Last week, Madame Tussauds London unveiled the latest victim in its ongoing practice of molding creepy, life-size wax dolls of famous people: Ariana Grande.
The wax figure has all the telltale signs of Grande-hood. Oversized sweatshirt? Check. Thigh-high boots? Of course. Signature high pony with ring accessories weaved into her hair? Yup, nailed those. Face? Well... let's just say it's looking more mayonnaise than Old Bay seasoning. It can be easy to forget that Grande has worked overtime to remove all signs of her Caucasian heritage, until you see a version of her with those modifications omitted.
In an almost Sliding Doors-esque manner of what-if juxtaposition, wax figure Ari looks like the younger, paler version of herself before she discovered (and then appropriated) Black culture. That uncanny facsimile gives us a glimpse into an Ariana who could have been. One who had stuck to belting out Céline Dion and Barbara Streisand in the backseat of the car, and had never been introduced to "The Wobble" at a cookout. Because—reminder—Grande is 100 percent white, despite rampant confusion about her race. (Grande herself self-identifies as "half Sicilian and half Abbruzzese," which is Italian-American speak for "white, but with half a tan.")
Grande in 2008 (far left - credit: Joe Corrigan), 2011 (center - credit: Bruce Gilkas), and 2018 (far right - credit" Jim Spellman). Yeah, we see it, too.
Grande's look has, shall we say, evolved over the years. We came to know her as the child star of Nickelodeon's Victorious and Sam & Cat, sporting her natural Brittany Murphy-style curls and then a punky, red ponytail. In those days, her skin was pin-up-girl-level fair. Then, someone must have served Grande some seasoned chicken and picked the raisins out of her potato salad, because homegirl underwent a gradual, Jenner/Kardashian-esque transformation, where she became dramatically more tan; her lips got the Kylie treatment (ahem, "overlined"); and her vocals went less Streisand and more Mariah Carey circa "Breakdown." She started dating rappers and bad boys in hypebeast gear.
The fine craftsmen at Madame Tussauds London have been caught somewhere in between these stages of Grande, seemingly Googling images from 2008 for source material for the face, and 2018 photos for the body and attire. People reports that Madame Tussauds London took to Twitter to ask fans to vote on which version of Grande they should re-create: "Classic Ari,” “Sassy Ari,” or “Princess Ari." "Classic Ari" won out, but there's a clear disconnect. The body is "Boyfriend" but the face is "Bye Bye Bye." The body A-la-bama, the face is Chat-ta-nooga. The body is Amethyst Amelia Kelly, the face is Iggy Azalea.
Even Ari had to speak up, commenting "I just wanna talk" on Popcrave's Instagram post on the wax figure. I bet she does, considering how concertedly the pop singer has shifted her look and sound to reflect Black culture and coolness, hiring Black songwriters to cement herself as an urban adult artist (which has led to being accused of plagiarism and cultural appropriation by her Black peers).
It's the case with many white performers who've wanted to shed the porcelain, Middle America-friendly pop image that shot them to fame. Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and countless others have turned to emulating Black artists to create an edgier, more sexualized, more adult persona. It's no shock that going "bad boy" or "bad girl" in many cases means appropriating Blackness, when reports show that Black boys and girls are labeled aggressive, sexual, and loud at a very young age.
And while she seems to want to embody what writer Rebecca Walker called Black Cool, no amount of tanning, blaccenting, or twerking in her videos while surrounded by Black backup dancers will change that 23 and Me result. Madame Tussauds London's wax figure of Grande might just be a painful reminder to Grande that she is, indeed, white.
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