Even though she’s scored one of 2014’s biggest summer hits and starred on a Nickelodeon series, Ariana Grande believes the public is woefully misinformed on Ariana Grande. If you ask her, the person behind “Problem” is far more “sardonic” than sweet.
In her new Billboard cover story, the 21-year-old singer attempts to brush aside the idea that she’s a pint-sized Mariah Carey or a wholesome girl-next-door type by telling us the truth about the people — some living, some dead, some murderous — who have inspired her since childhood.
Here are five surprising role models Ariana Grande name-checks in the latest Billboard cover story.
Helena Bonham Carter
Describing herself as “a very weird little girl,” Grande tells Billboard she took inspiration from cinema’s reigning goth queen as a child: “I was like a mini-Helena Bonham Carter.”
“I always wanted to have face paint on or be wearing a Freddy Krueger mask, and I would carry a hockey stick around,” she describes of life growing up in Boca Raton, Fla. Aside from aping Freddy and Jason, Ariana was obsessed with an aquatic serial killer, too: “For my fifth birthday party we had a Jaws theme and all my friends left crying.”
Her YouTube covers of Whitney and Mariah aside, Grande was inspired by a less ubiquitous soul singer early in life. “When I was 14, I wanted to make a straight-up, like, India.Arie record,” she explains. “Something really soulful.”
Okay, so a rising pop star idolizing Madonna isn’t shocking, but the worshipful tone she adopts when speaking of Her Madgesty is arresting. “She is strength, she is freedom, she is wisdom beyond anybody’s comprehension,” says Grande.
Thanks to her beloved, recently departed grandfather, Grande says she’s cultured an appreciation for the classics. “I have an obsession with all things vintage and classic and old-school, everything from Marlene Dietrich to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons to Connie Francis.” Seriously, name another 21-year-old pop singer talking about Connie Francis in 2014.
Read Billboard’s full cover story when it’s out Friday, Aug. 15. Ariana Grande’s second album, My Everything, comes out Aug. 25.