Recently 21-year-old Ariana Grande got some public and sharp feedback from the iconic Bette Midler after her AMA performance in November.
“… slithering around on a couch and looking so ridiculous … I mean, it’s silly beyond belief and I don’t know who’s telling her to do it. I wish they’d stop. But it’s not my business, I’m not her mother. Or her manager. Maybe they tell them that’s what you’ve got to do. Sex sells. Sex has always sold … Trust your talent. You don’t have to make a whore out of yourself to get ahead. You really don’t.”
Grande responded on Twitter to the bizarre public shaming from Midler with head-scratching confusion:
“Bette was always a feminist who stood for women being able to do whatever the F they wanted without judgement! Not sure where that Bette went but I want that sexy mermaid back!!! Always a fan no matter what my love — all love here”
Midler has now issued a kind of/sort of apology: “About my screed on @ArianaGrande, all I can say is, ‘Spoken like a reformed old whore! She does have a beautiful voice, on a couch or off.'”
Ouch. You seriously missed the mark on this one, Bette Midler.
While Midler focused on Grande’s physical performance, you have to look at everything that goes into a performance. It’s choreography, costumes, makeup. It’s creating a type of character who will elevate the song to the masses. It’s also, possibly, a solution to combating nerves and anxiety about performing. Grande has mentioned her pre-stage anxiety a few times and the transformative powers of costume can work wonders on alleviating that.
You would think Midler would have been more understanding about personas and characters used on stage. When Midler was once asked by NPR why she created and performed as so many different personas on stage, she revealed, “I was entertaining, but I was also serving myself. I didn’t have to give too much of myself because I was busy creating another character.”
One of the bawdiest characters Midler embodied was the persona of an old Vaudeville performer named Sophie Tucker. When Midler performed as “Soph” she told outlandish stories and risque jokes. Soph was also, in Midler’s eyes, “a character that I felt that I could hide behind.”
Fans who grew up with Grande (a former Nickelodeon star) are figuring out how to come into their personhood just like she is and Midler was in the past. Perhaps sequined skater dresses or high pony-tails aren’t the look that will resonate with them, but maybe they will try it on to see. When I first started experimenting with makeup it wasn’t to enhance my features — I wanted to transform myself. I just didn’t know who to transform into.
I was very lucky to have a mother who recognized this as the natural evolution of self and my femininity. One of the biggest self-preservation tactics I know I learned from my grandmother: “Put on lipstick and you will feel better.”
I remember sitting on the dressing room floor and watching her apply rouge and lipstick. She’d then take a deep breath and say to her reflection in the mirror, “Now we are ready to face the world.” The transformation was always amazing to witness. It didn’t matter if my grandmother began her makeup routine exhausted, sad, or frustrated — by the time she was pressing loose powder to her face, she was in character.
Years later, I learned for myself the power of makeup — or “war paint” as it’s often called — and costumes when I was a theater major. Even now, while I don’t go anywhere near a stage anymore, if I’m wearing makeup, you can bet it’s employed as a crutch to buffer everyday life; a layer between the real me and the world.
But still, I can’t imagine what it must be like to step on to an arena stage every night to sing and perform in front of thousands of on-lookers. I’d like to think it’s a blast, but with so many people watching you, maybe the more layers the better.
I think Midler missed an opportunity to empower and connect with Grande on a mentor level. Midler is a mom to a daughter in her 20s who is in the film industry. You would think she would have had some practice at patience and grace when it comes to giving opinions, especially when they weren’t even asked for. Out of nowhere Midler publicly zings and shames Grande.
If Midler truly had such strong objections to Grande’s performance, the classy thing to do would have been to reach out with an offer to meet up. If Midler was so concerned Grande was getting bad advice on how to perform, why not ask if Grande wanted an outsider’s perspective?
From the outside looking in, it seems like Midler lashed out to tear an artist down. By doing so, Midler sent a message to young Grande fans that if you experiment with your look, be prepared for someone to call you a whore.
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