Hello, everyone! Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably listened to Ariana Grande’s new song “7 Rings.” Based on Grande’s relatable experience of drunkenly purchasing seven engagement rings for her friends at Tiffany’s, the song celebrates sisterhood, self-care, and self-made millions. For my friends who do reside ‘neath a boulder, here’s the song.
I have no quibble with the musicality of the song, for like most of Grande’s tunes, it’s a true bop. My problem lies with the message, which can be boiled down to the shameless promotion of a life devoted solely to the buying and flaunting of things. “But wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t a lot of music devoted to the buying and flaunting of things?” Of course it is. What I find most disturbing about Grande’s contribution to the trend is that her song earnestly promotes consumption as an antidote to grief, unhappiness, and trauma. That’s the role of an advertisement, not a pop song.
Of course, Grande isn’t alone in her materialistic lyrics. The “Top 40” hits are saturated with similar verses. Cardi B raps “I like dollars, I like diamonds” in her hit song “I Like It”, while Drake waxes on about “baguettes in his ice” in “Sicko Mode.” Brand dropping and wealth flaunting have always been staples of rap music as a way of building credibility, but it’s rarer to hear a pop singer rhapsodize about how her “black card is [her] business card.” Unlike rap, pop isn’t a genre that demands statements of extravagancy in return for success. If you peruse the rest of Grande’s catalog, you’ll find songs about relationships, sex, family, and love, but not another song like “7 Rings.” It’s such an anomaly in her repertoire, especially coming after her song “thank u, next.”
Grande released “thank u, next” after the breakdown of her extremely public engagement with Pete Davidson. In the song, Grande reminisces about past relationships and thanks her exes for the lessons they taught her, wrapping the song with the notion that after all of these relationships, she’s finally found herself. Whether or not you believe it was a well-timed publicity stunt, “thank u, next” still resonates with poignant emotion. It’s mature, gracious, humble, and empowering. None of these adjectives could be applied to her follow-up song “7 Rings.”
While some have described “7 Rings” as an empowering break-up song, Pitchfork’s Jamieson Cox described it as “a sharp, red-bottomed stiletto heel that punctures the fantasy that Grande is just like you.” Unlike Grande’s song “successful,” which also referenced her fame and accomplishments, “7 Rings” is less of well-deserved victory lap than a soulless itemization of her expensive lifestyle. She implores listeners to “look at my neck, look at my jet” and then puts them in their place, reminding them that they “ain’t got enough money to pay me respect.” In terms of gender parity, I’m ecstatic that Grande is wealthy and successful enough to have creative control over her art, own an expensive house, and buy her friends diamond rings. She should be able to do all those things and brag about them if she wants to with the same impunity as male artists.
What I take issue with, however, is that Grande tries to equate this luxurious lifestyle to an unattainable happiness in order to mask the trauma she’s suffered in the past few years. She survived the Manchester Arena Bombing, her ex-boyfriend died from a drug overdose, and she had an enormously public engagement and breakup with Pete Davidson. Her album “sweetener” rings with the effects of this trauma, making it one of her most light-hearted and also most emotional albums. But any serious acknowledgment of this pain is dispensed with in “7 Rings.”
She remarks that she’s “been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch” then goes on to say “who woulda though it’d turn me to a savage” before moving on to talk about writing checks. She uses wealth to mask her trauma in other verses, including:
- “Happiness is the same price as red-bottoms”
- “Retail therapy my new addiction”
- “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems/ must not have had enough money to solve them”
And of course, the whole song is set to a creepy remix of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Does Grande realize the irony in setting her ballad of conspicuous consumption to the tune of a song that praises the value of “whiskers on kittens” and “schnitzel with noodles?” Surely, there has to be some comprehension of the disconnect, how far we’ve come from recognizing the simple value of “bright copper kettles” to worshipping “receipts looking like phone numbers.” Grande may have a networth of $50 million, but it doesn’t erase the fact that she’s been through some “bad shit.” And it’s disheartening and insulting to hear her play off her own trauma as something that can be erased with enough shopping. She has the right to deal with her pain however she sees fit, but I can’t help but think of all the girls who are listening to this song, absorbing the idea that buying diamonds can erase their pain. Grande may have enough money to solve all her problems, but her listeners don’t. So while she hides her pain behind her money, her fans still have to deal with their’s. Here’s to hoping that the next song in Grande’s album is more Julie Andrews, and less Donald Trump.