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Do Not Be Distracted By Ariana Grande's Ponytail

Anne T. Donahue on the fashion icon under that high pony

Ariana Grande’s ponytail is the subject of legend. (My own personal legend I have written and shared, hoping someone will believe her ponytail is the universe in which we all live.)

It is as famous as her voice and as dramatic as her height. It is a part of her and a part of us, and upon its absence, it makes headlines and listicles, evoking speculation and mystery. Ariana Grande’s ponytail is a massive component of the pop culture zeitgeist. Which is why it’s been distracting us from her fashion game.

That’s right. (So just let that sink in for a hot second.) Regardless of how many gowns, boas, or leather suits she puts on, we’ve focused only on her aesthetic constant -- her hair -- disgracing us all in the process. Because while pulling off a high ponytail takes courage and commitment, so does her recent ode to Marilyn Monroe at the MTV Movie Awards and her homage to crime-fighting heroes in her Dangerous Woman cover art.

In fact, Grande’s sense of fashion is the opposite approach she takes to her hair. As recently documented by The Cut, she’s boasted floor-length red gowns, chokers, crop tops, and oversize jackets over the last four months alone, with last year’s choices being defined by everything from theater garb (see: flapper dresses) to Mickey Mouse ears to A-line minis. Which, in an industry rich in self-branding, is a beautiful rarity. Even the likes of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift seemingly stick to style narratives that coincide with their album releases and publicity tours, while Ariana Grande’s looks have no sense of rhyme or reason — just deft whimsy. Like Rihanna (music’s one true punk star), Grande seems to dress depending on what she feels. So while she may have branded her hair, she’s certainly not branding her clothing choices.

So why aren’t we giving her credit? Because it’s easy not to. It requires little to no effort to look at Grande and simply see a young woman -- a former Nickelodeon star, specifically -- whose fixed hairstyle alludes to innocence or youthful frivolity or aesthetic safeness. And it’s easier still to categorize young women in general not as style forces, but as people still aspiring to find themselves. I mean, it wasn’t until Taylor Swift committed to crop tops and matching skirts for 1989’s publicity cycle did she seem to establish a bankable “look” by critical standards, and we all saw the backlash Miley Cyrus faced when she began breaking from her Disney narrative to embrace her inner exhibitionist. Young women as a whole are under constant scrutiny for their fashion sense and style experimentation — young women in music even more so, since on top of justifying their clothes, they’re forced to justify their lyrics, their collaborations, and their personal lives. (Seriously: A decade after breaking up with Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez is still associated with him and is still cited as “grown up” every time she dons a gown. And girlfriend is 23.)

So dismissing Ariana Grande as a fashion force is an easy and lazy way of categorizing her. Despite her voice, her industry experience, or her ability to carry an episode of SNL (she was a gift to this season), we see a woman who loves herself a high ponytail and we fail to mention her in the same breath as fellow aesthetically relevant pop stars. And we know better, especially since we also know fashion is best when it’s an extension of self and a wearable form of expression. (Plus, we know that when we see someone take risks, they understand fashion on an intrinsic level and they’re having fun — bless us every one.)

And that’s the reason we’re all here talking about style anyway, right? Because if we can’t stand up and slow clap for Ariana Grande when dressed like Marilyn Monroe or Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, we don’t deserve to slow clap if and when she inevitably stops wearing a ponytail. Not that anyone here is commenting on or judging her hair one way or another — you just keep doing you, girl. I’m here for it.