Ariana Grande, the 19-year-old co-star of the Nickelodeon sitcom “Victorious,” has a new hit single to match her upcoming TV series “Sam & Cat.” “The Way,” featuring Pittsburgh MC Mac Miller, received an official music video on Thursday (Mar. 28) after hitting iTunes on Tuesday through Republic Records, and the bubbly, unassuming collaboration reveals the captivating pop talent that Grande is very quickly becoming.
Grande tells Billboard that the new single came together when she met with U.K. producer Harmony Samuels (Chris Brown, Ne-Yo) earlier this year and was presented with the slinky R&B beat, which samples Big Pun’s 1998 classic “Still Not a Player.” “He played me ‘The Way,’ and I said, ‘Oh, that’s it. We have to do that one — that’s what we have to go with,'” says Grande. “I cut my vocal on it, and then Mac and I had been hanging out for a while at that point, and I was like, ‘I really want you to feature on this record. What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Sounds like a hit to me!'”
Grande served as a studio engineer as Miller, the indie MC whose 2011 debut “Blue Slide Park” hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, recorded his vocals for “The Way,” and the rapper even taught the pop starlet how to manage Pro Tools while they shared studio time. “When he was recording his part, I was baking cookies in the kitchen upstairs, and every time I took a break I came into the studio to bring him a new batch of cookies and something else amazing had been written,” Grande recalls. “If you want to motivate Mac Miller to do anything, just bake cookies.”
Grande is also proud of the fact that the concept for the song’s music video was largely orchestrated by its two artists. Directed by Jones Crow, the clip finds Grande and Miller romping through a sea of white balloons and playfully flirting while video of the pair is projected on the white wall behind them. The Nickelodeon star admits that the single and its accompanying video showcase a more mature version of herself, but bristles at the suggestion that “The Way” is a declaration of newfound adulthood.
“I’m just trying to grow up and live my life and entertain people as well,” says Grande. “I don’t think there needs to be any big landmark of ‘Ariana grew up’ — although I do kiss Mac Miller in my video, so that’s quite a statement!”
After Grande released the single “Put Your Hearts Up” in 2011 (120,000 downloads sold to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan), “The Way” will likely lead the singer’s Republic debut, due out later this year. Grande says that she’s still considering songs for her first LP, as well as potential collaborators for the project. “Big Sean is a good friend of mine, and he’s of my favorite rappers,” she says. “I’ve been talking to him and he’s like, ‘We have to do something together,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, we do!'”
Meanwhile, the “Victorious” star — for the non-Nickeloden-savvy, Grande plays Cat Valentine, one of the friends of Victoria Justice’s character Tori Vega — is filming the Nick show “Sam & Cat,” in which she’ll reprise her role as Valentine alongside Jennette McCurdy, who will bring her “iCarly” character Sam Puckett over to the spin-off. Grande believes that “Sam & Cat,” set to premiere on Nickelodeon later this year, will cater to an even younger audience than “Victorious,” but that the potential disconnect between that demographic and her teen music fans is hardly cause for concern.
“When I do ‘Sam & Cat,’ and when I act as Cat, of course I’m still going to be there for my younger fans,” says Grande. “But I’m also growing up — I’m almost 20. I’m not going to do anything crazy, but I want to do music that I’m passionate about. I’m finally at an age where I can do the music that I grew up loving, which was urban pop, 90s music. I grew up listening to the divas, so I’m very happy to finally do urban pop. I hope that it’s received well, and it has been so far.”