Ariana Grande's Journey To Pop Megastar

This feature references mental health issues, incidents of mass violence, body image issues, and drug misuse.

Like many of her contemporaries, Ariana Grande got her biggest showbiz break on television. The multi-talented star — who was born on June 26, 1993, in Boca Raton, Fla. — first rose to fame with her role as Cat Valentine in the Nickelodeon series "Victorious." After the show aired its series finale in 2013, Grande joined forces with "iCarly" star, Jennette McCurdy in the spin-off "Sam & Cat." The series ran for one season until 2014, priming the performer to make a splash in the music industry.

During her Nickelodeon days, Grande showcased her impressive vocals on her YouTube channel with covers of legendary divas like Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys — later in her career, she'd utilize these talents on the late-night circuit with her spot-on impressions of stars like Celine Dion, Britney Spears, and more. The waves she began to make in the music industry soon led to a big splash with her first solo single, "The Way," featuring the late Mac Miller. The song marked Grande's first foray onto the Billboard Hot 100 top 10, peaking at #9 in 2013.

In the years since, Grande has diversified her talents in multiple realms, from music and film to TV, beauty, and more. The record-breaking artist is primed to continue down this path effortlessly evolving herself from a beloved child star to an all-around pop culture icon.

She managed to 'break free' from her Nickelodeon image

During Ariana Grande's time on "Victorious," her affable character Cat Valentine had signature fire-engine red hair. Even after breaking away from her Nickelodeon image with her albums, "Yours Truly" and "My Everything" (both of which went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts), Grande was forced to keep the same hairstyle — a high ponytail with heavy extensions — due to the damage that dyeing her hair for the show caused.

In a since-deleted 2014 Instagram post, Grande wrote, "I had to bleach my hair and dye it red every other week for the first four years of playing Cat... I wear extensions but I wear it in a ponytail because my actual hair is so broken that it looks absolutely ... absurd when I let it down," she shared. "So as annoying as it is for y'all to have to look at the same hairstyle all the time, it's all that works for now (and I'm comfortable for the first time in years)."

By 2016, Grande was fully removed from her Nickelodeon contract and began to experiment with new hairstyles. She debuted long, luscious locks in her music video for "Dangerous Woman," the title track of her third album, which was released that same year.

Ariana Grande experienced a major tragedy in Manchester

While on her "Dangerous Woman" tour in 2017, tragedy struck at a May 22 concert in Manchester, England. Just as Grande had finished her concert at the Manchester Arena, an explosion was detonated within the foyer of the venue, killing 22 people and wounding 59 others, per The New York Times.  Thirteen days after the terrorist attack, Grande returned to Manchester with her "One Love Manchester" benefit concert. The event brought together Grande's friends and fellow artists, including Katy Perry, Little Mix, Miley Cyrus, and more to show love, and support, and help heal the community through music. The concert raised over $13 million for the victims of the attack.

The traumatic event had a colossal impact on Grande's mental health, and she even experienced PTSD. In 2018, she opened up to British Vogue about how the attack affected her. "I've always had anxiety," she said. "I've never really spoken about it because I thought everyone had it, but when I got home from [the] tour, it was the most severe I think it's ever been." 

In the same interview, Grande revealed that she struggled to discuss her own grief concerning the incident given the magnitude of loss experienced by all the families and fans impacted by the attack. "...I feel like I shouldn't even be talking about my own experience — like I shouldn't even say anything," she said. "I don't think I'll ever know how to talk about it and not cry."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She used some hit-making sweetener to break records

In 2018, Ariana Grande emerged from the darkness of tragedy and stepped into some light with her fourth album, "Sweetner." Indeed, as she revealed during an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" to promote the album, her latest release was essentially the musical equivalent of a spoonful of sugar. Gleefully debuting a long scoop of platinum blonde hair on the show, she said about the album, "It's kind of about, like, bringing light to a situation or to someone's life or somebody else who brings light to your life or sweetening the situation."

