Monday, January 28th, 2019

Ariana Grande – 7 Rings

For the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone…

Iris Xie: Ariana, NO. Riding on the rhythms of Black artists like Princess Nokia and 2 Chainz and mixing it with “My Favorite Things”: I am astounded at her dismissive fluidity between the verse and the chorus, and her blatant entitlement in the hook, “I want it, I got it.” This is not the same way that Beyoncé and other artists have used it; when they say “I want it, I got it,” it’s not just for the singer, it’s representation for all who need to seek power and strength in that message. This is a declaration of privileged entitlement and is only sympathetic to those who need to seek power in not being held accountable, in feigning innocence, in hiding behind privilege to do whatever they want without consequences. Ari’s built her empire, and the discarded cores of the songs wrung dry for “7 Rings” is part of the plan for her expansion. The disrespect of Black artists has always been part of the story in popular music (and the world) and is threaded into the very framework and sound of popular music, but it’s honestly breathtaking how obvious and easy Ariana is about it. It’s brutal, it’s self-indulgent, it’s disrespectful as fuck, and if she decides to cast herself as Alexander the Great for the “7 Rings” music video, that would just be perfect for this song.

Vikram Joseph: I really thought Ariana might be self-aware enough to understand how downright obnoxious she might come across in releasing a glorified flex about her gigantic wealth, but apparently not. It’s brazenly over-the-top (“my receipts be looking like phone numbers”) and I hoped, vainly, that it might be satirical — her own explanation of the backstory behind the song makes it plain that it’s not. No right-minded person resents her success, but in this socioeconomic climate — oh, fuck it, in any socioeconomic climate — a line like “I see it/I like it/I want it/I got it” is craven and crass. Musically, it’s a bland, passable slow-jam, apart from the parts which exhume the decaying corpse of “My Favorite Things,” which nobody wanted to see. Ariana Grande has called this a “friendship anthem” (because she bought rings for 6 of her friends), which reveals more about her concept of friendship than she perhaps would have liked.

Alex Clifton: I know Ariana’s described “7 Rings” as a friendship anthem, which on the surface is true; it’s inspired by a shopping trip where she bought her girls friendship rings. But for a song about friendship, it feels awfully distant. The lovely thing about “Thank U, Next” was that it was personal and empathetic, exes named and thanked with grace in a way we rarely ever see in pop music. Here, friendship seems to be replaced with luxury; her posse feels anonymous, like they could be any girls in the club. The song’s an absolute bop, making “My Favourite Things” into something sexier than it should be while also giving Ariana the chance to rap impressively.

Danilo Bortoli: It was not impossible to see this coming. After the song that pretty much defined the social media zeitgeist in all of its lack of glory, comes the contractually-obliged, self-congratulatory victory lap which anticipates an also mandatory album rollout ritual. Meaning: “7 Rings” should be a mere filler. Not only because it sounds like Princess Nokia with less wit and bravado and more privilege, and not only because it evokes mindless “Pretty Boy Swag” comparisons (suggesting Soulja Boy’s flow is not in public domain by now). No, “7 Rings” is bad because it strips away Ariana’s empathy and replaces it with a bunch of meme-worthy signifiers: Breakfast at Tiifany’s, ATM machines, retail therapy, all wrapped under a cold, soulless beat. Yet, given how calculated that beat is, you can tell cold was what she aimed. Sadly. Here, “I want it, I got it” is her mere wish, lacking the wit to make it happen.

Thomas Inskeep: “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it,” Grande sings on this ode to conspicuous consumption, and while I’m happy she’s doing well, it’s hard to relate when I’ve been unemployed for almost five months. And the track, based around a chunk of the melody of “My Favorite Things,” is nothing special. She’s raised expectations for her music, after the quality of last year’s Sweetener, so this doesn’t cut it on multiple levels.

Julian Axelrod: I hoped “Thank U, Next” would be the Lemonade to Sweetener‘s Beyonce. Now I’m worried it’s Ariana’s Reputation.

