By Mesfin Fekadu
NEW YORK (AP) - Ariana Grande is the new princess of pop, topping the charts with her addictive single "Problem," impressing critics with her thick, gliding vocal range and maintaining an image that her young Nickelodeon fans can vibe with, signature ponytail and all.
The 21-year-old is having the best time of her life. But it's also the worst.
Her grandfather, with whom she had a very close relationship, died last week.
"I personally felt like I've been not as appreciative as I could be of the music success I wanted all my life because I've been distracted by my grandfather and his health and this being such a dark time," she said in an interview.
Grande said she hasn't had much time to "sit back and realize and just enjoy" her musical breakthrough, and what's coming next may not allow any time for it.
Her sophomore album, "My Everything," arrives Aug. 25 at midnight, moments after the MTV Video Music Awards, where Grande is nominated for three moonmen. She released a new single, "Bang Bang," this week with Nicki Minaj and Jessie J, which quickly topped the iTunes charts. The Iggy Azalea-assisted "Problem," which has sold 2.6 million tracks so far, is spending its 13th consecutive week in the Top 10 and another single, "Break Free," is a rising radio hit.
"What's so attractive about Ariana is, No. 1 she's an extraordinary talent, No. 2 she's an exceptional actress, and the third part of it - which makes her a triple threat - is she has this wildly successful fan base on the Internet unlike anything we've seen in some time," said Monte Lipman, the CEO and chairman of Republic Records who signed Grande when she was 17.
MTV reprised its "Total Request Live" for a day for Grande. Amy Doyle, the network's executive vice president of music and talent programming strategy, said MTV sat down with Grande's team to plan ways to help launch her new album.
"If 'TRL' was around today, Ariana would be a fixture in the same way Britney (Spears) was when Britney was of the moment," said Doyle, who said the network had been thinking of ways to bring back "TRL," but hadn't come up with the right idea until they thought of Grande. "She was absolutely the perfect artist to do that because her fans are active and she's very social."
The triumph in music comes a year after Grande released her debut, "Yours Truly," which featured the multiplatinum Top 10 hit "The Way" and drew comparisons to Mariah Carey. At about the same time, Nickelodeon premiered "Sam & Cat," which at times was the network's most popular series. The network announced this month the show wouldn't have a second season.
Grande said she's learning to find herself outside of her TV character.
"I have a lot of mixed emotions about it because it's easier putting yourself out there as somebody else than it is to put your actual self out there," she said. "It took me a long time to embrace that and to become comfortable enough in my own skin and let down that sort of Cat Valentine shield."
Grande's fans from the show have carried over to her music career, a transition other entertainers have struggled with. When "The Way" was released last year, it sold an impressive 219,000 units in its first week. "Problem" sold a whopping 438,000 tracks in its debut week in May.
Grande is changing her image, but not drastically: She's traded her puffy, princess-style dresses for miniskirts paired with knee-high boots. And Grande says she's ready for the celebrity spotlight.
"I feel like I'm doing all the right things in my personal life to maintain a healthy space to make sure I am ready for all of this and ready for the attention that comes with this because, you know, I'm mostly focused on music, but I understand that there's a lot that comes with being a part of this industry," she said.
Grande's new album will also help her land an audience outside of young kids, thanks to its eclectic collaborators: The Weeknd, Childish Gambino, A$AP Ferg and Big Sean make appearances; EDM darlings David Guetta and Zedd work on tracks; and hitmakers like Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder and Rodney Jerkins are also part of the lineup. There's even a ballad written by One Direction's Harry Styles.
"It's interesting because when you hear it, it makes sense," said Grande, who picked the collaborators.
She added: "If I don't want to do it, it won't be done."