By all accounts, it appeared that Grande had taken some time to healthily process the complex emotions left behind by the 2017 Manchester Arena attack. The results were apparently right there in the music. Speaking to Time, she suggested that the album's first single, "No Tears Left To Cry," expressed a lot of her own personal upheavals and emotional relief. What could have been melancholic and somber was instead bubblegum and buoyant. "When I started to take care of myself more, then came balance, and freedom, and joy," she said. "It poured out into the music." Later, while discussing the track's music video — in which she appears upside down — she elaborated, "I feel like I'm finally landing back on my feet now." 

While she may have been back on her feet in one sense, she was likely on cloud nine when "Sweetener" won Grande her first Grammy a year later for Best Pop Vocal Album.

Ariana Grande has loved and she's lost

Throughout her career, Grande has had her fair share of love and loss. In her No. 1 single "thank u, next," she name-dropped several of her biggest relationships, including that to her on-again-off-again love Mac Miller, who died in 2018 of an accidental overdose. The former couple had reportedly been in and out of a relationship since 2014, when they first collaborated on Grande's single "The Way," but had broken up months before his death.

At the time of Miller's passing, Grande was involved in a highly publicized whirlwind romance with former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Pete Davidson. The two began dating in May 2018 shortly after splitting from their partners and were quickly engaged a month later. Several matching tattoos and tons of tabloid reports later, the two officially split in October — but not before a song in Davidson's name was released on her album "Sweetener."

In true artist form, Grande turned her heartbreak into hits with the release her sixth album "Thank U, Next" in 2019. And with it came an epiphany that maybe it was time to enjoy some time alone. "I've been boo'd up my entire adult life," she told Vogue that same year. "I've always had someone to say goodnight to. So 'Thank U, Next' was this moment of self-realization. It was this scary moment of 'Wow, you have to face all this stuff now. No more distractions. You have to heal all this s***.'"

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She switched up Positions during the global pandemic

By the beginning of 2020, Grande was a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, and she was continuing to rule the charts with her record-breaking music. Both "Sweetener" and "Thank U, Next" debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and the latter earned two back-to-back number-one singles on the Hot 100 chart with "7 Rings" and the album's title track. She had completed the massive global "Sweetener" tour in support of both albums, which included a headlining appearance at Coachella in 2019 and a post-tour Netflix concert documentary released afterward. But when the global pandemic hit, Grande, like so many others, had to pause and replan her next steps.

She released several high-profile collaborations that year, including "Stuck With U" with Justin Bieber and the Grammy Award-winning "Rain On Me" with Lady Gaga. She also released her sixth album "Positions" in October, garnering another number-one hit with the title track. "[The album is] very loving, it's very honest, it's very much a reflection of parts of my life," Grande shared on the "Zach Sang show" that year. "... But I think that everything I do has a little bit of humor in it." With double-entendre tracks like "34 + 35" making their way to the airwaves, it was clear that Grande's humor is a hit with listeners worldwide.

Another new position for Grande also arrived that year when she announced her engagement to her now-husband, Dalton Gomez.

She expanded her horizons post-pandemic

By 2021, Ariana Grande was on top of the world when it came to music. While society was still coming to terms with the aftermath of the global pandemic, the performer took time to spread her wings in new areas. In March of that year, Grande announced on social media that she would be replacing Nick Jonas as a judge on Season 21 of "The Voice" season 21 as a judge, alongside Blake Shelton, John Legend, and Kelly Clarkson. "[This show] always has the best energy," Grande shared in a press conference to ET. "It's such wholesome, inspiring television, and I love seeing the different voices and watching so many people start careers for themselves, it's a beautiful, amazing thing."

In November, Grande launched her R.E.M. Beauty line, named after one of the tracks on her 2018 album "Sweetener." By April 2022, the beauty brand was being sold nationwide in stores and online. Grande had already launched a successful perfume line in the early days of her music career, but her foray into make-up has been a huge boon for the artist. Before the first "chapter" of products even launched, the beauty brand had racked up over a million followers, according to Elle. "There are so many different versions to tell this makeup story and these formulas are so inspiring," she told the magazine. "We can bring our own version of this into the beauty space and I'm so excited."

