Billboard’s Women in Music is an annual event during which the publication recognizes women who have made substantial contributions in an otherwise male-dominated industry and ultimately bestows someone the title of “Woman of the Year.” This year, Billboard chose to give the award to popstar Ariana Grande, whose contributions to music and female empowerment, as well as her ability to remain poised throughout this past year, have without a doubt made her the most iconic face of 2018.

In the past, the award has been given to legendary women in music such as Madonna, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga. In fact, the very phrase “Woman of the Year” almost feels as if it was coined for Miss Grande herself, given the year that she’s had and the obstacles she’s overcome.

In November, Grande dropped a new single titled “thank u, next” without any previous warning about a release date for a new song. Unlike the usual tracks about ex-boyfriends, Grande didn’t diss any of her ex’s, nor did she throw out a flood of “I miss you’s” in attempts to create a sympathy track.

The single instead celebrates her ex’s and thanks them for showing her love, teaching her patience, and most importantly, allowing her to learn from each experience and in turn learn how to love and appreciate herself.

The track celebrates her womanhood and her choice to restrain herself from giving into a new relationship simply because that is what’s expected of her. It teaches so many of the young women who look up to her that it is vital to love and accept yourself before you can truly allow yourself to love someone else.

The video for “thank u, next” broke records by gaining over 50 million views in less than 24 hours. The six-minute video features clips of Grande and her closest friends portraying roles from iconic movies such as “Legally Blonde”, “13 Going on 30”, “Mean Girls,” and “Bring it on.”

Though these films are classics, the selection of movies is much more significant than a handful of rom-coms from the early 2000s. These films all featured a strong-willed independent woman as the main character. Whether it’s winning a legal battle, saving a magazine publication, taking on the role of the most popular girl in school, or dominating at a cheer tournament, these women were iconic pop culture references whose motives were successful due to their own hard work and ambition, and not due to relying on a man to get something done for them.

Last year, Grande organized a three-hour long benefit concert titled “One Love Manchester” following the suicide bombings that took place during her show at Manchester Arena. She returned to the city just days after the incident to be there with her fans, ultimately raising 23 million dollars. Not many people would have the courage to do what Grande did. Her ability to coordinate an entire show and bring together not just the city of Manchester, but essentially the whole entire world, shows the love she has for those who support her and brings her strength to the forefront of what she does.

The gap between her lowest-low post bombings and her current mega-success from “thank u, next” has been a triad of ups and downs for the singer. As Grande mentioned in her acceptance speech for the Woman of the Year award, this year has been one of the worst in terms of her personal life, but the best in terms of her career.

“A lot of people would look at someone in my position right now and think, ‘She’s really got her shit together, she’s got it all.’ And I do, but as far as my personal life goes, I really have no idea what the fuck I’m doing,” she said. “I just want to say if you’re someone out there who has no idea what this next chapter is going to bring, you’re not alone in that,” she uttered as she tried to stop herself from crying.

Grande released her fourth studio album “Sweetener” in August, which she stated was about bringing light to any given situation. Many tracks on the album highlighted her struggles with anxiety and paid homage to the victims of the Manchester attacks, giving her fans the reassurance that she is there for them always, regardless of how many times life may try to knock her down.

At the time of her album release, Grande’s life seemed to be taking a turn for the better from an outside point of view. She was in the early stages of a relationship and the album was breaking Spotify records in its first four days.

But before Ariana Grande and SNL star Pete Davidson were a Hollywood couple, Grande was in a long-term relationship with rapper Mac Miller. She stated that she had supported Miller in his sobriety journey, but ultimately didn’t want to stay in a “toxic” relationship. And so she did what anyone does after a breakup and tried to move on.

Grande found happiness with Davidson, as expected in a new and exciting relationship that blooms after so much darkness in her life. Grande and Davidson made headlines for getting engaged too soon, then made even bigger headlines when they broke off the relationship following Mac Miller’s death due to drug overdose.

The popstar was blamed for the rapper death by hundreds of people on social media who failed to realize that Miller’s death was the hardest on Grande because he was her one true love and despite her efforts during their time together she couldn’t save him, even though it was not her responsibility to do so. It was completely vile for people to make her feel guilty for the death of someone she cared so much for and not allow her to properly mourn in the hours following Miller’s passing.

Any other person in Grande’s position would not have been able to handle the scenarios being thrown at her as gracefully as she has. To go through so much heartache and still want to give so much love to people around her is a testament to her selfless demeanor.

At the end of her acceptance speech, Grande stated that she looks forward to giving herself the love and forgiveness she has “given away to frivolously and easily to men in the past.” In true “thank u, next” fashion, the singer seemed ready to embrace a new chapter in her life, full of new music and a celebration of herself.

“I have everything I’ve ever dreamt of having, and as of late I’ve discovered that it’s the things I’ve always had and the people I’ve always had that still make me the happiest,” her voice breaking as she thanked the crowd and proceeded to walk off the stage.

In the most difficult of times, Grande has still remarkably managed to give the utmost importance to her craft and the people who consume her music. She continues to grow in front of the public, and most importantly learn from her past. Her music shines unlike any other on the pop charts for its artistic gambles and lyrical triumphs, which have been further proven by her recent Grammy nomination for “Best Pop Vocal Album.”

With determination and a healing heart, Grande focuses most of her days on continuing to release musical gems like “thank u, next” to establish an even deeper emotional connection with her fans. She plans on releasing another album soon, and going on tour next Spring.

She isn’t slowing down, despite the meteors that have aggressively been thrown her way. She instead dodges them as they come and continues to move forth with her career, the driving force being the people who love her and the desire to break the stereotypical industry boundaries woman feel they must conform to when choosing to be a popstar.

Her ability to redefine her own standards of success and stand up for her choices is absolutely praiseworthy. In a world that doesn’t easily see the power in young women and is quick to judge the decisions made by those in the public eye, Grande willingly puts herself out there and challenges the formulaic roadmap of an artist’s career.  

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