The problematic evolution of Ariana Grande.

Show me a pop star with a squeaky clean rap sheet.

You can't.

History tells us the rise to the top of billboard charts, sky-high private jets, branded collabs and million-dollar world tours is never without its controversies. You see, when the entire world is watching, they're going to pick apart every aspect of their life. Call it an occupational hazard or call it a sign of the times where prying eyes are par for the course if you want to be a world-famous musician.

At just 30 years old, Ariana Grande has already lived nine lives. Each of them born from the ashes and crucified by the jury of public perception in one fell swoop. For a modern popstar it's not so uncommon to fall in and out of the good graces of the public — 'comebacks' are almost seen as a rite of passage and a fantastic marketing tactic to boot.

But for Grande, she has almost made a career out of banking on her controversies to give her the spring she needs to pull her into the conversation again. And as we all know the 'conversation' equals record sales, streaming numbers and ticket sales. She's using controversies as a commodity, and so far, it's paying off.

Watch: a look back one when Ariana Grande impersonated Jennifer Lawrence. Post continues below.

Video via YouTube.

It's a tricky game to play because as much as you think you and your team can manufacture and read the tides of public perception, one of these days you may just run so far off course that there's no coming back.

Has Grande's good will run out or will she forever be the teflon queen who just keeps bouncing back?

Nickelodeon feuds.

If you can cast your mind back to Ari's Nickelodeon days, you may recall a fresh-faced teenager playing Cat Valentine on the TV series Victorious alongside Victoria Justice. When that show was cancelled in 2013 she was cast in a spin-off Cat & Sam with Jennette McCurdy.

While it may have seemed all sweet and innocent on set, two feuds with her former cast mates have followed her throughout her career. First, there's the case of allegedly being 'frenemies' with Justice.

"Sweetheart the only reason Victorious ended is because one girl didn't want to do it," Grande apparently wrote on her social media account back in 2013. 

"She chose to do a solo tour instead of a cast tour. If we had done a cast tour Nickelodeon would have ordered another season of Victorious while Sam & Cat filmed simultaneously but she chose otherwise. I'm sick of this BS."

Since then the pair have grown up and moved past their very teenage feud. Just last year Justice said in an interview with E! News there was no bad blood between them.

"I don't even need to talk about this anymore, but Ariana texted me and we both were like, 'This is so stupid.' I think the biggest rumour is this whole narrative that was created of like me being jealous of her and of us not being friends," she said.


"I feel like it's this constant story of the media and people wanting to pit people against each other, and it's just so not even relevant anymore now."

Then in 2022, Grande's former Sam & Cat cast mate Jennette McCurdy made some very telling revelations in her memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died. She opened up about what it was like filming the one season of their show while Grande's music career was exploding.

"Every time something exciting happens to her, I feel like she robbed me of having that experience myself. And every time someone calls me a good sport, all I feel is how much I don't want to be one," she wrote. 

"Ariana misses work in pursuit of her music career while I act with a box. I'm pissed about it. And I'm pissed at her. Jealous of her."

Since McCurdy confirmed the pair never got along as teenagers, Grande hasn't publicly spoken out about the admission.

Sam and Cat. Image: Nickelodeon.


'Donut do that'.

In 2015, Grande's girl-next-door image was pulled into question when she was embroiled in a 'donut licking' scandal.

At the time, Grande was dating dancer Ricky Alvarez when they were captured by TMZ crossing some major OH&S lines while visiting Wolfee Donuts in California. 

In the video, you can see Grande licking some donuts on a tray before exclaiming, "What the f**k is that? I hate Americans. I hate America! That's disgusting." The incident took place on the 4th of July weekend no less, so it's safe to say her fellow Americans were more than offended by her comments.

In response to the major backlash, she released an official statement apologising for her behaviour.

"I am EXTREMELY proud to be an American and I’ve always made it clear that I love my country," she said while adding she should have had "more discretion with [her] choice of words".

Potential relationship overlap.

One of Grande's earlier relationships was her eight-month romance with rapper Big Sean between 2014 and 2015. By all accounts, the breakup was amicable with the pair releasing a joint statement that said "they both care deeply for each other and remain close friends."

However, a few years later some damning claims came to light when Big Sean's ex, the late Naya Rivera, wrote about the singer in her 2016 memoir, Sorry Not Sorry. She wrote about being seemingly blindsided when she allegedly found Grande in her fiancé's home.


