Ariana Grande Then & Now

Ariana Grande switching from Positions

13 minutes to read
Marjon Adil

Ariana Grande started her career as an actress and used to play the character of the red-headed Cat Valentine for several years. Because people loved this fictional character so much, Ariana pretended to be this character and even started her singing career with the appearance of Cat Valentine but under her own name. However, she came to a point where she did not want to lie anymore, to herself as well as to the early fans she gained. That is why in 2013, she said her farewell to the character of Cat to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. 

Ariana Grande's personas and hair

Switching from one persona to the other raises the question of how Cat has influenced Ariana and what the shift from one persona to the other has done to Ariana’s identity as well as her career. Did the changing of the red locks from Cat Valentine lead to the creation of an authentic version of herself? And what is being herself according to Ariana Grande? To answer this question, the following research question is formulated: ‘How did Ariana’s change of hairstyles influence her public as well as her private persona?’ To answer this question, I will make use of three interviews which are constructions of the person Ariana is trying to represent to the media. 

Posture, persona, and self-representation

For this article, I will make use of the concepts of posture, persona, and self-representation by Jêrome Meizoz, and Richard Dyer’s concept on Stardom. In Modern Posterities of Posture (2010), Jêrome Meizoz discusses author Jean Jacques Rousseau’s term posture. According to Meizoz, posture gained importance in literary studies (Meizoz, 2010): he believes that posture is always related to the field in which the author operates (Meizoz, 2010). To give a clear description of the term ‘posture’, Meizoz sets up a few elements to give a definition of the term. One of the important elements is the idea that "posture is not uniquely an author’s own construction, but an interactive process: the image is co-constructed by the author and various mediators serving the reading public" (Meizoz, 2010: 84). Thereby, he states that posture "presupposes a dual observation track, because it involves both non-verbal behaviour (a) and discourse (b)" (Meizoz, 2010: 85).

In Stars, Richard Dyer (2008) discusses the notion of stardom and analyzes the influence of stars on society. His theory is devided into three parts: stars as a social phenomenon, stars as images, and stars as signs. Dyer states that "star images are constructed personages in media text" (Dyer, 2008: 95). An important element of his theory is that "because stars are always appearing in different stories and settings, they must broadly stay the same in order to permit recognition and identification" (Dyer, 2008:98). This means that when celebrities change roles or personas, it can cause confusion and ambiguity among the public. Lastly, he emphasizes the importance of the appearance of stars. He states that "what a character looks like indicates their personality, with varying degrees of precision" (Dyer, 2008: 109). 

Ariana Grande in the shadow of Cat Valentine

From short, red hair to long brown hair, to different shades of blond, to even long and short ponytails. Ariana has tried it all. Before Ariana became a pop star, she played the character of Cat Valentine in the show Victorious. In this sitcom, Ariana plays the fictional character of Cat Valentine, who is a red-headed, loving, and caring character who believes in fairytales and the goodness of people (Victorious Fandom, n.d.). She loves to wear princess dresses that match her hair color (Fogarty, 2020). For this show, Ariana had to dye her hair red which gave her a typical Cat appearance. Simultaneously with her acting career, Ariana started covering songs on YouTube. She made use of the benefits of the social media platform Twitter by responding to her fans and covering songs that the fans chose on Twitter (Blanchet, 2021). This made it possible to already gain millions of fans all over the world and even a label called “Republic Records” discovered her voice and offered her to work together on her music career (Blanchet, 2021).

However, she was still on Victorious where she continued to have the red hair and the girly outfits. This did not stop her from making her own music and her record label even advised her to start her music career as soon as possible (Blanchet, 2021). This is because they found it important to keep the fans she already gained. That is where she made her first single “Put Your Hearts Up” in 2011 (see Figure 1). In this song, she sings about things that are typically important to Cat Valentine with lyrics such as "if we give a little love, maybe we can change the world" (Genius, 2011). On top of that, she wears her hair exactly like she does when she plays the character of Cat and even wears a princess dress. This created confusion about Ariana’s identity because her first single represents her Cat Valentine persona.

