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Do pop stars owe their audience their private lives? | Is It Just Me Or?

When Ariana Grande announced “yes, and?” — the first single off of her latest album, “Eternal Sunshine” — fans speculated whether or not the song would address her divorce from realtor Dalton Gomez and speedy romance with “Wicked” co-star Ethan Slater. 

To their delight — and dismay — Grande took no time to remind people that she does not have to share anything, not even when it is the topic of hot cultural debate: “Don’t comment on my body, do not reply / Your business is yours and mine is mine / Why do you care so much whose d—k I ride?” she sings. 

Her unapologetic confidence serves as a reminder to fan and media speculation: Female artists don’t owe us their life’s story. 

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

“Thank U, Next,” Grande’s 2019 album and titular track, begins with the singer listing her previous partners and why their relationships ended. From Big Sean to Pete Davidson, Grande thanks these former lovers for their place and role in her life, whether it be to teach her love, patience or pain. 

Grande was not shy about opening up her romantic vault, but that does not mean for the rest of her career she should have to give audiences full disclosure into her current or future relationships.

Taylor Swift is another artist who dabbles in writing about her personal life in addition to non-biographical narratives. Throughout Swift’s discography, she pulls details and characters from her personal life to inspire her lyrics and albums. However, in her 2020 album, “folklore,” Swift creates a teenage love triangle between her characters Betty, James and August.

The album does not stop with the joy and pain of young love, in “the last great american dynasty,” she memorializes Rebekah Harkness, a fabulous widow and previous owner of Swift’s grand Rhode Island mansion. Swift stays true to the story of the St. Louis socialite’s story: She married William Harkness, a man with rich family ties to Standard Oil, and was an audacious neighbor to the east coast elite. 

Throughout her songwriter career, Swift has featured fictional and autobiographical stories of love, loss and joy. It is an asset to her, as her fans appreciate her music more so for her lyricism and storytelling — as opposed to figuring out who the songs are about. 

Swift has dealt with the embrace and rejection from her fans and music media for inserting real-life characters — (ex-)lovers, friends and family — into her songs. One notable example is “Dear John” from her 2010 album “Speak Now” — which was rerecorded in 2023. This song is the only instance in which Swift name drops an ex in her decades-long career. She was referring to singer John Mayer, as well as the types of letters women would write to break up with their boyfriends when they went off to war. 

One of the most haunting lyrics: “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?” hints at the duo’s age gap — Swift was 19 years old when she was romantically linked to 32-year-old Mayer. 

The track is heartbreakingly raw and vivid, with what could be a note on Mayer’s own long list of ex-lovers: “All the girls that you’ve run dry have tired lifeless eyes / ‘Cause you burned them out.”

Both Swift and Grande have been quite candid by sharing details about their private lives, but they do not owe this openness to their audiences — especially in the case of young female artists who have grown up in varying degrees of fame.

Grande, in particular, has seen a lot of change on her career path. So if she decides that she wants to write less overtly about her love life as she matures, she can — but we can’t forget that three albums prior, Grande titled a track “Pete Davidson,” which was dedicated to her ex-fiance. 

Pop stars cannot be held to tell the whole truth about their lives within their art, even if they have chosen to provide intimate details in earlier projects. Fans should not be the arbiters of how musicians divulge their lives for millions of people to consume in minutes. 

Personal truth is not something that audiences should be able to weaponize against their favorite artists, nor should it be expected.

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