Billboard Women in Music Honoree Ariana Grande: 'This Year I Was Really Taken Seriously as an Artist’

Austin Hargrave
Ariana Grande photographed at Quixote in Los Angeles on July 29, 2014.

"A year-and-a-half ago I was wearing a red wig, pretending to be a silly 15-year-old on a television show," says Ariana Grande, referring to her title role as Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon sitcom Sam & Cat. That was before the native Floridian released her sophomore LP, My Everything, this past August, and made Billboard Hot 100 history by becoming one of a group of female solo artists -- along with Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj -- to control the top five positions for six consecutive weeks, for the first time in chart history. "Now I'm in that company," marvels Grande. "It's kind of ridiculous."

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Indeed, this was a big year for the one-time Broadway actress. At 21, she’s the youngest of the superwomen who dominated 2014's charts, and her rise has been meteoric. Back in August 2013 with the release of debut album Yours Truly, Grande established herself as an up-and-comer; this summer she had three songs in the Hot 100 top 10 the same week ("Problem," "Bang Bang," "Break Free").

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"It just happened so quickly," says Grande. "This year I was really taken seriously as an artist, and it's sort of blown my mind."

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FAVORITE MOMENTS OF 2014
"Performing on the [MTV Video Music Awards] with Jessie and Nicki. Putting out 'Problem.' Spending half of June and most of July with my family in Florida. And, um, [boyfriend Big] Sean."

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BIGGEST LIFE CHANGE
"People I've admired for so long have become my peers -- and that's such a surreal thing."

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11-YEAR-OLD ARIANA’S DREAM COME TRUE
"Spending time with [singer] Imogen Heap was one of my life's highlights. I have dreamed about meeting her since I was 11. She invited us to her home. She cooked a vegan dinner for me."

LIFE IN THE BUBBLE
"Once I started getting new attention I had to say, 'OK, I need to make adjustments in my personal life -- in what I let into my bubble and what I don't.' Anything that doesn't make you feel good should not be allowed into your bubble."

Ariana Grande's 'My Everything' Debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200

2014 HIGHLIGHTS
Scored three top 10 hits on the Hot 100 in the same week.

Became the first woman to top the Billboard Artist 100.

Debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with My Everything.

Adopted four rescue puppies: "I feel like Ace Ventura when I wake up."

This article first appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Billboard.