Ari needs to break free

Ari needs to break free
Singer Ariana Grande performs "Problem" on stage at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.

The opening crawl of Ariana Grande's latest music video, Break Free, reads: "What you are about to witness is scientifically authentic. It is just one step ahead of present day reality and two steps ahead of present day sexiness."

This tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, scrolling on screen in the vein of Star Wars, raises a smile.

But it also makes you think.

Authentic and sexy? Nah. Uninspiring and cliche? Yes.

Grande, 21, cute as a button and brimming with nubile charm, is pop's newest darling.

She has solid vocal chops that can sound amazing whether they are juxtaposed against synth-laden club beats or hip-hop grooves. But originality seems to be missing from Grande's visual output.

The video for Break Free (taken from her new album My Everything) is a homage to campy B-movies.

Cute starlet plus outer space? The rising star brazenly channels 1968 sci-fi cult heroine Barbarella.

Aside from monsters and robots, there are also a couple of major deja vu moments. In one, Grande's intergalactic bra fires torpedoes. Then, she gives us a zero-gravity striptease.

Grande's weapons of destruction are highly evocative of Katy Perry's California Gurls video. Who could forget that whipped cream-firing bra used to defeat Snoop Dogg's Sugar Daddy?

There are not that many boob projectiles in pop culture, but hey, it got Perry publicity, right?

As for the whole undressing-in-space gimmick, Australian pop goddess Kylie Minogue pulled that off in her video for Put Yourself In My Place, recreating Barbarella's iconic opening sequence.

Minogue's video was released two decades ago and even then, recreating Barbarella seemed a bit obvious.

Grande is obviously happy to go with hackneyed ideas. I do not put the blame on her directly, but surely her gurus and advisers know that this has been done before. Or maybe they are keen recyclers.

Her other videos are similarly uninspiring: The lavish party video with a Prince Charming (Right There) and the retro pop-art performance (Problem).

What happened to breaking free of cliches?

Her recently-ended Nickelodeon sitcom Sam & Cat, which was about the misadventures of babysitters Cat Valentine (Grande) and feisty room-mate Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy), was hilarious, irreverent and a treasure trove of imaginative storylines.

The girls hung out at a cool diner where the waiters were robots. My favourite episodes featured a video game that brainwashed anyone who played it and a freaky night out where the girls were paid to babysit a doll.

I am a fan of the show and it is disappointing that it failed to inspire her with fresh ideas.

If only Grande had transformed some of these ideas to her music video, we would have been spared the umpteenth attempt to redo Barbarella.

But there is also a dark shadow of that disturbing trend among young female solo artists, especially those from kids' entertainment: Why do these singers feel that the only way to prove they are no longer kids is to amp up the sex factor?

Former Disney stars Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez flaunt their ample cleavages on red carpets and in videos for Heart Attack and Come & Get It.

Hannah Montana herself, Miley Cyrus, totally stripped for her uber-emo ballad Wrecking Ball and has otherwise been redefining the "high-cut swimsuit".

We get it. You are all grown up.


But seriously girls, it is a pitiful way to get attention.

I am not saying they should be like nuns and cover up. But there is a difference between alluring and alarming.

And considering that most of their fans are impressionable teenage girls, is this really the example to set?

Former Nickelodeon actress Grande kick-started her pop career with a slightly more wholesome image (but even then, The Way is full of flirty over-the-shoulder glances).

Like her pop predecessors, she has taken to wearing less fabric and showing off (a lot) more skin.

My one piece of advice to Grande: Please do not be another Miley. That skanky image does not gel with your baby face.

Grande may be making her music career at the grand old age of 21, but she looks much younger.

Which makes me wonder what audiences her managers are trying to sell this Lolita to.

Sure, sex sells, but it may be the least original move of all.

This article was first published on August 20, 2014.
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