A Little Bit Scandalous: Ariana Grande’s Mega-Hit That Never Was

The pop song is an art form that few can truly ever master, simply because there is an endless, myriad list of things to get right.

Luckily for us, one year ago a single was released into the world that was perhaps the closest we’ve come since the halcyon days of Teenage Dream to capturing that lightning in the bottle that is the perfect pop single.

The song is, of course, Ariana Grande’s Into You. It’s a single that represents Grande’s epoch as a pop star; the moment where she, as an artist, in indistinguishable from her art. A lot of people could have released Into You but no-one would have taken it and ran with it in quite the same way as she has.

It is at once an inextricably elegant and sexual ode to instantaneous attraction and also an incredibly brutal and masochistic outburst of pure primal desire. The music video may have been shot with hues of pink, but when you listen to the song, it seems impossible not to picture Grande writhing up in a leather dress amongst a sea of strobe lights, indistinguishable from the chaos, almost bathing in it. It was painted to us a love story, but ‘Into You’ is not about love, it’s about sex. Pure, unadulterated pleasure.

We could go into every tiny aspect of Into You, from its drum-pounding opening, similar in-vein to the start of Britney’s masterpiece …Baby One More Time, which is more than a given seeing as both songs share a producer in pop svengali Max Martin. We could even talk about the chorus, that blasts into existence not even a minute into the song and is then taken apart and dissected line-by-line in the song’s outdo before coming rushing back into view for one last hurrah. We could discuss this, but luckily my friend and Into You aficionado Ellis O’Connell single-handedly broke down every single successful aspect of Into You in retaliation to it not getting nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Single:

There’s no arguing with that, is there.

But there is a problem. A year on from it’s release, and you begin to realise that Into You‘s biggest legacy is probably nor what a pitch-perfect pop single it is, but how it failed to become the world-conquering mega-hit it so clearly sounds like.

Why is that? Well – as with most things, it’s up to the general public. If the last year has taught it us anything it’s that the general public are absolutely useless and cannot be trusted. Why didn’t Into You connect with the general public, I hear you ask? Well, when you live so wholeheartedly in the pop culture bubble of Twitter, its easy to get hooked on a slice of avant-garde synth-pop if everyone in your timeline is raving about it and you have an already established interest in the career of Ariana Grande. The people who buy singles and albums, the people who you really have to reach to secure a hit, don’t care about Twitter They don’t care about stans or faves or shade. By and large, the only factor them buying/streaming is that it’s either a) played on the radio a couple of dozen times a week or b) a promotional blitzkrieg so unashamedly full-on that they couldn’t not engage with the song or artist if they tried.

So, on this front, Into You faltered. Radio never wholeheartedly embraced it, for the obvious reason of it sounds too much like a club track to play at 8am when people are stuck in traffic on the way to work and not sniffing poppers in the toilets of a gay bar. Secondly, Ariana never really gave Into You the promotional push it needed to cross over from fan favourite to international smash. Sure, she brought it out at the BBMAs and let Christina Aguilera howl over a few bars on the Voice that one time, but we needed a little bit more Ariana.

In cases like this – when radio is a no-go and promo isn’t making waves – you usually rely on the music video to pick up the slack. Luckily for Ariana, she had Hannah Lux Davis on hand to create typically visually opulent video for Into You. Unluckily for Ariana, the video was as shallow as Victoria Justice’s record sales and, once again, didn’t really connect to a wider audience outside her core fan base (despite a hefty view count of over half a billion views).

I could literally go around in circles for days on this topic, so I’m going to stop here. Is Into You a good song? Yes, it’s a fucking amazing song. It’s a pitch-perfect, sonically marvellous tour de force that should have signalled Ariana’s ascent into the pop stratosphere. It should have been her first US number one single. It is, to me, a perfect pop single. Every single element – from Ariana’s vocals, the production – is fine-tuned and finessed. It start with a literal bang and ends in an explosion.

Even a year on, Into You hasn’t lost its power. I have a very visceral reaction when I hear it in a club. This is because it’s either played completely by chance and I break down in tears, or I’ve spent all night harassing the DJ to play it and he gives in at 2am just as I lose control of my motor functions. Even though it never truly got its dues at the time – peaking at 13 in the US and 14 in the UK – it joins the pantheons of other pop classics that were never appreciated in their time.

I asked my friend Adam to sum up the song in a handy pull-quote and he came up with this: “Fuck me, what a banger.”

And you really can’t put it better than that, can you?

So thank you Ariana Grande. Thank you Max Martin. Thank you Savan Kotecha, Alexander Kronlund and Ilya Salamanzdeh. Thank you for creating a bombastic and charismatic banger for a bombastic and charismatic pop star. Thank you for throwing caution to the wind and dismissing tastemakers and playlists and Top 40 radio. Thank you creating what is undoubtedly one of the best pop moments of the past decade and, when all is said and done, a perfect pop song.

Thank you.

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