Arguably the artist of the decade, she’s definitely had a wild ride through the 2010s.

By Sean Santiago
Dec 23, 2019 @ 11:30 am

Do you remember exactly where you were when Ariana Grande licked a doughnut? I for sure do not. It was an atemporal non-event that morphed into a viral moment via osmosis, seeping into our collective consciousness and coloring our perceptions of the budding icon in flagrante. #Donutgate was so perfectly random as to seem almost engineered, and we — pun intended — ate it up.

Grande owned the 2010s even though, as the singer noted on Instagram, she didn’t release her debut album until three years into the decade. While her path to the top of the pops has been meteoric — besting Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Rihanna in the streaming wars is no small feat — it wasn’t an easy climb.

She started out on a high note as only Ariana could, garnering comparisons to Mariah Carey for her four-octave range and developing a devoted fan base dubbed “Arianators.” Her debut album, Yours Truly, paved the way to success quite literally with the aptly titled hit “The Way,” featuring then-boyfriend the late Mac Miller. Her sophomore attempt contained the status-cementing “Problems,” with a guest spot for as-relevant-as-she’d-ever-be Iggy Azalea, and the EDM-infused smash “Break Free.” All was well in Grandeland, until she was caught on camera one steamy Saturday in the summer of 2015 getting hot and heavy with one of her backup dancers — and a tray of jelly doughnuts left on the counter of a Southern California doughnut shop.

“What the f*ck is that? I hate Americans. I hate America,” she says in security camera footage obtained by TMZ, as she and her squad dare each other to lick the plein air pastries. The brief clip went hugely viral, partly for Grande’s erratic behavior, and partly for her derogatory comments about the US of A. People were offended. It gave listeners a reason to boycott. It brought to mind flickers of the 2003 Dixie Chicks scandal, when lead singer Natalie Maines said onstage in London that she was, “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." (In simpler times, when George W. Bush was our most embarrassing president thus far.)

Unlike Maines, Grande’s comments were untethered from any real strife and carried from ear to ear on the gentle last breaths of the Obama era, during which we all thought things were fine and only going to get better. (She was still banned from performing at the White House that year.) Despite warranting a police investigation, the incident was mostly blown out of proportion for clicks. In a pivot to reclaiming the narrative, Grande tweeted “I am EXTREMELY proud to be an American and have always made it clear that I love my country,” and attempted to frame her flippant remarks as an impassioned critique of the U.S. obesity rate. Alas, it took a second YouTube apology video to course correct from that previously “less authentic” messaging. In effect, it was Grande’s way of saying, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”

2016 saw Grande rebound with the release of her third album, Dangerous Woman, and we watched as she once again rose to the top of the charts like the high-ponytailed, high-powered doughnut that she is. (A stretch, but I had to.) Since then, she’s kept the cultural conversation centered around herself, for better or worse. She became a compassionate advocate for gun control in the wake of a terrorist attack at her Manchester Arena show in May 2017, and she handled ex-boyfriend Miller’s passing in 2018 with dignity and grace — despite some people cruelly blaming her for it.

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But she’s also courted controversy. She was sued for her “God Is A Woman” video, called out for cribbing the lyrics to her hit single “7 Rings,” and mocked for misspelling the Japanese characters for that song’s title tattooed on her wrist (which she took hilariously in stride). More recently, she took Forever21 to task for using look-alike models in their advertisements, though consumers noted the “look-alike” was actually a woman of color, and that it was Grande herself who’d been playing into her own assumed ethnic ambiguity for commercial gain. (A viral tweet from 2018 became meme fodder for posting two photos of Grande side by side, years apart, and captioning it “when u stir the nesquik” — truly a great title for a meta “Thank U, Next” deep cut that never was.)

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Despite all of this, or, really, thanks to the lessons learned from it, Grande is ending the decade as the most-followed person on Instagram and laughing (and licking however many doughnuts she wants) all the way to the bank. Her flamed-out courtship with Pete Davidson turned into a viral flashpoint around “BDE;” she became the face of Givenchy and launched her own fragrance line, and she won a grammy — hell, she even got thousands of people to register to vote on tour. As Susan Sarandon famously twote, “Today, lick a doughnut in solidarity with @ArianaGrande. A sweet, talented, true American.”

This story is a part of "The Teens": an exploration of what we loved, learned, and became in the last decade.

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