Grande’s fan base skews female and young, and my colleague Sophie Gilbert writes that the bombing “reminds girls and young women that there will always be people who hate them simply because they were born female.” Compounding that is how the concert itself celebrated female liberation. Grande sings frankly about enjoying independence and sex, and has a reputation for tussling with commenters who call her “whore” or define her by her relationships with famous men. Her most recent album is titled Dangerous Woman. A tweet from December 2016: “expressing sexuality in art is not an invitation for disrespect !!! just like wearing a short skirt is not asking for assault.”
More broadly, Grande’s narrative in general is one of self-determination and savvy capitalist striving. A former child actor, she grew up in the public eye while showing a remarkable amount of poise, using her remarkable vocal talents and breezy charm to maintain a unique persona while also ladling in ever-greater expressions of maturity. The pop music she makes is, for people who love pop, some of the best of recent years because of the way that it transcends anonymity on its way to fun. Religion-wise, she’s chosen her own path: Grande was raised Catholic but says she left the church after realizing it would not accept her brother Frankie, who is gay. In 2014, she began practicing Kabbalah, a mystical Jewish tradition. Politically, she has been outspoken as well, supporting Hillary Clinton for president and attending the Women’s March.
Such a career, especially for a woman, is obviously predicated on the values and openness that ISIS opposes. Yet following this attack, some American voices have made an issue of Grande’s persona as well. The talk-radio host and 2008 Libertarian vice presidential nominee Wayne Allyn Root sent out his condolences with the addition “BUT she is typical Hollywood lib. Still hate America?” Mike Cernovich, the prominent alt-right pundit, tweeted and then deleted an image quoting Grande saying “I hate America, I hate Americans.”
These are references to the one moment in Grande’s rise that approached the level of political scandal: When she was caught on camera in a donut shop licking one of the treats and then jokingly saying “I hate America, I hate Americans” to a friend. Her public apology later insisted that she actually loved the U.S., but didn’t love its childhood-obesity crisis or how “we as Americans eat and consume things without giving any thought to the consequences.”
It was a silly moment—one that showed not actual hatred of America but rather a young woman’s comfort within the country as she privately took advantage of freedom of speech. The grim irony is now we’re reminded that people who actually do hate America and the West see the likes of Grande, and those who look up to her, as exactly their enemy.