Thoughts on Ariana Grande headlining Manchester Pride

Decided to write a short, spur of the moment opinion piece since I saw a lot of buzz about Ariana Grande being chosen to headline Manchester Pride.

In case you’re out of the loop on today’s popular music (don’t worry I am as well) or this piece of news, I’ll sum it up for you:

Who is Ariana Grande?

Ariana Grande is an actor turned musician. She got her start in Broadway, playing a cheerleader in the musical, 13. That launched her professional career and from there, she got a main role in the Nickelodeon show, Victorious and earned a starring role in the spinoff Sam & Cat. In 2013, she started her music career and focussed on that instead of acting. She’s very popular, with most of her albums topping the charts, being the most followed woman on Instagram, and she made chart history being the first musician to have their singles occupy all the top three slots on the Billboard Charts since The Beatles. You can’t ignore her. She’s everywhere.

What’s the story with Pride?

Ariana Grande last performed in Manchester in 2017, when she performed a benefit concert for the victims of the terrorist attack that happened at her concert. As part of the Manchester Pride Festival, she is the headliner for Manchester Pride Live. Manchester Pride Live is a new addition to the festival and there are multiple musicians who will play there.

Quite a few people who identify as LGBT+ have expressed concerns about a straight cisgender woman headlining the festival. Here are some tweets criticising this move:

The issues with Ariana headlining

There are some important issues being brought up in the conversation. Let’s go over the major reasons this is, for lack of a better word, “problematic”:

1. Ariana is straight and cisgender and there are many gay, bi, lesbian, and trans musicians who deserve a chance to headline. Elevate LGBT talent!

This is a good point. I get a little irked when straight cis celebrities are lauded as “gay icons” over actual gay, lesbian, bi, and trans celebrities who deserve more attention and appreciation. Ariana Grande headlining feels like straight cis people are talking over actual people in the community. The face of the gay and trans rights movement should be the people affected by these issues, not allies. Allies are absolutely welcome, but they should be in supporting roles, boosting the actual people in the community.

If this is supposed to be an LGBT pride music festival, wouldn’t it make sense to showcase out and proud LGBT musicians? Especially local musicians since this seems to be a big pride festival and a big platform. In fact, Manchester Pride is one of the longest established pride festivals in the UK. The festival attracted over 170,000 visitors in 2016 and in 2018, the parade had 4,000 participants and nearly 150 entries and raised £161k for LGBT charities in the city.

Personally, I don’t see a huge problem with a few straight cis ally artists performing as support. I think the headliner should be an LGBT musician. I’m sure there are many to pick from. Why they picked Ariana Grande, I’ll cover that under a different point.

2. Ariana played Coachella and she apparently “queerbaited”?

In January 2019, she played the third day at Coachella and was obviously a headliner. What is the problem with Coachella? Well, there are many. It’s an overpriced festival with a bunch of rich kids running around. But more upsetting is the owner of the festival is a right wing billionaire who donates to homophobic causes and is against legal marijuana, donating to anti-pot groups in Colorado.

By performing at Coachella, she is attracting audiences who buy tickets to the festival and ultimately, that money goes into the pockets of homophobic, anti weed, right wing billionaire Philip Anschutz. Is that something an LGBT ally would do? A good ally does their research. Did Ariana Grande know about this? I’m not sure. I don’t think she’s homophobic, but like Mariah Carey, this was not a good look for her. However, Janelle Monae performed at Coachella as well, and she is bisexual. I guess money talks? I’m more upset with the festival owner than any LGBT musicians who play the festival though. Stop being homophobic!

The other concern that is hurting her LGBT street cred, so to speak, is accusations of “queerbaiting”*  in her song “Thank U, Next”, an ode to her exes. Where people claim she is “queerbaiting”, which means hinting at a same sex relationship but not actually depicting it, is with the lyrics: “Plus, I met someone else, we havin’ better conversations”, “her name is Ari”, “she taught me love”, “she taught me patience”, “how she handles pain”.

Some people were interpreting this as a coming out song. I guess people can interpret songs in different ways. I interpreted “Thank U, Next” as about loving yourself after a breakup. I don’t exactly see how in and of itself it is a bait and switch tricking gay people into thinking it’s about them. I’m bi and I’m not a fan of Ariana Grande. Gay, bi, and trans people are not a monolith and don’t all have the same music taste.

