Ariana Grande and MNEK: Your Choices Matter

Regardless of follower count, having an opinion online can be a very dangerous game. Add fame to that mix, and it is a veritable minefield. Discussing diversity and certain amounts of privilege? Your mentions are about to get ugly, and quickly.

This could be the very reason that many celebrities either do not post online or have a social media manager handle all of this possible discord. But on the other hand, remaining present and personal in their own social media has been a major boon for many celebrities. Some great examples include Jessica Chastain, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B., any Kardashian, and maybe most of all, Ariana Grande.

That’s right, Ariana Grande is back in the public crosshairs for her online presence once again.  Obviously, whether or not that is fair is up the court of public opinion. But let’s take a look at what is actually happening.

Twitter user @raininjulyvinyl detailed a legitimate concern regarding Grande headlining Manchester Pride, and Grande’s presence resulting in exorbitant prices for the festival as a whole. Does Ariana Grande, as a straight person (as far as we know—let’s not make huge assumptions) have a responsibility to either not headline the festival to make room for queer artists, or use her considerable leverage as the biggest music icon in the world to lower ticket prices to affordable levels?

Now, none of this is new. The LGBTQIA+ community, very generally speaking, has been one of the biggest supporters of pop and dance music for literally decades. And, as such, smart musicians have appealed to this demographic through interviews, appearances, and most importantly, concerts. In reality, none of us can tell if this behavior is truly exploitative, but we all have opinions.

Ariana Grande is not the first assumed straight artist to headline a festival focused on gay pride. As another note, there is also a disturbing history, both in pop music and in LGBTQIA+ culture, of propping up female singers who fit a certain mold: the stereotypically attractive light-skinned femme with Eurocentric features and an almost unnaturally fit body that’s turned into a sexual icon. This is, of course, also a problem with the culture at large, but is especially sharply felt in queer communities. It is one more way for individuals who have not been accepted in heterosexual society to be judged harshly.

But given the world we live in, in which everyone has a voice and celebrities have the ability to respond (whether or not they should) in an emotional moment, things are a bit more sensitive. And this would be quite emotional for Grande, given her connection to her fans, her consistent support for LGBTQIA+ issues, and, sadly, the horrific events that happened in Manchester during her 2017 concert.

Grande has also made it a point to connect with her fans and give them a look at her process.  Unsurprisingly, she responded to this particular comment via Twitter. You can see her response here, but the gist is as follows. She stated that she has little to no control over ticket prices, defended her record when it comes to LGBTQIA+ issues, and namedropped other allies who have headlined these festivals, such as Kylie Minogue and Cher.

Now, nothing in her message is clearly incorrect. Obviously, I do not have intimate knowledge of what kind of control she has over ticket prices, but the rest of this is absolutely accurate. But there’s a feeling that I can’t quite shake.

As a queer person myself, if I’m being honest, it does rub me the wrong way that a festival designed to denote pride in our identities (aside from straight) can have the headlining spot awarded to an ally. There is an extra sting when the demand for that particular headliner renders attending Pride nearly impossible due to the change in ticket prices. My honest reaction to her statement was questioning why she felt the need to comment at all. She took a job, and she is completely within her rights to accept it. And if your track record is great, why feed the flames? The other horrible side effect is the original commenter being attacked by Ari stans, but my goodness, that is for another column—a long one at that.

So, as this was unfolding, I was struck with this feeling of annoyance, and wondering how to process it.

Enter MNEK.

Now, if that name, or pronunciation (it’s not M-Neck) is unfamiliar to you, I’m not here to make you feel bad. MNEK is a visibly proud queer artist and he came out in defense of Grande immediately. Additionally, he brought up some particularly salient points in this short video.

In essence, his point is that if we (especially queer people) are going to be this upset about a straight artist headlining pride, we have to put our money where our mouths are. We must support LGBTQIA+ artists through streams, physical media, concert tickets, and merchandise. This is how the message gets across clearly. Of course, there is homophobia in the music industry (another long column), but look at that word—industry. Promoters and concert organizers will respond to money above all else. So, if we want queer artists to headline Pride, gain popularity, and most importantly, become stars outside of LGBTQIA+ communities, it is up to all of us, including our allies.

If you are going to be an ally, that is absolutely wonderful. But being an ally is not just supporting artists who are LGBTQIA+ positive, but those who are actually LGBTQIA+.

We at Saint Audio are no exception. We take great pride in our diverse perspectives in every sense, including sexuality. Spurred on by this discussion (and especially MNEK’s points), we will be making even more of an effort to highlight queer artists. As a start, our editor in chief, Staley Sharples, and I will be putting together a playlist purely made up of queer artists for you all to listen to. Given how broad the industry is, we understand how intimidating it can be to begin that search. It is time to broaden all of our horizons. Complaining isn’t enough. It’s time to take action, particularly with our wallets. We hope you join us in this effort to truly be inclusive and fully support artists, instead of merely paying lip service.

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