What We Learned from Ariana Grande and The Weeknd’s Video for “Love Me Harder”
“Can you feel the pressure between your hips?” Erm…
If this year belonged to a single pop star, it’s the five foot nothing, wide-eyed Nickelodeon alum Ariana Grande. The 21-year-old’s scored two number one albums in less than a year and in August three of her singles accounted for 30 percent of the Billboard top 10. Sure, in the past week Taylor Swift has trounced everyone in the radio friendly unit-shifter stakes, and yes, 2014 was unequivocally the Year of Ass so big-bottomed, big-hitters Iggy, JLo, Nicki, and Bey continued to crush, while Katy Perry carried on cleaning up on her world tour (which will spill over well into next year). But the ascension of Ariana has been relentless, and it’s not just America that’s falling for her charms. As 2014 draws to a close, the diminutive singer’s air miles are as impressive as her YouTube views (901 million plus): she’s looped the world several times this year and each trip was a purely promotional jaunt—we’ll have to wait till next year for Ariana's Honeymoon tour.
When you look back at the songs that cemented her stardom every one of them has been a collaboration, each carefully calculated to be a Pro-Tooled banger, but also each union introduces her audience to a different facet of this rising star. For instance, “Break Free” with Zedd says, “Here's some EDM-lite that won’t frighten your folks;” while “Bang Bang” with Nicki and Jessie J—essentially a “Lady Marmalade” reboot—proclaims, “I’m just one of the girls.”
This week Ariana dropped the video for her fifth consecutive collaborative release, a duet with The Weeknd that implies, none too subtly, that Ariana is edgy, she is grown up, she is a sexual being. It’s called “Love Me Harder” and at one point The Weeknd sings, “Can you feel the pressure between your hips?” (If the answer to this query is yes, The Weeknd should really take his lady-love to A&E. Just saying.) The suggestiveness is thinly veiled. You don’t for nothing pair yourself with a man who, at his own concerts, flicks his tongue like a rattlesnake’s so the ladies in the audience know, yes, he is extremely enthusiastic about giving head. (Although if that public display is anything to go by, Abel Tesfaye’s technique could do with some finessing.)
One artist utilizing another to alter public perception and announce a change in direction is, in pop at least, par for the course these days. Kylie Minogue did it 1994 when she allowed Nick Cave to grope her dead floating form in the video for gothic love story “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” More recently Bieber’s union with Drake and Nicki Minaj ushered in the era of drop-crotch pants and tattoos, which were of course the gateway to dangerous driving and reckless egging. And let's not even get into when an older pop star begins reaching out to the younger generation in a bid to retain relevance. Oh, hi Madonna! Didn't see you there. Let’s just say, when it’s done right, buddying up can be a transformative move.
But, back to Ariana. One might imagine the accompanying promo for “Love Me Harder” would be an excellent opportunity to underscore the sexual frisson between the two leads. This is absolutely not the case. The pair spend the majority of the video apart and when they do meet, they stand back-to-back. Perhaps she’s worried about what might happen she looks The Weeknd in the eye. Seems wise. (Please refer to the closing refrain of "King of the Fall" for the reason why he’s best kept at arm's length.) In any case, the video’s central visual appears to be Ariana’s ability to arch her back and booty tooch in any given position. Tyra would be ever so proud.
Additionally Ariana takes self-stroking to the next level: her boobs, her cheek, her neck, her lower legs, her knees, her hair—that very lucky chair—all receive a loving caress. It never becomes clear why her mansion is half-submerged by Saharan sand, but she gives the encroaching desert a decent rub down for good measure.
Whereas it took Britney three albums to shed the Lolita-schtick, don a g-string over her jeans, and team up with The Neptunes and a bottle of baby oil, in keeping with today’s accelerated existence, Ariana’s gone from dimpled, butter-wouldn’t-melt, cable teen idol, to internationally in-demand diva, to I-know-how-to-writhe-yes-I-am-dating-Big-Sean-I-HAVE-ARRIVED, in barely 18 months.
She’s not quite as savvy as Swift when it comes to batting her eyelashes while sprinkling her press interactions with glittery gossip dust—we’ve all heard her preference for being photographed from the left side only, although to our eye, her right side ain't too shabby. Still, “Love Me Harder” is her strongest song yet, sultry and assured. And hey, if Ariana can introduce the mainstream to Cashmere Cat, we’re down. She’s entering adulthood with excellent posture and a back arched as her eyebrows. It’s only a matter of time before Madonna comes calling.
Kim Taylor Bennett will be caressing herself this weekend and she's on Twitter - @theKTB.