March 1, 2019
Todd plays "7 Rings" on the piano.
ARIANA GRANDE - 7 RINGS
A pop song review
Todd: OK. So, uhh...have you heard about this Ariana Grande that's so popular right now?
Clip of "No Tears Left to Cry"
Ariana Grande: I'm pickin' it up, pickin' it upTodd (VO): OK, so, you know I spent that last episode talking about how pop stars used to [clips of Black Eyed Peas - "Imma Be"...] feel like superheroes...like [...Katy Perry - "Firework"...] larger-than-life figures? [...and...] And then "Royals" showed up, and all the superheroes died?
Clip from Avengers: Infinity War; Thanos snaps his fingers in tune with "Royals"
Video for Halsey - "Without Me"And now, we're in a slower, moodier era of chart pop, and...no one except maybe Halsey has figured out how to turn that sound into actual stardom.
Todd: Well even then, I had to acknowledge that there was one person out there doing the pop star classic routine.
Video for "Breathin"Todd (VO): Being world famous, making every single release an event. And as a bonus, making some really good music.
Clip of The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Ellen: The incredible Ariana Grande.Todd (VO): That person is, of course, [clip of "Thank U, Next"] Ariana Grande, who...some time in the past few months ascended into icon status. You could cosplay as her, you would recognize her silhouette.
Todd: And that fame is reflected in her chart success.
Clip of Ariana at the Billboard Music AwardsTodd (VO): She shocked the industry by blasting out a new album just six months after the last one, which she was still promoting. [clip of "Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored"] And she fired off three singles from that album, one on top of the other, [shots of article: "Ariana Grande is the first artist since The Beatles to claim top three songs on Hot 100"] and they became the top three songs in the country.
Clip of "Thank U, Next"
Ariana: Thank you, next (next)And I've already said it, but let me repeat it. "Thank U, Next" is one of the...
Todd: ...best singles of last year.
Todd (VO): It really is great in all the ways that only pop music can be great.
Todd: The most important being that it couldn't have been made by anyone else.
Todd (VO): It builds off of Ariana's public life, [clip of...] the same way "What's Love Got to Do with It" gets almost all of its power by being sung by Tina Turner. It only gets better the more I hear it. I think I might've put it too low on last year's list, it's that good.
Todd: Ariana seems to realize that this is her moment, and she's milking it for all its worth.
Todd (VO): She is doing everything right. And since she is basically the only pop star of any real note...
Todd: ...I am practically obligated to discuss her work. So, I figure I should take a look at that second single, currently the #1 song in the [single cover for...] country, "7 Rings." Don't know the significance of the title. I know rappers do like to make a big deal about 6 rings.
Clip of Nicki Minaj - "Chun Li"
Nicki Minaj: How many championships? What? Six rings onTodd (VO): Six championship rings...
Todd: ...of course being the number that greatest of all time [images of...] Michael Jordan has, so I guess Ariana's trying to do one better. And since this song came out, it's also how many rings [...and...] Tom Brady has. And, you know what, six is less than seven, so [still shot of Ariana singing the national anthem with caption: "Ariana Grande MVP: Super Bowl LIII] nothing but respect for my Super Bowl champion. Well, anyway, let's get to it. Let's talk about "7 Rings." Here's what "7 Rings" is..
Clip of "7 Rings"
Ariana: Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany's and bottles of bubbles
Girls with tattoos who like getting in troubleTodd (VO): OK, so that's a sample of [image of poster for...] "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.
Ariana: Lashes and diamonds, ATM machinesOK, and uhh, she's...uh...buying a lot of shit.
Todd: Her favorite things are a lot more expensive than Maria's.
Clip from The Sound of Music
Maria (Julie Andrews): Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittensTodd (VO): Maria was a pretty boring woman.
Todd: But yeah. Ariana's going all out with her purchases.
Clip of "7 Rings"
Ariana: Breakfast at Tiffany's...Todd (VO): [DVD cover for...] She's buying Breakfast at Tiffany's on Blu-Ray.
Todd: It's about ten bucks.
Ariana: Lashes and diamonds, ATM machinesTodd: And she's buying some [image of...] ATM machines. Always nice to have to spruce up your living room.
Ariana: Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin'
You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought itTodd: [taken aback] Uh...