"On the one day that he was back in LA, [Sean] said he didn't want to see me. But since she had a key, she let herself in to his house," she wrote. 

"I walk in, go downstairs, and guess what little girl is sitting cross-legged on the couch listening to music? It rhymes with 'Smariana Schmande'."

According to Rivera, the discovery of Grande in Big Sean's home was the end of their relationship.

"I learned that I was no longer getting married from the internet, and at the same time as the rest of the world," she wrote. 

"Not only were we not getting married, we weren’t even together anymore."

Big Sean and Ariana Grande. Image: Getty.


Cultural Appropriation.

Another very serious allegation that has repeatedly dogged Grande's career trajectory has been the claim that she has appropriated other cultures for her own gain. Grande — who is of European-American heritage —has been accused of 'blackfishing' or appropriating black culture namely through her appearance.

This narrative peaked around 2016 when she was seen with darkly tanned skin and copped 'white washing' claims from musician Princess Nokia.

"Ain't that the lil song I made about brown women and their hair? Hmm, sounds about white," said Princess Nokia in a social media post where she accused Grande of plagiarising her song 'Mine' in the track '7 Rings'.

Image: Getty.


Her Pete Davidson days.

Depending on your definition of controversy, Grande's ill-fated, highly publicised relationship with Pete Davidson could be seen as a smear on her character. 

Of course, there was nothing outwardly problematic about dating comedian Davidson, however, the pair were accused of pulling a fast one on us with a 155-day-long relationship PR stunt.


After a whirlwind romance that included probably far too many details about Davidson's penis and an engagement, they called it quits in October 2018.


Not long after Grande released the single 'thank u, next' which for all intents and purposes was a song about moving on from Davidson. And his way to deal with the breakup was to poke fun at it during a promo for SNL.

This is where things started to get a little messy when Grande subtweeted by writing, "for somebody who claims to hate relevancy u sure love clinging to it huh," in a now deleted Tweet.

After some tit-for-tat the pair eventually put their relationship behind them and I think we are all very thankful for that.

Scooter Braun ties.

In 2022, a damning expose published in Insider made claims that manager to the stars, Scooter Braun wasn't the glorified talent handler he made himself out to be. 

As the cracks started to show on his veneer and more allegations came forward about his behaviour, there was a mass exodus from his client books as celebrities fired him left, right and centre. 

However, despite his tarnished reputation, Grande stuck by her controversial manager until the bitter end. Given his treatment of Taylor Swift years earlier, this didn't exactly go over well with the Swiftie community.

Over a year after Braun's fallout, Grande finally parted ways with him in August 2023 and signed with Good World Management.

Ethan Slater.

After lying low and out of the spotlight for a few years, Grande was back in the headlines in July 2023 when it was confirmed her two-year marriage to real estate agent Dalton Gomez had ended and they were separating.


At the same time, rumours began spreading that Grande had already moved on from her ex-husband and was dating her Wicked costar, Ethan Slater. 

This would have all been a fairly uneventful development if not for the controversy surrounding Slater's soon-to-be ex-wife Lilly Jay who went to the media to slam Grande.

"[Ariana’s] the story, really. Not a girl’s girl," Jay told Page Six at the time. 

"My family is just collateral damage."

Ariana Grande and Ethan Slater first met on the set of Wicked. Image: Instagram @michelleyeoh_official.


Her comments follow Slater filing for divorce after they had been married for four years and had recently welcomed their first child together.

Whilst there has never been any smoking gun to prove there was any cheating going on, it has long been speculated Grande and Slater fell in love while filming Wicked when they were still married to their respective partners. 

To date, it has been the biggest controversy that has tested the strength of her public persona.

A Wicked future.

Up next Grande will star in the highly anticipated feature film adaptation of the acclaimed musical Wicked which is slated for a November 2024 premiere. In March 2024, she released her seventh studio album Eternal Sunshine to much fanfare. 

In May, she attended the Met Gala, wearing a custom Loewe gown designed by Jonathan Anderson.

Ariana Grande at the Met Gala. Image: Getty


For now, the ghosts of her problematic past haven't caught up with her.

When we talk about an evolution, especially in the case of Grande's career, it suggests there has been growth. Maybe in her 30s she will step away from the drama and focus on music. Because how many controversies is too many? Perhaps she's ready to stop testing that theory and let her talent speak for itself.

This article was published on March 23, 2024, and has since been updated with new information.

Feature Image: Getty.

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