Figure 1: Screenshot, song ‘Put Your Hearts Up’


For this song, she did a promotional interview on the same day as her song was released with ClevverTV (2011). Looking at her interview, there are some interesting remarks. First, it is interesting to see that she not only presents herself as Cat Valentine in her first single but also in her interviews. Ariana chose to use this persona outside the show to present herself to the public by wearing her hair in the exact shade of red that she has when she plays the character of Cat. She also wears a pink dress which Cat could have worn as well in her shows. She mentions: “My music is a direct reflection of me so my fans can get to know me better” (ClevverTV, 2011, 05:34). She even says “My fans call me red-velvet cupcake princes on Twitter” (ClevverTV, 2011, 08:34). By stating that this song, in which she has the characteristics and appearance of Cat Valentine, is a direct reflection of herself and people can get to know her better, she confirms the idea that she actually is this fictional character in real life. According to Meizoz, this concept is called ‘the persona’ "which originally refers to the mask worn by actors on stage" (Meizoz, 2010: 84). Thus, Ariana uses Cat’s appearance and characteristics like a mask on stage.

This created confusion about Ariana’s identity because her first single represents her Cat Valentine persona

Looking at her posture, on the other hand, is according to Meizoz based on how you present and express yourself and how your position in the field is constructed. Meizoz states that the posture "is not uniquely an author’s own construction, but an interactive process: the image is co-constructed by the author and various mediators" (Meizoz, 2010: 84). So, on the one hand, it is based on ‘the authors’ public presentation of the self involving clothing, hairstyle, gestures, and looks, and on the other hand, posture’s discursive dimensions are similar to ‘ethos’ in rhetoric, that is, the textual self-image offered by the enunciator’ (Meizoz, 2010, p. 85). From this interview it is interesting to see that her posture was not only created because of people on the internet having an image of her being Cat Valentine, and therefore calling her red-velvet cupcake princes on Twitter, but also because she chose, with her management, to begin her career with the persona of this fictional character she plays by behaving like her and having similar looks and gestures. 

Dyer states that this is common in the world of stars "because stars are always appearing in different stories and settings, they must stay broadly the same in order to permit recognition and identification" (Dyer, 2008: 98), Therefore, "certain Hollywood stars become identified with particular character types because we are so used to the celebrities playing the same character" (Dyer, 2008: 98) This was exactly the case with Ariana. She could not separate herself from the character because people were so used to seeing her with the red hair and the girly outfits in Victorious and Sam & Cat. By showing herself in interviews with the typical characteristics of Cat which are the red locks, she creates this identification and recognition as the fictional character of Cat (see Figure 2). Thus, at an early stage, Ariana came to the realization that her hair played an important role in her career as it was part of how she presented herself publicly. 

Figure 2: Interview Ariana Grande with ClevverTv (2011)


From red hair Cat Valentine to ponytail Ariana Grande

After Victorius getting cancelled, Ariana knew it was her moment to pursue her dreams as an artist. From that moment Ariana separated herself from the character and started focusing on her singing career (Nu, 2021). Because her hair was an important aspect of her career, she chose to dye her hair brown as the red hair was a direct reflection of Cat. In the same period, she did an interview with ZackSangTv (2015), to talk about her third album.

Figure 3: Interview Ariana with ZackSangTv (2015)

In this interview, one can see a reconstruction of her posture by paying attention to the textual discourse and her behaviour. Ariana wears her long brown extensions with two messy buns and headphones on her head (see Figure 3). Looking at the textual discourse of the interview, the interviewer asks Ariana how she felt about playing the character of Cat Valentine. The first thing that she mentions is "It took me a long time to be brave enough to separate myself and show people how different we actually are" (Zack Sang Show, 2015, 14:47). Besides, she mentions that every time she sees or listens to “Put Your Hearts Up”, "she sees a kid with red hair that wanted to do music really bad, and she was kind of stuck in this weird world where she was half her character and half herself which made was confusing" (Zack Sang Show, 2015, 15:52).  From this statement, one can say that she does not want to be compared anymore to Cat. More importantly, she wants to construct this image of the ‘new’ Ariana Grande that is nothing similar to Cat Valentine.

