If you have a tween or teen in your life, you’re probably already well acquainted with Ariana Grande, the adorably bubbly, magenta-haired doll with the powerful and show-stealing voice, who plays Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s hit music-centric sitcom Victorious. But the 18-year-old former Broadway star has her sights set on more than just a Teen Nick fame; she’s preparing to launch a pop music career. Her first single, “Put Your Hearts Up,” pushes her in the right direction. It’s a saccharine-sweet, catchy ditty about changing the world one small, loving gesture at a time, and features Grande belting in Demi Lovato-meets-Kelly Clarkson-meets-Mariah Carey style on the 4 Non Blondes-sampling chorus.
We recently got a chance to chat with Ariana about her new music, avoiding the pitfalls of fame that some of her peers have fallen into, juggling Victorious with her music career, being a self-proclaimed “old lady,” working with Nick Jonas on her debut album, and much more.
See why we’re excited to have Ariana as our first Limelight Spotlight artist of 2012 and get to know her more in the Q&A below:
What’s the first song you ever remember singing?
I was a real little girl. Probably “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Wizard Of Oz was always my favorite movie when I was younger.
What about the first song you ever wrote? What was that about?
The first song I ever wrote was really silly, and I still actually have it on my computer, which is really funny. It was about rain. Like, just about rain. No deeper meaning, no subtext, just rain. [laughs] I was really young when I wrote it, too. I don’t know why I never thought about writing songs before age 10, but I guess I just always liked singing other artists’ songs until 10, then I was like oh well and tried and it was really funny.
You’ve already done so much in your career. Have you had any hardships along the way?
Yeah. I think with every new project that you do, of course there are going to be hardships, and that’s part of the most amazing thing about this because you learn with every new project and everything. Like the music video I just shot. It’s been quite an adventure getting it edited and everything because this was my first time shooting a music video and I was kind of nervous and we were losing light as the day was going on. It’s hard because sometimes the director wants to focus more on the continuity and the storyline, and I just want to focus on the performance and the dancing and the beauty of it, and not work on color correction, CGI, and silly effects and stuff. They’re like ‘you have to work on the subtext.’ Like, no. [laughs]
But there are plenty of hardships that come along with everything. I’m learning so much, especially because I was in middle school and then I got thrown into the performance life. I went right from middle school, like regular, everyday school, to Broadway. And that was a really crazy transition to make because it was so much hard work. I was like yay, no more school! Then I was like oh my God, I have to kill myself everyday dancing for more than 12 hours and sit on my couch everyday with Icy Hot and Tiger Balm and the whole house smelling like menthol and just waiting for my muscle pain to go away. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of adjusting, but I’m learning so much, so I’m happy.
Do you feel like you missed out on anything at all?
You know, maybe prom and homecoming, but I wouldn’t have been much fun at them anyway because I’m not really a party girl anyway. As boring as that sounds, I probably would have just stayed home and read Harry Potter. [laughs]
So, I watched some of your YouTube videos and listened to “Put Your Hearts Up.” Your voice is really sensational. Like, you have such an old soul to it.
Thank you! Oh wow. Thank you so much!
Who are some of your vocal influences?
I love Mariah Carey. She is literally my favorite human being on the planet. And of course Whitney [Houston] as well. As far as vocal influences go, Whitney and Mariah pretty much cover it. I love Fergie as well. She’s just so fun and passionate. I love that she raps as well. Like, she has a fantastic voice and she can belt Gs and As and she doesn’t have to do it all the time. She just has swag and I think that’s really cool.
How does it feel to go on YouTube now and see covers of your own song?
It’s really cool! It’s fun to have a song that’s now my own and have my fans cover it, which is really cool. I have the best, most loyal and supportive fans in the world, and seeing them singing along to my song is the cutest thing in the world. It’s a great feeling. I can’t wait for them to hear the rest of the album, because I think they’re really going to like it.
You already talked a little about the music video, but what was it like being in front of the camera to shoot it? You’re in front of the camera all the time with Victorious, but what was it like to be in front of the camera for your music video as opposed to anything else?
That was a big adjustment for me because I had never been in front of the camera alone before. Like, whenever I was on camera [before], I was always with my friends from the show. It was just me and my friends goofing around, but this was just me. And I was like oh my God! It was kind of scary at first, but I loved it and I got used to it. I felt like Audrey Hepburn.
[Laughs] What’s your favorite part of the video?
My favorite part of the video is in the bridge — actually, I have like a million favorite parts! I love the beginning because I get to free a little cartoon butterfly on a balcony, and it’s really cute and girly and everything I could hope for. And I love the bridge because it’s a Singing In The Rain homage and I love old movies so much, and I dance with two of my dancers, Manny and Jordan, a we do a little Singing In The Rain homage in the rain with an umbrella. It’s really cute. And for the ending, I actually got 70 or 80 of my fans to be in the ending shot, and it just so cool to have real [fans there].