Ariana: I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it
I want it, I got it, I want itTodd: [beat] I-is this working for you guys? A-are you guys enjoying this, or...I-I'll put it on Twitter. [grabs phone from pocket and starts texting...] "Y'all...like '7 Rings'?" [...and sees phone blowing up with responses]
Brief shots of followers replying on TwitterTodd (VO): No, no, no, no. No-no-no, no...yes. OK, a few people saying yes. And yuh. Quite a few people going "Yuh!" But also a lot of no's.
Todd: So...this one does, uhh, not look like...
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): ...it's enjoying the kind of universal acclaim that "Thank U, Next" got. Doesn't stop it from being huge, but...OK, yeah it's gotten a lot of pushback.
Todd: And there's one big elephant in the room that we're gonna have to talk about.
Cuts to black screen with dramatic music playing and article titles of...
"Ariana Grande Accused of Cultural Appropriation"
"How Ariana Grande Fell Off the Cultural-Appropriation Tightrope"
"Ariana Grande's '7 Rings' video appropriates Black culture, and we have to talk about it"
Todd: Ehhhhh...[slaps legs with his fists] OK. [buries face in hands] So...there's this concept called [image of...] cultural appropriation. It's a simple idea, but it's so broad that it's been pulled into a bunch of different contexts. And it's a very important topic to talk about. But it's the kind of important that whenever people talk about it, [picture of woman with finger gun to her head] I kinda wanna die. But...here it is in just the most basic way I can explain it.
Clips from The Nightmare Before ChristmasTodd (VO): Let's say you're part of your own culture; nothing wrong with it, it's perfectly fine. But then, one day, you find a second culture and you decide that it's great and you love it. Also not a problem. No reason you shouldn't be able to appreciate it. The problem comes when you start repackaging it for your own culture. Why? Because, if you're stronger and more dominant than the culture you're borrowing from, you could end up disempowering the people who rightly deserve the credit, and stealing all the benefits for yourself. Plus, if you're not respectful enough, or just not smart enough to understand the culture you're using, without realizing it you may have turned it into an insulting parody of itself, and ruined everything that made it good.
Todd: That's the idea at least. Now, as a multiracial person myself...(As far as YOU know. (But trust me on this.)) I got a lot of complicated feelings about this. Which is fair, you know, it's a complex topic. [multiple images of female singers including Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Katy Perry amongst others] Where's the line, when does appreciation become exploitative? Can you really expect Culture X to have no influence on Culture Y, and so on and so on. Look, I don't have all the answers. All I can tell you is, it's complicated, it's trying to be respectful of other cultures. Don't kidnap Santa Claus.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): In this case at least, I can tell you I don't think the criticism's coming from nowhere. Like, some of this struck a weird note from me, too. And if I had to identify why it didn't feel right, well...you know what? This is a good place to start as any.
Todd: 'Cause things play differently when you throw cultural appropriation into the equation, and there is a lot of it going on in this song. You know, listen to this.
Ariana: Breakfast at Tiffany's and bottles of bubbles
Girls with tattoos who like getting in troubleTodd (VO): The culture that she's appropriating from is, of course, the historically abused underclass of [image of...] theater nerds, who have exclusive rights to that Rodgers & Hammerstein sample.
Todd: Ariana is blatantly stealing from the long-suffering drama geek community...
Todd (VO): ...which she has no right to do, coming from the ever so privileged world of [brief clip of Ariana on Victorious...] television actors. [...and Sam & Cat] She was schmoozing with network executives and wearing costumes that actually fit, [more images of high school plays...] while theater kids were doing South Pacific in a half-empty auditorium with only their moms in the audience.
Todd: Ariana does not understand the struggle.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): Although I can tell you this: This is definitely not the [clips of The Sound of Music Live!] worst thing a pop star has done to The Sound of Music. In fact maybe pop singers should [clip of Gwen Stefani - "Wind It Up"] just stay away from that musical altogether, 'cause it doesn't ever seem to go well.
Gwen: Yodelay, yodelay, yodelay, hey!Todd: [laughs uncomfortably then sighs] OK, being serious now.
Clip of "7 Rings"
Ariana: Receipts be lookin' like phone numbersTodd (VO): The actual reason this song is getting dinged is it struck people as...kinda...
Todd: ...Iggy Azalea-ish.
Todd (VO): OK, first off, we have to acknowledge that...
