SHE was known as the former Nickolodeon child star with a prickly persona and a seriously good voice.
Now Ariana Grande has styled herself as a Dangerous Woman, established her feminist credentials and become a warm online presence for her ever growing army of fans.
Australians will get their first chance for a close look at Grande’s evolution from Monday, when her Australian tour begins in Melbourne. She plays the ICC Sydney Theatre on Friday and next Saturday.
Much has changed for the 24-year-old in recent years, not least because of her unfortunate role at the centre of a UK terrorist attack earlier this year.
Grande has had to draw on considerable reserves of strength in the months since 23 people were killed in the seconds after she left the stage at the end of her May 22 concert at the Manchester Arena.
Among those killed by an Islamic State-inspired suicide bomber were teenage fans and the parents who waited to pick them up after their big night out.
The devastated singer headed home to the US to try to come to terms with the tragedy but within four days, Grande and her team had assembled some of the world’s biggest pop superstars to join her for the One Love Manchester concert at the Old Trafford cricket ground in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack.
Stars including Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Robbie Williams, Niall Horan, Take That, Pharrell Williams and Liam Gallagher came together for the show on June 4, which again underlined music’s power to unite in the face of tragedy.
But the concert’s brightest light was Grande. Before the show, the singer spent hours visiting victims in hospital and the families of those who died.
On stage she soared singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, thrilled when she joined Coldplay to sing the Oasis hit Don’t Look Back In Anger and provoked a flood of tears when she paired with Cyrus for an emotional rendition of the Crowded House anthem Don’t Dream It’s Over.
“I want to thank you so much for coming together and being so loving and strong and unified,” she told the crowd after singing the “We know they won’t win” chorus with Cyrus.
“I love you guys so much, and I think that all the love and unity you’re displaying is the medicine the world needs right now.”
Grande’s brave commitment to her fans under the worst of circumstances revealed another side to a multifaceted yet still somewhat mysterious pop star.
After kicking off her entertainment career on Broadway in a starring role in the musical 13, she entered the child actor factory that has generated countless pop stars from Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake to Grande’s contemporaries including Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. Grande cast herself as the petite popette with the outsized voice.
Her star rose quickly via the Nickelodeon series Victorious and its spin-off Sam & Cat, so when she decided to follow her musical dreams, she had an instant audience of teens and tweens.
That ready-made audience came in handy with the release of Grande’s debut album Yours Truly in August 2013.
The record made the top 10 in Australia and the UK and hit No.1 in the US. The album may have been an important milestone for other reasons — first single The Way was a collaboration with singer-rapper Mac Miller, with whom Grande is now in a relationship.
She followed up with singles such as Right There with former beau Big Sean but her entree into the pop big leagues came when Grande paired with the then rising Australian rapper Iggy Azalea on the single Problems.
The lead single from her second album My Everything was inescapable in 2014 and became one of the highest selling singles of all time with more than nine million copies.
Grande proved to have perfect pop instincts and could move easily between R&B and dance influences, all while exercising those vocal gymnastics, swaying that ponytail prop as a coquettish performer.
Offstage, however, Grande was a mess of mixed messages. Whispers of diva tendencies became inescapable when long lists of no-go questions were issued to media and photographers were instructed to shoot her only from her left side.
A promotional visit to Australia was punctuated by tales of the singer’s mother Joan commandeering an office at a radio station for an emergency spray tan session.
The pop star protested she was misunderstood, taken-out-of-context or played the “it’s all media lies” card as more rumours surfaced — including allegations of tensions behind the scenes on the Sam & Cat set (one of the Don’t questions on her list) and reports she was less than friendly with fans at meet-and-greet sessions.
Then came the infamous doughnut-licking incident in July 2015. Grande was caught on camera apparently licking a doughnut that was part of a display. She was also heard to exclaim: “I hate America”.
She issued an unreserved apology when the video surfaced, insisting the out-of-context remark related to her concerns about child obesity and promised to set a better example for her “babes”.
Online, however, Grande has shown herself to be warm and welcoming to her “Arianators” — often directly communicating with them — and a fierce feminist who calls out the sexism encountered by female pop artists.
She has been celebrated for her social media manifestos provoked by being objectified, shamed for being sexy or constantly referred to as someone’s ex or girlfriend.
“If a woman even TALKS about sex openly …. she is shamed!” she posted in 2015.
“But if a man talks or RAPS freely about all the women (or more commonly used ‘bitches’/’hoes’ … how lovely) he’s had … he is regaled.”
“If a woman is seen with a friend with a penis, there is an immediate assumption of romance or sex and she is labelled!!!”
“If a man is seen with a woman … his status is elevated / celebrated. ‘AWW S … HE SMASHED!!!1!!1!.”
Grande has also exercised some considerable comedic chops, amusing television audiences with her talk show impersonations of Jennifer Lawrence, Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Rihanna.
She lampooned her diva reputation on Saturday Night Live and almost stole the show with her recurring role in the comedy series Scream Queens.
With her third album Dangerous Woman, Grande cemented her status as a musical force to be reckoned with courtesy of hits such as Into You, Focus and Side To Side (with Minaj).
But where her star truly shines is on the concert stage and after a brief postponement because of the Manchester arena tragedy, Grande insists the show must go on.
The Dangerous Woman tour concludes in Australia this month and then it will be a case of “what next?” for an astute artist who is banking on that prodigious voice to keep her in the pop game for decades.
One thing that is certain is the horrific bombing of the Manchester Arena has forced Grande to dramatically scale up the security measures for her Australian concerts.
These changes will inevitably affect all pop fans at future events as musicians and their security teams deal with the repercussions of the terrorist attacks on the Eagles Of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris and Manchester.
The venue for her New Zealand concert tonight revealed last week the stringent new conditions for entry, including a total ban on bags. No bag of any size, even a small clutch purse, will be allowed. Cloaking facilities will not be available.
“There will be no coat check for you to leave your bags at so please leave all clutches, small purses, big purses, handbags, backpacks, and any bags you may have at home,” the venue posted in a statement.
It is understood fans will be given plastic ziplock bags to hold their essentials such as phones, wallet and keys.
“These plastic bags will be provided to everyone on arrival. This process will allow security to have a quick check of your items and will help to get you inside the arena faster,” the venue warned fans.
Cameras are also forbidden, though fans will be allowed to take in phones.
Grande’s team has declared a strict ban on any filming of the show and have instructed security to remove anyone caught recording video of the concert.
All these conditions are expected to also be enforced for her Australian concerts, with fans advised to get to their venues early in order to cope with the tighter security that will include metal-detecting wands and pat-downs.
Once the tour is finished, Grande will consider her next move. With new music from Pink, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and possibly even Justin Timberlake due for release in the coming weeks, she would be playing in a very crowded chart field should she decide to follow-up Dangerous Woman with a new track before the end of the year.
It is likely she would be considering more acting offers now the gruelling demands of the road are over and she could spend weeks, even months on a film or television set.
And there are plenty of Grande products to push in the lead-up to Christmas, with the singer recently launching her third perfume range, Moonlight by Ariana Grande, which will be released this month.