Ariana Grande's Zoom Manipulation
What a group interview for a makeup line tells us about the state of media today.
Ariana Grande has a new makeup line called r.e.m. and its launch shows how deeply media must now genuflect to mega celebrities, and polish their shoes with a toothbrush while they’re down there. Here is a promotional shot for r.e.m., in which Grande wields a lipstick that resembles a giant suppository.
Here’s another, emphasizing a sixties Mod theme.
You get the idea. Grande has this makeup line because she has so many Instagram followers and so many fans that she can automatically get more than 925,000 of them to follow this new feed designed to sell us all highlighter and whatnot, and then successfully sell a great many of them said highlighter and said whatnot. But of course Grande and her business partners must all say that this is about more than that because the world needs another choice of eye shadow palette like I need another grapefruit rotting in the back of my refrigerator. So they need to serve up nice and hot the idea that this isn’t just makeup, but rather, something more special involving storytelling and dreams. And then Grande and her partners will take a nice swim through all of our cash as though in DuckTales.
Frankly, if Grande can earn millions from this, fine, go for it, more power to her, etc. The sad thing about it is how women’s lifestyle media has been so efficiently employed as her pawn in this game because they likely feel powerless to demand otherwise.
The big publicity campaign began with the October Allure cover, emblazoned with this Grande quote: “You can never have enough music — or makeup.” Can you get a better editorial endorsement? Allure writer Brennan Kilbane reported getting two hours with Grande, which is the least Grande should do for a cover feature specifically designed to sell her new product line.
On Monday, online stories about r.e.m. started going up, which described a group Zoom interview with Grande in which she did a Jennifer Coolidge impression and put makeup swatches on her arm. A group interview is something reporters usually dread. All quotes will be shared by everyone present, which means outlets won’t get any exclusive material. People.com went with the headline, “I Got to Zoom with Ariana Grande to Learn All About R.E.M. Beauty — Here's Everything to Know.” “I Got to Group Zoom,” of course, doesn’t carry quite the same click factor.
“As each editor entered the video chat, Grande animatedly greeted each of her guests by name,” People.com reported. Again, the least she could do given the transaction happening here. And what were the most scintillating things she said over the course of the next hour?
“We wanted to do drops instead of giving you everything at once. We wanted to be super selective and intentional with the storytelling,” Grande said, per Nylon.com.
"I've always preferred lip stains over lip liner or lipstick because it's going to be there for you," she also said, per Allure.com.
"That's the thing about a lot of products in this line — they're multifunctional,” she continued, per Pop Sugar.
And of her cat-eye liner, she explained it requires “prayer and patience,” per Yahoo.com.
Grande’s carefully managed interactions with the media have been much ballyhooed. Jezebel.com reminds us of another group interview Grande did in Sydney, Australia in 2014, prior to which reporters were allegedly instructed not to ask about these things:
(2) Mariah Carey
(3) Sam & Cat/Jennette McCurdy
(4) Working/collaborating with Justin Bieber
(5) Her grandfather passing away
Photographers were also supposedly told not to photograph Grande from the right side of her face. From Jezebel:
After spending a few minutes doing a shoot for mX newspaper — WITH NO RIGHT SIDE PIX — Grande reportedly left the set to change her top and never returned. After about 40 minutes, one of her reps returned and demanded that the photographer delete all his photos. He refused, and Grande went on to skip the rest of her photo shoots for various other outlets.
Grande later said that she left because she didn’t like her top and when she came back, the photographer was gone.
Here’s what I’m not seeing in any of the write-ups from the r.e.m. group Zoom, which I think would be fair to ask about in an interview, even if you agreed in advance to keep the questions beauty-themed, and even if you were being really extra super accommodating and agreed to keep them r.e.m-themed:
Is it true you will only consent to being photographed from the left side of your face? Does being photographed from one side only affect how you do your makeup and can you show us how with your r.e.m. products?
Makeup lines like this can be lucrative. Can you see yourself amassing a personal net worth of $1 billion?
Can you explain the thinking behind this video where you’re upside down in the TV?
How are you ensuring this line satisfies a diverse customer base?
Given the promotional image of the file folders, what is the earliest tech thing you remember?
The women in these interviews are smart and could absolutely ask interesting questions. However, the way some major stars operate is by setting conditions for participation in things like this. Like, You want to get on a Zoom with someone as famous as Ariana Grance? Sure you can! Just acquiesce to this litany of demands to ensure you tell your readers exactly what we want you to and nothing more. There could have been a pre-set rule here, for instance, that each editor gets to ask one question about the line. Maybe editors just listened and didn’t get to ask any questions. Maybe questions were submitted and approved in advance.
Grande is a level of famous that is, for all but a small number of people, unfathomable. The scrutiny she’s under as a young woman celebrity is immeasurable. And she got her big break at 15, which means her adolescence was drowned by her career and she was robbed of at least part of her childhood. If she’s had her moments with the press, we’re living in a post-Britney age where a lot of people can understand that.
What is more bothersome is how these outlets have to give a celebrity like Grande an advertorial for, what, exactly? Access to her via a group Zoom? So she sells makeup on her terms while outlets get what in return? A few bucks from affiliate sales, where publishers earn a small percentage from products they linked to on their site? Some clicks to these articles from Google or Facebook which are worth the same amount of change mixed into the mysterious omnipresent dust at the bottom of your purse?
Lifestyle and magazine publishers are suffering in the 2020s because they can’t monetize in the digital age as well as Google and Facebook, which gets much of the ad business magazines used to. (And if you thought Facebook was going to suffer at the hands of whistleblower Frances Haugen, think again; the company’s recently released third quarter earnings beat analysts’ expectations.) Publishers also can’t draw nearly the same audiences that celebrities can on their own through social media, which means they are no longer necessary for celebrities to access large audiences. So if these publications want time with someone like Grande without a cover to offer, they often have to make allowances.
But it’s sad they have to make those allowances at their own expense. Forma Brands, which makes r.e.m. along with lines like Bad Habit, now has no reason to advertise this line in any of these outlets. It can safely pour its funds into channels that won’t give it free play quite so easily, like Google, Facebook, and Instagram, which surface content if you pay for it.
Puff pieces have always been part of women’s media. Only in the past, publications were getting something out of it. Now they’re just getting the ability to collectively spill homogenized content into an already tainted, often deeply uninteresting stream.
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