How Ariana Grande’s ‘Yes, And?’ Relates to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’



    “Yes, And?” attempts to marry the two sides of her music, providing a throwback musical canvas that she embellishes with her responses to those gossiping about her looks and her latest relationship, with her “Wicked” co-star Ethan Slater. While its bones are unmistakably rooted in “Vogue,” the song takes some turns: A pitched-up vocal sample makes the track feel busy, and Grande, a gifted singer, can’t resist the impulse to fill its empty spaces with high trills and flowery runs. When she approaches the final chorus, she belts the song’s title phrase as if she’s the world’s most effusive improv enthusiast.

    Paying tribute to an iconic song is risky business — just ask the many stars who have interpolated or sampled recent hits, only to come off like craven impersonators — and “Vogue,” in particular, is a masterpiece of elegance and restraint. Unlike many Madonna singles, “Vogue” is a remarkably selfless endeavor; it was inspired by the bold, creative queer pioneers of New York’s ballroom culture, and pays tribute to the scene without laying claim to it or assuming its struggles.

    Where Madonna’s song is magnanimous and universal, Grande’s is mostly inward and specific. It spins the original’s enticement to lose oneself on the dance floor into a thoroughly modern pop subject: shaking off the haters. And in sliding between lyrics about self-affirmation (“I’m so done with caring what you think”) and queer self-determination (“Boy, come on, put your lipstick on”), she inadvertently falls into a trap — conflating multimillionaire pop star troubles with the struggles of a repressed, persecuted community.

    Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul — The Queens Remix” melds “Vogue” with her own song of defiant joy from “Renaissance,” an album celebrating and spotlighting Black dance music with roots in the queer underground. The remix corrects Madonna’s ultra-white name drops while acknowledging the pop star’s role in mainstreaming vogueing, ballroom culture and queer art. (Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott and Grace Jones are among the names that replace Madonna’s roll call of movie stars.) As with “Vogue,” “Break My Soul — The Queens Remix” is a generous gesture that sees a blindingly powerful star minimizing her wattage for a few minutes, in an effort to share the light with predecessors who helped pave her path.

    Like “Vogue,” “Yes, And?” arrived alongside a tsunami of tabloid headlines about a controversial on-set romance. But Madonna, unlike Grande, rarely uses her hits to contest her public narrative. Grande’s song yo-yos between “Vogue”-style inspiration on its chorus (“If you find yourself in a dark situation/Just turn on your light”) and pettiness on its bridge (“Why do you care so much whose I ride?” she sings, with a strategic pause), making both modes seem halfhearted. By drawing attention back to her embattled few months, she eschews a golden rule that kept Madonna at the top even when she was most heavily criticized: Never apologize, never explain and let the music speak for itself.

    This article is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in the work of cultural critics from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

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