In Bed with Pop
By Rory Winston
Photos by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
As the mellifluous voice of Ariana DiLorenzo nonchalantly scampers across the unmistakably jagged line "Just because I'm in your bed doesn't mean I'm yours", one suspects that the identity of the culprit being addressed could as easily have been all of pop music as the lover alluded to in the song.
After all, although Ariana may have seduced the fickle genre with catchy hooks, her moody chord progressions clearly demonstrate that she won't be owned by it. Although the affair between her and a mainstream audiences is looking ever more steamy, her indie-edged arrangements and her unique juxtaposition of rambunctious phrasing with a melancholic undertone make a good case for her relationship with pop being no more than opposites attracting. As sultry meets sophisticated and earnest meets impish, one gets the definite sense that the fashion savvy 24 year old Tisch-graduate behind Ariana and the Rose will be having a myriad of flings with different music styles before settling down in a comfortable pop-friendly bed.
Since the native New Yorker was on a brief break from her recent Gay Pride Tour, I took the opportunity to conduct an informal tête-à-tête. Ariana's demeanor is the type that immediately puts one at ease – albeit in that disquieting sort of way that humility by highly attractive artists has a way of doing. She possesses a quiescent form of intensity – one that makes me wonder whether it was the result of having studied journalism herself or simply empathy and grace – along with humility, rare commodities in the music industry. If you've ever seen Ariana perform you can imagine what it's like consorting with her – alert blue eyes hurtling towards you like roving twin planets; while her otherwise beatific face appears as though it were on loan from J. W. Waterhouse's study of Dante's Beatrice. Her unrehearsed responses are, likewise, an oddly entertaining composite of grace, inventiveness, rhapsodic asides and sheer whimsy.
Like Janelle Monae and Azealia Banks who had both attended drama and musical academies, Ariana is conscious of the influence that theater exerts over her work: "Certainly, my studies have had an effect on my approach – It's not just about the stage presence but about the creative vision behind it. My familiarity with different arts helps when doing both music videos and shows. I get to think in conceptual terms rather than doing a straightforward visual rendering of the lyrics. It gives me the vocabulary for collaboration. Whether that means working with the director on a storyboard, or coming up with a treatment, I remain an integral part of the creative process rather than just a performer."
It was this profound understanding of other arts that had landed Ariana's music on a runway show with renowned London-based designer Ashley Isham. That Isham's admiration for Ariana's music was reciprocated when she chose his dress for her own video attests to the ongoing give and take between seemingly disparate fields. But whether she is the catalyst or the one being catalyzed by her encounters, Ariana admits to the serendipitous nature of her partnerships: "we simply decided- hey, you know what – let's do something really fun together… After which, more often than not, you tend to blend the aesthetics."
While themes are important to Ariana, she, nevertheless, eschews superimposing a contrived theme-based structure onto her albums.
"Don't get me wrong," explains Ariana,"I absolutely love Janelle Monae's concept album about the alien girl. I mean she has incredibly accessible songs like Tightrope and still manages to get that big cinematic idea out. And while I envision doing something of the sort in the future, for now I'm primarily focused on the subject matter. In each song, I ask myself: 'What is it that you're really trying to say'. Well, what I've discovered is that I keep circling back to the same questions that I've struggled with myself: finding out who I am, how to love and how to give and receive, how to get back up when I fall; and mostly, finding some middle ground without feeling like I've compromised my values. So, yes, my material is highly personal but it's also general enough for most young people to identify with. It's similar to the issues in the hit series Girls, similar to issues bubbling in social media, and – from a slightly more academic perspective – it's the very same stuff that even the New Yorker is writing about. Like I learned as a journalist, you write about what you know and if you do it well enough there'll be an audience out there for it."
When asked what that audience is, and whether she feels an urge to dumb down her material in order to hit this 'golden middle', she unequivocally responds:
"No. I come from the simple belief that pop music and pop culture doesn't have to be dumbed down. My natural inclination is to be accessible without diluting the message. So far I haven't had to hold anything back. American audiences – and especially British ones – crave reality: Adelle, Florence and the Machine, Lorde… A song like Royals got through precisely because Ella (Lorde) sang it exactly how she meant it and it spoke to people. No one would have thought 'ooh this is a perfect pop formula'; but when it came out, suddenly it was. We need to start giving the audience more credit. People want real in other walks of life. What would make anyone assume they don't want it in their music".
Her dream team…? With irrepressible enthusiasm, she names the much lauded grey eminence Rick Rubin and the compositional genius, Sia – both of whom had, incidentally, been part of Benny Blanco's recent line-up. Launching into a paean, Ariana wants to make sure I am familiar with all those from whom she has gleaned insight: David Kahne (Regina Spektor's producer) is a "singer's producer – meticulous with arrangements and phrasing", Charlie Arme – Ariana's very proactive A&R – has not only managed Elle Eyre (of Waiting All Night) but has also set co-writing sessions for Ariana with the highly talented Martin Sjøle in Norway, and those like Oliver Nelson have remixed her work, allowing Ariana to see her songs in a new light.
In response to what direction she's headed in and what genres she hopes to incorporate, Ariana answers as if from a reverie: "Ethereal, sweeping soundscapes", she proclaims, "Something along the lines of what Imogen Heap does; but bringing that vibe into the more structured playing field of pop." Was this the next genre fated to crawl into Ariana's pop-loving embrace? Of course – as every fan knows by now – regardless what genre ends up in Ariana's bed for the night, the single lady (and singular artist) would always remain an entity very much its own.