Katherine St Asaph: Viktor & Rolf just released a set of comically expensive reaction GIFs, also known as their Spring/Summer ’19 collection. You probably shouldn’t continue reading this blurb until you’ve seen every single one. The dresses themselves are either nightgowns with epaulets or hyper-femme tulle ziggurats, like Mount Everests constructed entirely from bubblegum and Marie Antoinettes. The main details — if you can really call something a “detail” if it’s in huge meme font — are emblazoned snot-slogans like “I Am My Own Muse” or “No Photos Please” or just “NO.” So swamped in fabric, all the models look even more like children than usual, making the collection resemble Abercrombie tees or Nickelodeon tween shows, in all their oversassed questionability. But there’s craftiness to the brattiness. Said the Vogue writer, perhaps with a slight whiff of “oh god, I really have to, don’t I”: “All the assorted typography and graphic design — the text as well as the eagle head, the skull, the candy hearts, and so forth — resulted from layers of additional tulle. Trite sentiments backed up by technical prowess.” This also describes Ariana Grande’s music: tart but frilly, meme-ready but warmly produced. Or rather, it’s a description of her music since Sweetener and before this. For all the suffocating memesphere around it, “Thank U, Next” is a fine standalone Mariah Carey pastiche. “7 Rings” is a Gwen Stefani pastiche, primarily of “Wind It Up”: garish showtune interpolation, slapdash arrangement, half-assed lyrics (being tied up with cuffs? Weird sex, but OK), and borrowed hip-hop posturing, as if her main takeaway from “Formation” was it being about buying shit. Can you even imagine how bad a fast-fashion version of those gowns would be? You can certainly hear it.

Will Adams: Ariana Grande’s post-Sweetener rebranding as an Extremely Online #queen is an instructive, if tiresome, example of how social media has blurred the lines between genuine authenticity and personality as imagined by PR suits. “7 Rings” does the same trick of “Thank U, Next” in that it attempts to reverse engineer memes as desperately as Katy Perry. But while “Next” was at least tuneful, this is a joyless cover of OMG Girlz’s “Pretty Girl Bag,” no more effective at fostering goodwill than a deluge of tweets that only serve to remind you that you’ll never be her.

Maxwell Cavaseno: There was once a time where Ariana singles needn’t be based around their ability to serve as content and memes. That time may feel like years behind us but it was quite literally three months ago and yet is titanically irreversible. Now Grande’s songs feel less like any real ability to showcase the talents of her singing, just more like suitable IG Story content based on an effervescent bitchiness demonstrated as “#confidence” and beholden to boringly cynical rap cadences. “Spend It” sucked years and years ago as a dead-eyed anthem by a 40-year-old pro making songs for 30-year-olds trying to hang with the 20-year-olds in the club. Distressingly, its progeny in “7 Rings” doesn’t sound any less cynical. People can say all the critiques about the Sweetener run they could, but nevertheless that was a period in which you could honestly indicate that Ariana Grande was enjoying herself and doing her best. I’d be hard pressed to find such from material like this.

Nicholas Donohoue: I get in fights over Ariana’s message discipline. It is now settled law that “Thank U, Next” is the high point of Ari’s career in terms of self-mythologizing, but I couldn’t help feeling stung by: i) her releasing the song right before the peak of “Breathin'” (her actual high point of artistic expression), capping herself at the knees by cutting off one great point of personal vulnerability in lieu of addressing her less interesting public persona and, ii) by attaching “Thank U, Next,” her tight construction of showcraft and narrative shifting, to a music video Frankenstein-ing four early 2000’s movies with distinct tonal and subject conceits together. For as much love as I have for a titan of courage and rolling-with-the-punches like Ariana, I feel she might be careless as to what she transfers into her own sound and image. I don’t know what “7 Rings” is suppose to mean. I have confidence this style of more showtune trap is an element of Ariana, but I don’t know if it’s a wise progression from the tuneful, honest, and numbly reminiscent take in “Thank U, Next”. The money and excess politics over a spare beat are confounding mostly due to people loving it because they seem destined to never have it. This isn’t even touching the racial critiques that Ariana is strolling where pop-based Black women have had to stomp (re: Rihanna and the word “savage”). Undeniably there is power here for Ariana, but who is meant to benefit from this, including Ariana?

