By Josh Duboff. Photos: Getty Images, Courtesy of Instagram.
While Selena Gomez still reigns supreme on Instagram by a wide margin—with 112 million followers—there is a new No. 2 in town, as pop star Ariana Grande (99.2 million followers) recently edged past Taylor Swift (98.6 million). Grande has, for many years, been a notable social-media force. Like Gomez, she starred on a kids’ television show (Nickelodeon’s Victorious), before transitioning into full-fledged mega-pop stardom. She now churns out No. 1 singles, while also juggling fragrance launches, Saturday Night Live hosting gigs, and worldwide tours. She also deals with tabloid rumors and alleged feuds and the other obstacles that emerge when an artist becomes more of a household name.
Grande’s absurd popularity on social media, though, may come as a surprise, even to studious pop-culture observers. Many of the other most-followed individuals on the platform—Swift, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian West, Justin Bieber—have greater worldwide name recognition than she does. Grande’s Instagram postings are not spun off into blog items with the same frequency that they are for others; while there is interest in her life, for sure, and while she is one of the pre-eminent pop stars of this era, undoubtedly, it’s worth considering what exactly Grande is doing on social media that is connecting in the powerful way it is.
Posting frequently, in flurries.
For one thing, Grande posts a lot. Swift—who, it should be noted, has been laying relatively low recently—has only posted once on Instagram in the past four weeks. Gomez has only posted three times in the past two weeks. Grande, on the other hand, has shared 13 ‘grams in the past seven days. Often times, she will post multiple versions of the same photograph in a flurry: three shots of herself in the same oversized coat, in sequence; six grainy photos of herself in a yellow sweatshirt; five oddly-cropped photographs of a dog.
While many celebrities at the very top curate their feeds quite carefully, seemingly rationing out photos for maximum “bang,” Grande does not seem to have the same worry. (For those well-versed in Kardashian-ese, she is much closer to a Kylie Jenner, in terms of her posting philosophy, than to a Kendall.) For Grande, the more is more notion, in terms of giving fans a glimpse into her life, seems to be working to great effect.
Keeping it real.
Grande’s appeal also seems to come in part from her (at least perceived) “realness”—what you see with her, is what you get. She is not one to wear over-the-top costumes or to take on alternate personas on stage. She has received attention several times for sharing her unvarnished views on Twitter, once in response to a fan’s interaction with her boyfriend Mac Miller and herself that upset her.
There is little sense—even if it is ever the case—that Grande is checking in with her publicist before posting tweets or Snapchatting for a few hours. And one imagines that if anyone did ask her after the fact why she had just posted five photos of her dog in a row, for example, she’d probably shrug and say, “They were cute photos,” and leave it at that. That she doesn’t oversell or overwork her captions in any way also helps to create a sense of authenticity. Most of her captions are usually just a string of heart-emojis. Sometimes, especially when she has new music coming out, or there is a special occasion, she’ll write longer, more thoughtful ones, but there is an unmannered-ness to her copy writing that, again, feels true to her and endearing.
Like many a social media user, Grande likes to share photos of her friends and family and pets and her boyfriend, and this stable of recurring characters—her grandmother and her brother, Frankie, are especially prominent—creates a sense, in the vein of many popular Instagram accounts, that we are watching, by following her, an ongoing television series of sorts. There is a narrative.
Her relationship with Miller is a great, indicative example of this: the rapper first appeared sporadically on Grande’s feed, often with coy staging, before becoming, over time, more of a regular staple. Grande posted an Instagram story on Wednesday, in fact, showcasing a photograph of Miller with the caption “I love you.” An unfolding celebrity romance, as played out in the social-media era. Her closeness to her family and her loyalty to those close to her also aids in her reliability; while some stars can come off like solo fighter jets, careening on their own, Grande seems, well, grounded.
The collection of selfies and concert shots and grandmother shout-outs that Grande assembles on a weekly basis—which her fans cannot get enough of (to the tune of close to 100 million followers)—works because . . . it seems like pretty much exactly what Grande would be posting if she wasn’t famous. It’s easy to imagine a non-famous Grande ‘gramming a shot of herself with an iced coffee (caption: a single leaf emoji) even if she was not an internationally-famous superstar. And in an age in which many celebrities, and many of us, post on social media less for ourselves and more for a desired intended effect, there is something about her approach that is extremely refreshing.
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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