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ariana grande eternal sunshine photo credit Katia Temkin
Ariana GrandePhotography Katia Temkin

The only thing Ariana Grande owes us is good music

The singer’s new album, eternal sunshine, is good. This matters more than her personal life

If you have an Ariana Grande hater in your life, please check in on them: today will be a rough day. After a spell of controversy, during which her personal life was raked over the coals, the singer’s new album, eternal sunshine, has been met with rapturous reviews, becoming her highest-rated release on Metacritic and shooting to the top of the charts. Some people (me) are saying it’s the comeback of the century. 

The acclaim is well-deserved. eternal sunshine features the sultry, poignant and well-produced R&B you would expect from a Grande record, but it also draws on new and unexpected influences: blending melancholy and euphoria with a four-on-the-floor beat, “we can’t be friends” sounds like a lost Robyn classic, and there’s an almost shoegazey, Mazzy Star-esque tinge to “imperfect for you”. It’s not a flawless masterpiece, but it is a very good album, which contains far more hits than misses.

Without wanting to rehash the age-old debate about separating the art from the artist, isn’t this really the only thing we can expect from her? Last year, when the news broke that Grande had started dating Ethan Slater – a musical theatre actor who was still in the process of divorcing the mother of his one-year-old child – the public reaction was to a large extent furious. Grande was branded a “home-wrecker” (some people seemed especially annoyed that she had broken up a family for a man who, as they saw it, wasn’t even hot) and even some of her own fans declared this an unforgivable red line. Both Grande and Slater have denied cheating on their partners, insisting that they were both already single by the time they got together. But either way, we don’t know these people; “whose dick she rides” – as she sings on “yes, and?” – is not really any of our business. What is our business is whether she releases good music. 

People can choose to support whichever artists they want, on whatever grounds they want, but it’s self-defeating to deny yourself the pleasure of someone’s work based on their private life. There are limits to that logic: it’s different if someone’s revealed to be a serial abuser, for example, and whether we enjoy a piece of art will inevitably be shaped by our impression of the people who made it. But – and this is a key distinction – I wouldn’t shun a friend if I found out they’d started seeing a man who was still in the process of getting divorced. So why would I stop listening to Ariana Grande, a singer whose music I enjoy?

The situation between Grande and Slater sounds messy, sad and unfortunate – like the breakdown of relationships usually are – but it doesn’t warrant pariah status. Besides, if any celebrity deserves a bit of grace, it’s Ariana Grande: from the death of her ex-partner and friend Mac Miller to the 2017 Manchester bombing, in which 22 of her fans were killed, few public figures have had a more difficult time. 

The almost unanimously positive reaction to eternal sunshine feels like a turning point. By releasing an album which is fun, catchy and musically interesting, Grande has fulfilled any obligation she could be said to have to her audience – and that seems to matter more now than salacious gossip and moral judgment.

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