Jonathan Bradley: From the R&B undertones of debut album Yours Truly on, Ariana Grande has been a white pop artist who has attempted to situate her work in a racially liminal space: not black, and not even a pantomimed blackness in the mode of Miley Cyrus’s less estimable moments or Iggy Azalea, but one nevertheless imbued with performative and stylistic cues borrowed from that cultural context. It’s a position that is complicated by the proficiency of her baby-Mariah vocal, by — perhaps unconsciously on her part — the historically contested whiteness of Italian-Americans, by a debut hit that interpolated the Latino rapper Big Pun and featured a guest verse from white rapper Mac Miller, by pop’s history of making African American ideas into mass culture, and by Grande’s own political advocacy for civil rights causes. And alongside this has been her claim on a decidedly non-liminal gendered space: from pastels and ponytails to short skirts and rom-coms, Grande’s image is underlined by stylized femininity. In her post Sweetener singles — and even on “God is a Woman” — she has used this to stake out a claim of maturity and independence, and, by extension, a distinctly feminine authority: “Thank U, Next,” for instance, was a sugary distancing from the men with whom she’d been associated that asserted self-reliance (“her name is Ari”) and professional success (“this song is a smash”). “7 Rings” continues blending girlishness with power, and like Taylor Swift on Reputation, Grande is making herself more untouchable by making her music chillier. She nods at Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn from the opening line on, and posits feminine solidarity and capitalist consumption as the enabling force of her dominance. Her flow here has been sourced to everyone from Princess Nokia to 2 Chainz to Soulja Boy, but considering the lyric, the likely inspiration seems to be Beyoncé on “Formation.” And that rapping, the trap beat, and the nods to luxury goods combine to form Grande’s most overt and most questionable tracing of blackness in her career. Conspicuous consumption in black music is an implicit challenge to systems of wealth that have excluded its makers; in a white context, it’s just shopping. Grande’s ability to sustain public goodwill in maintaining the tenability of these contradictions seems dependent as much on the sensitivity of her approach as it does on the context of the music. “7 Rings” makes more explicit some of the uncertain contours of Grande’s music, but it does not fail: it is delicious in its fluffy imperiousness.

Stephen Eisermann: I said this last year about Drake, but it rings true now about Ariana: it was only a matter of time before things got too problematic to ignore. Someone, somewhere will surely write about the musical blackface (as well as excessive use of bronzer), but focusing on the song alone — yeah, this is hot. Ariana’s coos play well with the trap arrangement and although she may have stolen someone’s flow, she sure wears it well. It’s a fun song to bop to, and I’m all for a good friendship banger, but ignoring all other circumstances for a banger is just irresponsible at this point.

Crystal Leww: Ariana Grande’s always made some incredible music, but the art direction and conversation around her has been subpar, at best, and oftentimes kind of icky! That first album Yours Truly was so beyond in how well it paid homage and tribute to the feeling of the late-’90s/early-’00s R&B pop. But there were accusations of playing into the idea of the Sexy Baby to sell records. A lot of this was super unfair — Grande was so young at the time and most of this was projection by gross, older men who should have known better — but this weird dichotomy between Grande as a really excellent musician and Grande as a frustrating image, brand, pop star, object of obsession from stans has persisted. “7 Rings” kind of rules as an actual track; Grande’s created a super polished, slick product that pays homage to Soulja Boy flow while borrowing the melody and concept from The Sound of Music. But everything around this track sucks from the continued “borrowing” of Black culture (e.g., 2 Chainz’s pink trap house) to use of “Asian” characters and urban culture to the insane defensiveness from Grande stans around all of this. I can’t believe that Ariana Grande is going through her Katy Perry phase.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: God, this was a bad idea. Everything here shouldn’t work — the metronomic synths, the unholy fusion of Rodgers & Hammerstein to Soulja Boy, the diving head-on into the murky cultural appropriation accusations that have dogged Ariana for a minute now. And yet despite all of these (entirely self inflicted) problems, Ariana manages to pull together the best possible song given the circumstances. It’s still not good, but her sheer force of personality makes “7 Rings” into an object of fascination.

Alfred Soto: It’s not any more mediocre than her other mediocre singles, but despite the famous sample and rap cadences she sounds like a person visiting a childhood home she happily left. The home is deluxe but sparely decorated, and the wine good. Guests are welcome, especially Mariah Carey.

Edward Okulicz: I’ve seen The Sound of Music a number of times that is more than I wish to admit here. Rephrasing the song so it’s not about things that are believably in the life of an Austrian nun and instead are about things you’d go buy or consume conspicuously isn’t original, though. Big Brovaz did more with this chorus and I think poor-shaming is a PR mistake.