Todd: ...Ariana Grande is, in fact, [image of Ariana with caption...] "hwite." That's...actually surprisingly easy to miss what with her ethnically ambiguous skin tone and name, but...[sighs] the name's Italian, Italians are white, she's white. [image of "No Italians Allowed" sign] There was a time in history where Italians were not white. That was a long time ago, and not relevant to this discussion, please don't bother me with it.
Montage clips of Eminem - "My Name Is"; Vanilla Ice - "Ice Ice Baby"; The Jazz Singer (1927); Miley Cyrus - "We Can't Stop"Todd (VO): Now any white person who works in black music is walking a fine line. And because of a lot of ugly historical reasons, you should already know this is an old, old controversy, and it seems like it will always be with us.
Todd: Where do I stand on it? [shrugs] I dunno. But I don't think white people should just make [clip of band playing...] bluegrass for the rest of eternity. [brief clips of "This Is How We Do" and "Dark Horse" by...] But I do also wanna puke every time the latest hip-hop slang comes out of Katy Perry's mouth.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): And since "7 Rings" is very hip-hop, Ariana has become just the latest to get called out for it.
Ariana: Black card is my business card
The way it be settin' the tone for me
Clip of Princess Nokia on ET CanadaThere's already one rapper, Princess Nokia, who claims that Ariana jacked her style specifically. [clip of Soulja Boy - "Pretty Boy Swag"] And there's some debate whether it was even hers originally or from somewhere else. Soulja Boy's another name that's been tossed out there as the originator. And that's before you get to the video, where it looks like she's ripping off [clip of "Doors Swangin" by...] the pink trap house that 2 Chainz made famous, which...that's a whole other thing. Yeesh.
Todd: I don't know about any of that, but...when I heard "7 Rings," I was like, "This is a Beyoncé song."
Clip of Beyoncé - "Flawless"
Beyoncé: Wake up, flawless
Post up, flawlessTodd (VO): It sounds exactly like something Beyoncé would make. [clip of Destiny's Child - "Independent Women"] Or maybe even Destiny's Child would've made twenty years ago.
Todd: And...well...is anything wrong with that exactly?
Video for Beyoncé - "Formation"Todd (VO): Obviously, Beyoncé's gotten political lately, an icon to black women specifically, but...
Todd: ...not just them.
Video for "Halo"Todd (VO): Expecting any pop singer to not be influenced by someone as big and important as Beyoncé...how could you avoid it? Surely Beyoncé belongs to the world now.
Todd: Mmmm, yeah, but...[pause] OK. Let me preface this first.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): I would be happy to hear a song like "7 Rings" from nobody ever again. A song about buying fancy things and looking good does nothing for me, 'cause...
Todd: ...I never looked good, and I genuinely hate shopping and buying things. I hoard my money [images of...] like a dragon. If all my forks went missing, I would just [...and...] eat soup for the rest of my life.
Todd (VO): So the standard flex of buying fancy cars and beauty products and jewelry, in this case, I don't relate. [brief clip of...] And I don't even really like The Sound of Music, so something like this was never gonna work for me.
Todd: But in a lot of cases, things like this aren't [air quote] "for me."
Video for Rich Gang ft. Young Thug & Rich Homie Quan - "Lifestyle"Todd (VO): And, yes, who it is for matters, and it absolutely makes a difference who sings it. [clip of Beyoncé - "Countdown"] I don't know if you know anything about Beyoncé's background.
Todd: Uh, she did not ever have to worry about where her next meal was coming from.
Todd (VO): But her being successful and fabulous Queen Bey is still extremely inspiring, just 'cause she's doing it as a black woman in America.
Todd: And I made the same point with "I Like It."
Clip of "I Like It"
Cardi B: Diamond district in the chain, chain (I said I like it like that)Todd (VO): Cardi B's not doing anything in this song but enjoying various luxuries, and...some decent ethnic food.
Cardi B: Eating halalBut that song symbolically meant a lot more than that. it's aspirational and inspirational to the people who need it most.
Todd: And that does make the song more enjoyable.
Clip of "7 Rings"
Ariana: Gimme the lootTodd (VO): Ariana doesn't have that subtext, so it just sounds like she's singing to herself.
Todd: And I know some people are gonna say, "Well, hold on....
