-day feminist pop diva.

The former lead singer of 1990s girl-group Destiny's Child has had superstar success as a solo artist, pushing the themes of love, relationship, female sexuality and empowerment in her songs.

A blend of R&B, motown, soul and hip-hop works well for Beyonce, whose distinctive voice is perfect for power ballads and rock belters.

The 33-year-old is one of the biggest-selling artists in music history, winning 17 Grammy Awards and with more than 75 million records moved as a solo artist.