The importance of Ariana’s hair evolution

From being platinum blond in her music video ‘Focus’ to wearing a long brown ponytail to even having bangs and braids. She has tried it all. Today the ponytail is part of her identity as everywhere on social media where you see a ponytail and long boots it is immediately connected to Ariana. In 2020, Zack Sang interviewed Ariana again: they talked about her career, her new album 'Positions', and how she feels about making music now after all these years of being an artist. Unlike her previous interviews, in this interview she has tattoos all over her arms (see Figure 4). Another important aspect of this interview is when they talk about her history of being Cat Valentine and how she used to dye her hair weekly. Ariana reacts to this by saying "yes, my hair is really important to me, it is something I used to differentiate myself with, so the red was Cat and that was a character I used to play but again it is not me" (Zack Sang Show, 2020, 50:02). She makes it very clear that up to the present day she gets compared to the character and she wants to make it clear that it is not her. So, even though in 2011 she stated that “Put Your Hearts Up” was a direct reflection of her, today she is completely against this statement and she wants to make it really clear that that persona was not her. 

Another interesting point in this interview is when they also talk about how she is publicly defined by her hair. Sang points out the idea that the red is linked to Ariana being the fictional character of Cat but when she wears her ponytail, she can be herself. Ariana responds to this by saying that his interpretation is not exactly true, and she compares her hair with a costume piece (Zack Sang Show, 2020, 52:47). "When I am wearing my hair differently for example my natural hair, it feels like I am taking off my work uniform and I am becoming a whole different person" (Zack Sang Show, 2020, 52:47). She also states in her interview "I am me with the ponytail but I am also me with the curls in the shower, it is like I have different personas of me that are built around my hair which makes it weird" (Zack Sang Show, 2020, 53:58). Lastly, she says: "I like that I can separate work and my private life with my hair and that the things you see about me are separate from reality" (Zack Sang Show, 2020, 54:16).

Figure 4: Interview Ariana with ZackSangTv (2020)

It is interesting to see that even the character she built after her phase as Cat, is still a constructed persona that she uses as a mask on stage to present herself to the world. This means that not only the red-headed Cat Valentine was a constructed persona but even now the ponytailed Ariana Grande is a constructed persona that she uses when she is on stage singing and performing. As Ariana mentioned in her interview, she uses her hair like a costume piece and she is truly herself when she wears her curly hair at home. This is because she wants to keep her artistic life and private life separated. This means that the personas she has built as an artist are all constructed.

Final thoughts

This research has compared the different personas of Ariana in her journey of becoming an artist with a focus on how she presents herself publicly. First, the theory of Dyer has shown that in the world of stars, appearance is really important to create an identity and recognition and that "the gap between the ‘self’ and the performance, appearance, constructed persona may be part of the meaning of stars" (Dyer, 2008: 21). Because Ariana already had gained recognition and identification by playing the fictional character of Cat Valentine, outside the shows with people calling her red-velvet cupcake princess Ariana on Twitter, she did not know how to appear in the public as ‘herself’ without disappointing her fans. Therefore, she used this persona of Cat Valentine and made it part of her identity. This created identity issues for her.

Secondly, in her interview with ZackSangTv in 2015, she underlines the importance of her appearance which became a big part of her career as well as her identity. With her behaviour as well as her textual discourse, she provides us with a switch from one persona to the other. By changing her appearance, which means letting go of the red hair and starting to wear the long ponytails and changing the style of her music, she shows a change. This change helped Ariana position herself as an artist independent from Cat Valentine.

By changing her hairstyles, Ariana is able to switch from personas and keep her personas separated

However, this research has also shown that even though Ariana was able to let go of the persona of Cat by letting go of the red hair, the image she now has all over the world as a pop artist is also constructed. She makes it really clear that people have this idea that she is her authentic self when she wears the ponytail. But the only time she is really herself is when she is at home wearing her naturally curly hair surrounded by her family, close friends, and her dogs. Ariana also mentions that that is the reason why she does not wear her curly hair in her music because that is the only time when she is her true, authentic self. This means that Ariana has an existence and an identity independent of the roles she plays and independent of what people think she is.

Coming back to the research question: ‘How did Ariana’s change of hairstyles influence her public as well as her private persona?’ We can say that Ariana uses her hair like a costume piece to switch from one persona to the other and introduce different images of herself by wearing different hairstyles. However, these hairstyles are all part of her constructed public persona in her journey of finding who she exactly is as an artist. Her private persona, on the other hand, is something she likes to keep separated from her career. Thus, with the power of her hair, Ariana is able to switch from personas and keep her personas separated.



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