Video for Cardi B - "Money"Todd (VO): Cardi and Beyoncé spend on themselves and indulge in rampant materials. And just because of who they are, they get to have it mean something and Ariana doesn't? That's not fair."
Todd: Correct. The world is not fair. [gives thumb up] You noticed.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): I hate getting preachy like this, but there's a lot of unfairnesses in the world that you should probably get angry at first. Especially since that's the whole reason she's perceived differently.
Todd: I mean, she's got all these signifiers from the typical...
Todd (VO): ...hip-hop rags-to-riches story, but...she doesn't get what they signify.
Todd: It's basically "I'm on a Boat."
Clip of The Lonely Island ft. T-Pain - "I'm on a Boat"
Andy Samberg: I'm on a boat (I'm on a boat)
I'm on a boatTodd (VO): Seriously, the joke of that song is that they have hip-hop's ultimate symbol of the rise from the bottom.
Andy: Take a good, hard look at the motherfucking boatExcept it doesn't symbolize anything, it's just literally a boat!
Todd: Tell me that's not what's going on in "7 Rings"!
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): But there is one line in particular that really pushed people's buttons.
Ariana: You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought itTodd: Yee.....[pause]
Todd (VO): OK, I don't feel equipped to tackle a topic as loaded as a woman's hair. So, uhh...
Todd: I'm just gonna walk you through my very...dim and uninformed thought processes when I heard that line.
Ariana: You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought itTodd (VO): OK. So she's bragging about her hair extensions.
Todd: Wow, that makes me uncomfortable. [pause] Wait, why?
Ariana: You like my hair?Todd (VO): Well...I-I guess because weaves are more associated with black women.
Todd: But not, like, exclusively. They're not, like, cornrows.
Clip of Ariana on The Tonight ShowTodd (VO): Ariana uses hair extensions, she's talked about it a lot. And I don't think people look at her hair and think she's trying to look black.
Todd: Yeah, but...[beat] it's just the way she says it.
Clip of "7 Rings"
Ariana: Gee, thanks, just bought itTodd (VO): Like, she's defiant about it. Like, she's shocking you by bragging about it, like, "Yeah, my hair is a weave and I'm not ashamed of it!"
Todd: ...But...why would she be? [pause] She's white.
Todd (VO): And I was like, "Well, no." From watching [clip of...] reruns of Martin, it is black women who are stigmatized for not having natural hair. Not white women.
Todd: I don't think at least. I'll watch some Friends reruns and see if it comes up, but I'm pretty sure that's not a thing. So...what does Ariana think she's saying?
Shot of Ariana post on InstagramTodd (VO): Well, she's already kinda apologized for it, saying, you know she was trying to uplift all women by de-stigmatizing fake hair. And, you know, maybe it didn't come off. Honestly, I can see that.
Todd: I bet a lot of people took it exactly how it was intended. And I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of black girls are singing that line next time they go to the salon.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): But to other people, it...just sounded like a white girl flexing her white privilege getting away with things that black women can't.
Todd: And I think that's a fair response, too. 'Cause...that's what the entire song sounds like!
Ariana: I want it, I got it, I want it, I got itTodd (VO): "I want it, I got it." That's the song. Just a mean rich girl shoving her unearned wealth in your face.
Todd: I mean, there's no excuse for this.
Ariana: Whoever said money can't solve your problems
Must not have had enough money to solve 'emTodd just throws his hands up
Footage of campaign speech by...
Mitt Romney: I used to think...that becoming rich and becoming famous would make me happy. Boy, was I right!Todd (VO): KISS MY ASS!
Clip of "7 Rings"
Ariana: Whoever said...You're right. I don't have that kind of cash, because I have student loans, you entitled brat! Thanks for the reminder!
Todd: You know what? I was definitely making this too much of a race thing.
Video for "I Like It"Todd (VO): Like, I talked about Cardi B standing up, and being an inspiration, but...
Todd: ...you know who was also a working class Latina from the Bronx?
Clip of Jennifer Lopez - "Jenny From the Block"
Jennifer: Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got
I'm still, I'm still Jenny from the blockTodd (VO): Yeah, Jennifer goddamn Lopez. And it wasn't a secret.
Todd: She talked about it a lot.
Video for Jennifer Lopez ft. Ja Rule - "I'm Real"Todd (VO): And all that talk about being real, and from the block. It made her an inspiring role model to absolutely no one somehow!
