Ariana Grande and the Art of Getting Out of a Celebrity Scandal


Ariana Grande (Photo: Getty Images)

A couple of weeks ago, Ariana Grande took the stage at 30 Rock’s vaunted Studio 8H while hosting Saturday Night Live for the first time, grabbed a microphone, and joked about the doughnut lick heard ‘round the world.

“What will my scandal be?” she crooned like a lounge singer in the throes of an existential crisis.

Since the general public decided celebrities should be paragons of morality, the scandal has been a regular part of a celebrity’s cyclical existence. That is generally followed by an apology tour or some sort of contrite plea for forgiveness. Its effectiveness varies, but stars like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber have tapped into a new strategy with far more consistent results: make good art. The only thing truly revolutionary about it is its simplicity.

Back at SNL, Grande’s monologue and various sketch performances earned kudos from viewers, but it was her two musical performances that were the true standout. Grande sang “Dangerous Woman,” the title track off her upcoming album, and debuted “Be Alright,” a dizzying Chicago house track which received near-universal praise. Stereogum called it “jacked-up and simple and propulsive.” MTV called the song “all you need to forget winter ever happened.”

Even after apologizing profusely for what’s been come to be known as Donutgate, Ariana Grande had a real perception problem. An analysis by The Hollywood Reporter concluded that her disapproval rating had jumped nearly as much as Bill Cosby’s and more than even Robin Thicke and accused child beater Adrian Petersen’s after the scandal. But by focusing on the work, and producing a series of hits, Grande reminded the world that she wasn’t just the former child star committing random acts of health code violation, but one of the most powerful and flexible voices in pop music.


It may be too late for Justin Bieber to say sorry, but it’s never too late to release a fire track. (Photo: Twitter)

Even the poster boy for public perception problems, Justin Bieber, has adopted the “just do good work” strategy. After peeing in buckets, abandoning a monkey in Germany, egging his neighbors, and that drunken drag racing arrest, it wasn’t Bieber’s legendary apology tour that got people to take him seriously. It was a string of hits, released as promotion for Purpose, Bieber’s most recent album which currently holds a more-than-respectable score of 63 on Metacritic. Kanye West even called the album’s lead single “What Do You Mean?” his favorite song of 2015.

In contrast, following accusations of extreme tone deafness, tweeting about having just discovered racism and falsely claiming to be the first openly gay person to win an Oscar, Sam Smith simply retreated.

Nearly a month later, his Oscar flub is still his most recent headline. A quick search of “first openly gay person” will reveal that Smith is still very much the butt of the joke. With that said, he certainly will not be the last celeb to find themselves caught up in a PR nightmare.

Just like humans, celebrities will always be making mistakes. No one’s perfect. But while an apology will only get you so far, it turns out the solution to getting out of a celebrity scandal has been right there all along: make good art.

Here’s hoping that Smith is hard at work on a new album.