Ariana Grande didn't want these headlines.
The 23-year-old pop star—used to seeing her name trend on Twitter and having countless stories circulate every time she announced a project, gave an interview, posted to Instagram or changed her hair—couldn't have ever imagined becoming part of history in this way.
Celebrities, particularly the millennial ones coming of age in the 24/7 social media culture, expect a certain amount of attention. But on May 22, Grande's name was in every paper and on every newscast because a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside her concert at Manchester Arena, an act of terror that left 22 people dead, the youngest of them an 8-year-old girl who was at the show with her older sister.
In the immediate wake of the attack, a devastated Grande tweeted, "broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don't have words." Her team then issued a lengthier statement.
But amid the outpouring of grief and outrage that reverberated around the world over the next few days, there was still time for some to criticize Ariana Grande for leaving the U.K. directly afterward, rather than immediately going to the hospital to meet with victims.
Piers Morgan, perhaps the most prominent of the shade throwers, eventually apologized after Grande returned to Manchester to visit victims and their families and headline the all-star One Love Manchester benefit concert she spearheaded and helped organize within days. The concert reportedly raised nearly $3.5 million, according to the British Red Cross.
"I misjudged you, @ArianaGrande & I apologize," Morgan tweeted. "You're an admirable young woman & this is a magnificent night. Respect. #OneLoveManchester."
It's cool, Piers, you're hardly alone. Rush to judgment and knee-jerk criticism is pretty common, especially when you're dealing with the kind of viral celebrity most people could only begin to understand. Being simultaneously lauded by some and dragged by others is par for the course for stars like Grande.
Yesterday Manchester officials announced their intent to make Ariana Grande the city's first-ever honorary citizen for exemplifying the values Manchester holds dear in the wake of tragedy and adversity.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for One Love Manchester
"I think many people would already consider her an honorary Mancunian and we would be delighted, if the council approves the proposal, to make it official," said Sir Richard Leese of the Manchester City Council.
It's hard to describe what the proximity to such a tragedy must have felt like for Grande—as her entire team agreed, there really were "no words." You didn't even need to be geographically near it to experience a jolt, or a wake-up call, or any of the emotions that result when something like this happens. As the name of the concert itself reminded us, "One Love Manchester." We're all one when we're standing up to terror and the evil in the world.
And naturally Grande has been given a lot of positive feedback—deservedly so—for her response and all of the efforts she's made to give back and be there for those directly affected by the attack.
But, wake-up call or any other personal response to the attack that she may have had aside, it's not as if Grande overnight became someone capable of acting so altruistically and responsibly. As her most devoted fans already knew, that young woman was always there—her light had just been shadowed by silly headlines about donuts and Big Sean and Twitter feuds.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
There is almost no pop star in existence whose inarguable popularity doesn't have to share online space with shade and trolls, haters and stories about relationship drama, diva behavior, a feud or a comment or photo blown out of proportion. At the end of the day, there is almost no way to avoid being misunderstood, especially when an entertainer is just coming into her own.
"I guess it's because of the character I played so long being such a goody two-shoes," Grande mused to Time in 2014 when her second album, My Everything, came out. "I also think that people have a misrepresentation of me as a person because I'm friendly and I like to meet people and I like to talk to people and make people laugh. Sometimes people can confuse my niceness for weakness in a way—or ditziness or stupidity. But it doesn't go hand-in-hand in that way, you know what I mean?"
Not long after My Everything made a big splash, there was chatter that the "Break Free" singer, barely out of her teens at the time, was on the verge of having an image problem amid a glut of negative headlines. She was supposedly in crisis, despite the fact that her actual career was on the rise.
Grande soon realized that pop stardom (and grown-up celebrity in general) wasn't going to be like being a tween idol.
"When you're playing a zany character on a kids' show, people don't want to vilify you as much," Grande, who got her big break on Nickelodeon's Victorious and Sam & Cat, told Billboard last year. "They're a lot harder on pop artists—they're unafraid to hurt you."
She also told the magazine, "I feel like I'm still just getting started—a lot of people forget I'm only three years in." That they did, and do, but Grande was already well on her way to making the most of her celebrity, when she could get a word in over the noise.
Grande has spoken up on behalf of female celebs who find themselves continuously objectified or otherwise portrayed in a manner that almost never gets applied to men. She's taken on body shamers and bullies and the B-word.
"Being 'empowered'… is not the same as being a 'bitch'…" Grande wrote in a 2015 essay. "HAVING SOMETHING TO SAY… is not the same as HAVING A BAD ATTITUDE...I am tired of living in a world where women are mostly referred to as a man's past, present, or future PROPERTY / POSSESSION. I… do not. belong. to anyone. but myself. and neither do you."
She has worked with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer. She teamed with BarkBox to help rescue dogs in need of a home and her own pets are all rescues.
And no one in this day and age—not Taylor Swift , not Selena Gomez, not Justin Bieber, no one—gets to where Grande is without having a singular relationship with the fans. You can spend hours watching videos of Grande surprising or otherwise making her fans' year all over the world, from New York to London to Tokyo.
So, to anyone who knew anything about Ariana Grande, to the thousands of people who pack her concerts, there was no doubt that she would return to Manchester and do exactly the right thing. She apparently didn't do it fast enough to ward off all the critics, but those headlines only add up to so much distraction from the reality of the situation.
When it comes to the real tests of character, Grande is acing those so far.