Jennifer: 'Cause I'm realIt just felt like no one liked her. And her bragging up her roots just made it worse, like it was a joke we were all in on. Like...
Todd: I'm [air quote] "real." Get it? [chuckles] It's funny 'cause it's so not true.
Video for "Love Don't Cost a Thing"Todd (VO): That's how it came across, because she didn't do a thing to actually seem like a local girl made good. So her glamour felt really ungenerous. [clip of Beyoncé - "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"] As opposed to Beyoncé, who's always giving it up for her ladies.
Todd: And ungenerous is how I would describe "7 Rings" also.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): Like, there's some allusions in there to the famous hardships and heartbreaks she's suffered.
Ariana: Been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch
Who woulda thought it'd turn me to a savage?Todd: And the seven rings...apparently, after her broken engagement, she bought rings for her friends.
Ariana: Bought matching diamonds for six of my bitchesTodd: And there's some talk in there about learning to be strong and independent.
Ariana: Wearing a ring, but ain't gon' be no "Mrs."Todd: But the song doesn't feel like it's about any of that!
Todd (VO): It's not about friendship, or independence, or overcoming hard times. Or even looking good or being successful.
Todd: It's just about being rich!
Ariana: Think retail therapy my new addictionTodd (VO): It's a song about Ariana being perfect. And even if the lyrics were more focused on those other things, it wouldn't matter. 'Cause the song's entire vibe is telling a different story.
Todd: Listen to the beat.
Ariana: My wrist, stop watchin'Todd (VO): [rapping along to the beat] It's perfect, it's flawless, it's immaculate, it's airtight, it's shrink-wrapped, it's soulless.
Todd: It's cold and there's no air, and no space in it...
Todd (VO): ...'cause the oxygen belongs to Ariana only.
Todd: You don't get to breathe.
Video for Post Malone - "Psycho"Todd (VO): Someone asked me why I don't get this bothered when Post Malone, who is also white, raps about his fancy jewelry.
Todd: [shrugs] 'Cause he's a sad boy who looks like shit!
Todd (VO): What else has he got? Let him have this! [clip of...] But the aesthetics of "7 Rings" is so tight and controlled, it just feels like bullying.
Todd: To me, at least. For a lot of people, Ariana's flawless opulence is quite attractive and inspirational. That's why it's a #1 hit.
Todd (VO): And I-I do admit, I see it, too. I...kind of admire it for how confident and put together it is. The same way I admire how [clip from Alien] a xenomorph is perfectly designed to be repulsive and kill people, but...that doesn't mean I want one around.
Todd: This song is just no fun.
Todd (VO): And it feels grotesque to release this at a time when it seems like the rich are less popular than ever.
Todd: And all the racial stuff...uh, I don't know.
Montage clips of Isle of Dogs and The Lone RangerTodd (VO): You ever see something that's not...offensive exactly, but...it's like constantly dancing right up to the line? So the problem is more that it's distracting than anything else?
Todd: That's where I am. It's just awkward.
Video for "7 Rings"Todd (VO): And some people have told me it plays better on the album, like her material sounds less straightforward and more ironic in the face of all the other songs about her emotional depths.
Todd: And my response to that is, "You know, maybe it plays better because the rest of the album is good, and songs sound better when they're around better songs." [throws hands up]
Video for...Todd (VO): When Lorde released "Royals", some hip-hop fans and artists [shot of article: "Is T-Pain's 'Royals' Cover a Thinly Veiled Lorde Diss?"] blasted back at her for not getting how symbolically meaningful it is for these guys to rap about their come-up, but..."Royals" doesn't say, "rap songs are like this."
Todd: She said, "every song." 'Cause that's what it was like at the time.
Brief clips of...Todd (VO): "Thank U, Next" reminded me everything I love about pop, but "7 Rings" is reminding me why it had to be destroyed. [clip of Kesha - "Tik Tok"] At its best, it was like a giant party that everyone was invited to. [another clip of...] At its worst, it sounded like "7 Rings." VIP only.
Todd: You can keep it. [beat] I didn't want a ring anyway.
Gets up and leaves
Video for "7 Rings" endsClosing Tag Song: "Eat the Rich" - Aerosmith
"7 Rings" is owned by Republic Records
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!