Ariana Grande’s Great Gay End to her Coachella Set isn’t that Big of a Deal

Many of Ariana Grande’s LGBTQ and ally fans were elated to see her 2019 Coachella Sunday set ending with a giant projection of the rainbow pride flag. The choice to conclude her set on a note of pride empowerment seemed to be a protest against the infamously homophobic founder of the festival’s parent company, Philip Anschutz. Anschutz’s past of donating large sums of money to notoriously right-wing and openly anti-LGBTQ Christian organizations has prompted sentiments of boycotting and protest against the festival in recent years.

LGBTQ online media lauded Ari’s—as her fans lovingly call her—decision to wave the pride flag high as a much needed “f*** you” to the homophobic CEO. In spite of the positive reaction to this act of solidarity, Ari’s history with ambiguous pro-LGBTQ sentiments leaves her open to criticism for queerbaiting and queer exploitation. Members and allies of the queer community often look to her recent material—most notably the surprise ending to her “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” video and the insinuation that Ari is bi—as closer to pandering towards the queer community than actual LGBTQ support.

Critics also like to point out the blatant irony of the situation. Her stance against  Anschutz does not change the $8 million per-weekend paycheck she received from the festival—a salary that is confirmed to be the same as Beyonce’s 2018 performance, contrary to what recent rumors suggested.

However, an interview with Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett revealed that Anschutz is quite removed from the Coachella creation process. “He’s so not thinking of Coachella,” Tollett remarked bluntly, emphasizing Anschutz’s indifference towards Tollet’s performer selection by adding that Anschutz “has no opinion if [Tollett himself pivots] from dubstep to trap-house.”

By the looks of it, one can safely assume that Ari did not directly make an agreement with Anschutz to perform at Coachella; however, the apparent administrative distance does not change Ari’s choice to, ultimately, not boycott the famous annual festival.

While her pride flag display speaks volumes to the notion of carving out one’s own identity and not allowing associations to define who one is, it—which follows her already perceptible need for approval from the LGBTQ community—seems unnecessary in the face of what she has already done.

Ari’s pride flag display was both a means of demonstrating her support for queer folk while also detaching herself from Anschutz’ political affiliations. Regardless, her proven pro-LGBTQ stance suggest little need to do so. Rather than a genuine act of support for the LGBTQ community, Ari’s choice to let the pride flag fly seems more of a publicity stunt to maintain her purported fan-proclaimed status as a gay icon.

Frankly, efforts to separate ourselves self from our daily problematic associations are quite pointless. Out of all the organizations that receive our patronage, at least one of them has an executive whose values conflict with our own— that typically does not withhold a client’s choice to make purchases at these places. As exhausted this example may be, Chick-fil-A—despite its similar anti-LGBTQ controversy—remains as successful as ever. Anschutz’s company, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), owns “hundreds of music venues… dozens of festivals… and even the company that has produced the Grammys for the past 39 years.” So if we want to be “true” LGBTQ members and allies, we are obligated to boycott not only Coachella, but also the hundreds of other music events under AEG, including the Grammys. As easy as this seems, doing so can prove to be quite impractical: rarely do we get the chance to see our favorite artists perform live, after all.

That being said, Ari’s pride flag display is a realistic way for artists, to detach themselves from the values of their employer. But that does not change the fact that her LGBTQ spectacle receives more credit than it actually deserves. Her action of support speaks to the ideology of queer solidarity, but it does little to actually counter the damage Anschutz has done. Perhaps, if Ari truly wanted to take a stand, she would have given him a taste of his own medicine by donating the money she earned to pro-LGBTQ organizations.

Like this Billboard article which makes an excessive effort to portray Ari as an avid and consistent supporter to the LGBTQ cause, this Coachella pride flag situation appears to be an easy political stunt that is over-praised by die-hard fans. Unfortunately, this act of pride solidarity is more comparable to a case of exploitation going unseen by those whose identities are being capitalized.

Kaitlin Aquino is a first year English major. She can be reached at aquinokg@uci.edu.