Tobi Tella: Sampling The Sound of Music is an inspired choice, and one that will always get the inner theatre kid on me on a song’s side. But the chorus mostly leaves me cold — it’s a fun boast, but there’s not much too it and I don’t think hip-hop is a particularly good genre for her. When she starts spitting bars during the bridge and saying things like “gimme the loot!” I just get secondhand embarrassment.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The inversion of “My Favorite Things” is sly: there’s no admittance of sadness, the things in question aren’t quotidian, and Ariana’s able to attain everything at a moment’s notice. The lay person can’t just fly somewhere to witness “raindrops on roses” or “silver-white winters,” but everything that Ariana lists is a consumable product that’s readily purchasable. Since she was never sad in the first place, there’s no actual need for “simply remember[ing]” anything — she’s creating her list of favorites as she has them rung up. As such, “7 Rings” isn’t a song about surviving the present, but it does implicitly acknowledge its potential for being unsatisfactory. The cryptic synths and sparse arrangement hint at this sad undertone, but it never quite gets there. And therein lies the song’s biggest flaw: the lack of melancholic (sub)text makes this less interesting, and the display of opulence is frequently offset by Ariana’s fumbled rapping. There’s little resembling actual human emotion or personality here, but given her success with “Thank U, Next” and now this, Ariana is maybe more interested in being a meme.

Reader average: [3.66] (9 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

13 Responses to “Ariana Grande – 7 Rings”

  1. Vikram hitting all the right points here.

  2. Since when is Ariana Grande white?

  3. AG — er, how many levels of irony are you on?

  4. Hi AG! I don’t think it’s worth jumping down your throat about this because what is considered White varies from country to country (and even within “whitedom”, various people can be somewhat racist and mean to each other).

    I guess Ariana’s Southern Italian ancestry might give her a slightly darker complexion than (to pick a very white example) Taylor Swift, or other pop stars who have Sicilian roots (like Lady Gaga and – yes, it’s true – the one-quarter Sicilian Britney Spears, her grandma’s name was Portelli), but I think it’s drawing a long bow to say she’s not white.

    “White” is as much a cultural/linguistic identifier as a skin one and over time, Italians joined the Anglo majority in white-dom. I’m the whitest person you’ve ever seen but I still got told to go back where I came from in the 80s for my ethnic (Polish) name but in 2019, I’m just white white white white white, and Italians were on board the “White and Acceptable to Other Whites, Even the Racist Ones” train long before the Slavs were. Sure there’s probably pockets of anti-Italian sentiment (and of course, there’s probably still anti-Sicilian racism within Italy and the Italian diaspora), but you wouldn’t have to look too hard in modern day America to find people who don’t like the Irish, or the Russians or the French. Italians are now Definitively White, and Ariana Grande is as part of the hegemony as if she were born Anna Green.

  5. Speaking for no one else, I had always just run on the assumption she was Latina, and didn’t realize I was wrong until I started reading discussions of this song and her varying heaviness of hand with the bronzer.

    And not to cement myself as an Old but the whole point of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — the novella and the original joke Capote got the phrase from than the movie, but still — was amoral grasping insecurity about wealth, and being near it but not having it oneself.

  6. love to consistently be schooled by katherine

  7. We did end up with several teachable moments today, and that almost is an answer to the “who was meant to benefit” question.

  8. Such a great collection of blurbs. This is why I love this site.

  9. katherine st asaph, you are a joy and a wonder

  10. thanks! it was mostly inspired by two entirely separate people referring to ariana grande’s song and the collection respectively as “Forever 21 shirts”

  11. To me… this song feels less like a flex and more like someone who is spiraling emotionally trying to self soothe by buying a lot of shit. And, having been there myself, it isn’t necessarily the worst conceit if there was some sort of self awareness to the song but the presentation is all kayfabe Paris Hilton not London Tipton. Ari pulling from Princess Nokia for such an empty song is such a shame since Mine so cleverly made the response to a tired old question (“is that your real hair?”) a solidarity brag anthem.

    Also, since y’all are fighting about this in the comments: Ari self tanning herself until she’s darker than Nicki Minaj is more than laying on the bronzer a little more strongly. I have a kid sister so I still remember how she looked during her Disney channel days. I reccomend all of you breaking out your Nell Irvin Painter citations to go and google old photos of her since the question isn’t whether Ari is white, it’s if she’s trying to tan and brow lift herself into another race.

    Anyway I was recently at a cheesy silent disco and the valiant DJs were playing some truly horrendous throwback tracks (ex: I Want Candy, Stacy’s Mom) but I still drunkenly belted every lyric anyway and I imagine a similar fate for this song.

  12. Flagged and reported for calling “Stacy’s Mom” horrendous.

  13. (That said, I do hope the mods take “all kayfabe Paris Hilton not London Tipton” into account as exculpatory.)