In the music video for the song “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m bored”, she flirts with another girl and kisses her at the end of the video. Again, I don’t really care and I’m not a fan of hers. Sexuality is more fluid than we think. I don’t like the idea of accusing straight people of “appropriating homosexuality” or LGBT culture. Ariana is an actress, she can play a character in a video or album. Again, I think there are better LGBT anthems, which I outline in these posts (Part 1: LGBT songs of the 60s and early 70s) (Part 2: LGBT songs of the 70s and 80s). I have bigger issues than Ariana Grande songs. Honestly, I have no idea about today’s pop music because I don’t listen to the radio, don’t have cable TV, and I don’t care about mainstream pop music of today.

*Not a huge fan of the term since I think “queer” is an offensive slur, but I can’t think of any better term to use instead.

3. Accessibility and Commercialisation of Pride

Under point 1, I said I was going to talk about why they picked Ariana Grande to headline pride. Easy answer, money and her star power attracts people. She’s one of the most popular musicians right now and a lot of LGBT people like her.

Manchester’s Pride Festival costs money (the parade, however is free), which is part of a wider problem that a lot of LGBT activists and allies talk about: the commercialisation and gentrification of pride. Pride used to be a protest, but now that discriminatory laws are being struck down and progress is being made, it has turned into a celebration. I went to Pride in Dublin and a lot of it was corporate. It’s good that corporations want to reach out to LGBT people, but what are they actually doing? How many homophobes work in these companies? How many transphobes? Is the company culture about calling out ignorance? That said, it’s much better than them pandering to homophobes.

Why do I say that pride is being gentrified? What really made me think about it was this tweet:

What do I mean? Along with the corporatisation of Pride, it’s becoming more bourgeois. Looking at Manchester Pride specifically, tickets are sold for it and the gay village, where the events take place is closed off. This has attracted criticism. Ticket prices have also been skyrocketing, making it not so accessible to working class and poor LGBT people.

This year, tickets for Manchester Pride Live and the Gay Village Party cost (not including fees) £34.50 for Saturday only, £38.50 for Sunday only, or £64.50 for the two days. Not cheap.

Shouldn’t Pride be about all LGBT people, not just those with money? We should be elevating working class and poor LGBT voices and listening to concerns they bring up. Without awareness of class privilege, is this really a “woke” event? Is this activism?

Looking at the tweet above, we know that Pride attracts huge crowds. These crowds don’t want to see rough sleepers, so the police often do sweeps of the area, ousting rough sleepers before Pride. A large number of homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people who were kicked out of their parents homes. As well, in some areas, you can be evicted for being trans or for your sexuality.

What about the other performers?

Because Ariana Grande is the headliner, she’s going to get a lot of the attention. How many of the other performers though openly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans? Here’s what I’ve found with a quick Google search. This isn’t an exhaustive list and this is just what I’ve found. So it’s not all straight performers and there are a decent amount of LGBT performers.

  • Olly Alexander of Years & Years is gay
  • Kim Petras is transgender
  • Lady Leshurr is pansexual
  • Andy Butler of Hercules and Love Affair is gay
  • Nicky Siano is gay
  • Gok Wan is gay
  • Jodie Harsh is a drag queen and is gay
  • Chelcee Grimes is bisexual

In conclusion:

Nothing wrong with Ariana playing Manchester Pride, but shouldn’t the headlining spot go to a gay, lesbian, bi, or trans musician? Especially one that is local. She could do a duet with an actual LGBT musician? Or what about Ariana as a co-MC? That might be pretty cool. Her voice can amplify gay voices. As a performing headliner, it just leads to more publicity for her. Pride is not about straight cis people.

Straight people should absolutely be welcome at pride. If we exclude straight people, then how do we bridge the gap? What about people who are questioning or not ready to come out yet? We shouldn’t be making Pride an LGBT only event because this shouldn’t be about outing people, but about celebrating ourselves as a community and raising awareness of issues.

Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.

Loved this post and want to see more great posts like this and show your appreciation for The Diversity of Classic Rock? Chip in some money on Patreon (monthly donation) or Ko-Fi (one-time donation). Or buy my merch or my photography prints on RedBubble. Or donate your writing or art talents to my blog, contact me here if you’re interested in collaborating. All of this is totally optional, but extremely helpful. 

All Diversity of Classic Rock content will remain free, but Patrons get some nice perks, like early access to blog posts, birthday cards, Skype calls with me, and exclusive behind the scenes posts. Every dollar helps. 

If you cannot afford to donate to The Diversity of Classic Rock, there are many free ways to support the blog: clicking that follow button on my website, turning off your AdBlock, following me on Facebook or Twitter, liking posts, sharing posts, leaving nice comments, or sending your music for review. Thank you!