My favorite part about shooting the video was that everyone was really excited to be there. Like, I’ve been in the background of music videos before. Not really background, but as a dancer or helping a friend or whatever, and the energy was so… Like some of the dancers [on those sets] were like ‘I don’t wanna be here. I wanna go home.’ That’s not what it was on my set. Everyone was so excited. And when we weren’t shooting, we were literally on the Universal lot having a photoshoot and doing silly things. [We were] too busy having fun. It was just a really wonderful experience and I hope that all my video shoots can go as swimmingly as that one did.
Does “Put Your Hearts Up” represent the sound of the rest of the album?
No. “Put Your Hearts Up” is actually very different from the rest of the album. “Put Your Hearts Up” is the first single because it has a great message and, in some people’s opinion, is the most…
The best option for a newcomer, most commercial, yeah. You know, it screams ‘newbie coming to town.’ It’s kind of my, like, not like “Genie In A Bottle,” but it’s my first single that is somewhat different and somewhat going with the flow for now. The rest of the [album's] sound is influenced by 1950s and 60s pop, like Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Shirelles, The Temptations, that type of thing. It’s influenced by that, but it’s still very contemporary. It’s a mixture between that, young Mariah Carey, and Black Eyed Peas. It’s kind of all over the place, but it’s a really fun sound and I think it’s very different.
Awesome! How much of the album did you get to write?
We’re not done with the album yet, but as far as what we’ve done so far, I’ve written about 80% of it. It’s been a really amazing experience because I wrote a lot by myself too. It’s been really fun. And I didn’t realize how much more enjoyable it is to sing words that you’ve written because you get them, and you understand what you’re talking about, and you can actually relate to them. Like, a lot of the songs are a direct reflection of my journal, literally. It’s just straight up me. And I’m really excited because my fans are going to get to know sides of me they haven’t gotten to know before. So, yeah. It’s been really fun, and I’ve gotten to collaborate with amazing writers. It’s been really fun.
Who did you work with on the album?
I’ve been working a lot with Matt Squire, who is an incredibly talented writer. He wrote one of my favorite songs when I was in middle school. You know Panic! At The Disco… [singing] “I chimed in with, ‘haven’t you ever heard of…’”
Oh! I love that song. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.”
Yeah! I love that song too. He’s just incredibly talented and he gets the sound. I’ve been working with Nick Jonas too, who has been really amazing and supportive and we have a lot of fun, and Kojack as well, who is part of Dr. Luke’s camp. He has just been so cool and he’s actually the most interesting person I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t know anyone like him. I was doing this thing where I was asking all of the producers I worked with to sign my iPod case. I had like 10 signatures on there. It was going really well. And then I was like “Kojak, will you sign this?” But instead, he spray painted the whole thing.
Now I can’t see any of the signatures anymore.
Well, that sucks!
Oh yeah! And JR Rotem. He’s amazing and I love him so much.
Awesome! So, when you get fully into the album, like the process of promoting it, do you plan on taking a break from Victorious or are you going to juggle the two?
I am currently juggling the two right now. We’re in meetings about the second single and about when the album is going to come out. I’ve been sort of juggling the two for the past year. But it’s..it’s really hard to do but it’s really fun and I love both jobs, so I think I’m going to be juggling the two and I’m going to wait until I can get on some sort of radio tour or anything until after Victorious is over for the season.
This is kind of a serious question, but a lot of pop stars your age haven’t been able to handle the pressures of fame as well as others. How do you plan to avoid some of the pitfalls?
I don’t know. I have a really — actually, I do know — I have a really, really, really wonderfully supportive, perfectly, like, sane family. I feel like a lot of the teen celebrities who haven’t been able to handle the fame and sort of messed up as a role model have not really had the full support of their family and that seems to be the root of the problem. Since I was a little girl, my mom would make me feel like I was a little star. It hasn’t gone to my head or anything, but my mom has made me feel important since I was just a bumblebee in Billy Goats Gruff in my school production. So, it’s like, you know, my mom has taken amazing care of me and she’s just taught me so many amazing things that I feel like a lot of teenagers my age haven’t been fortunate enough to learn yet.
Also, and I don’t know if this helps at all, but I’m not like a crazy girl in any way. Even if I was just in high school, the furthest thing from myself…like, I would never even go to a party. I’m just a nerd. I just live for music. I just live to listen to music, sing, write, learn weird electronic instruments, and take bubble baths, and read books, and play video games with my family. I guess that’s what makes me somewhat boring in a way [laughs] but safe in another way. I guess that’s how I plan on avoiding those downfalls.
That’s awesome. And you’re not boring. We would totally be BFFs because that’s what I love to do.
We’ll hang out then!
*click the second page of the interview below for random questions!
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