Ariana broke multiple records with The Weeknd

Among her many classic collaborations, Ariana Grande's most successful duets have been with The Weeknd. The pair's first song together was 2014's "Love Me Harder" on Grande's "My Everything" album. From there, the duo have released three additional songs together, including the Grande album track "Off the Table" on 2019's "Positions" and two remixes of a couple of tracks by The Weeknd. Both of those songs, 2021's "Save Your Tears (Remix)" and 2023's "Die For You (Remix)," hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. 

In 2022, the "Save Your Tears" duet became the second-longest running number one song in history, behind The Weeknd's own "Blinding Lights." As for "Die For You," Grande took to TikTok to show her recording her own vocals for the remix after the original 2016 song went viral on the platform. In a caption used on the video, she'd affectionately written, "Wrote and recorded a verse for my friend after a 14-hour day on set. This certain exception had to be made." The Weeknd has certainly reciprocated this level of public admiration for Grande, too. That same year, he tweeted, "I've seen Ariana work in real-time. That woman is a beast on Pro Tools."

She's made appearances on both the big and small screens

It's not just music that makes Ariana Grande the superstar that she is. Grande has also appeared on screens big and small in a variety of roles post-Nickelodeon that showcase her range. In 2016, she returned to her musical theatre roots in "Hairspray Live" on NBC, playing funky nerd Penny Pingleton opposite stars including Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, and Jennifer Hudson. Grande is no stranger to musicals, having made her Broadway debut in the 2008 musical "13." 

Grande is also a big fan of comedy and has both hosted and performed on "Saturday Night Live" multiple times where she's shown off her uncanny impressions. That aside, she also enjoyed a scene-stealing role in the horror-comedy, "Scream Queens," and a guest appearance in the Showtime dark comedy, "Kidding" — which just so happened to star Grande's childhood crush, Jim Carrey. "Nothing is crazier than getting to work with and spend time with someone whom you've idolized and adored since before you could speak," she shared in a heartfelt but since-deleted post on Instagram. "Actually, what's even crazier is discovering that person to be more special and warm and generous in person than you ever could've imagined." 

In 2021, Grande then made her feature film debut in the Netflix social satire, "Don't Look Up" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. In the film, Grande plays fictional pop starlet Riley Bina and sings the powerful albeit satirical ballad "Just Look Up" alongside Kid Cudi.

She's in for a Wickedly wonderful return to musical theatre

2022 brought some magical news to Grande and fans worldwide when she was cast in the widely anticipated "Wicked" film adaptation from director Jon M. Chu. With the story split into two parts, Part One was scheduled for release in November 2024. Grande plays Glinda-slash-Galinda the Good Witch opposite Cynthia Erivo (above) as Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, in a prequel of sorts to "The Wizard of Oz." 

The film is based on the beloved musical "Wicked," which became the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history in 2023. Grande herself had manifested the role a decade earlier, once Tweeting, "Loved seeing Wicked again ... amazing production! Made me realize again how badly I want [to] play Glinda at some point in my life!" While much of the film has been kept under wraps during production, it stars a bevy of big-time stars including Academy Award-winner Michelle Yeoh, film icon Jeff Goldblum, and "Bridgerton" star Jonathan Bailey.

Ariana Grande continues to make her voice known

Like many divas before her, Ariana Grande has used her platform to become an advocate for her innermost passions and beliefs. She has been a staunch supporter of a number of matters, including feminism, anti-violence, gun control, and mental health. She is also widely considered to be an LGBTQ+ ally and has performed at numerous Pride events worldwide. "Not everyone is going to agree with you, but that doesn't mean I'm just going to shut up and sing my songs," she shared with Elle. "I'm also going to be a human being who cares about other human beings; to be an ally and use my privilege to help educate people." 

In 2023, she took to TikTok to address some body shaming issues she'd recently experienced on the platform, stating "I think we should be gentler and less comfortable commenting on people's bodies, no matter what." Discussing how people had been comparing her current body to images of how she looked in the past, she argued that those snapshots were taken during one of the lowest points of her life when her diet and lifestyle weren't exactly conducive to her well-being. However, back then she was simply trying to become the person she is now. "I know I shouldn't have to explain [this], but I do feel like maybe having an openness or vulnerability, something good might come from it," she reasoned. "That's the first thing, healthy can look different."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.