It only took three days into 2019 for Ariana Grande to start racking up comparisons to Beyoncé, following the announcement that she was set to succeed Bey in headlining Coachella—and, presumably, to try to live up to her incredible 2018 performance.
Now, three months later, just a week or so into Grande’s world tour for Sweetener and Thank U, Next, another parallel between the pop divas has come to light. As anticipated as Grande’s tour has been, so far the shows have not all gone so smoothly. (Just ask the fans who’ve been complaining about the poor quality of Grande’s tour merch, including some curious phallic stains.) Contrary to what her Instagram feed suggests with its constant flood of photos and videos from the previous night’s show, Grande isn’t actually too keen on the presence of cameras at her shows and has foisted an imposing set of restrictions on the press photographers covering them. And the Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times are just a few of the many media outlets that are not having it.
“As a creative artist herself, we cannot understand how Ms. Grande and her representatives could demand such terms and conditions in exchange for permission to photograph her performance,” the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)’s general counsel wrote in a letter to Grande’s tour company, GrandAriTour Inc., on Monday, on behalf of the 15 press groups and media organizations that have allied to protest Grande’s many, many guidelines, detailed in a photography agreement, which the NPPA also shared.
According to Grande’s guidelines, photographers are only allowed to take (still) photos “from a designated spot at the front of house (not in the ‘pit’),” sans flash and only during the first three songs that Grande performs—and that’s just the beginning of it. Photographers are then expected to cede all of the rights to the photographs they capture to her tour company, and then wait until they’ve received express written permission from Grande herself to use any of them in a story (a story that, the agreement stipulates, must be a news item related to the concert in question).
In other words, as the NPPA’s general counsel put it, Grande’s restrictions are “onerous,” “overreaching,” and, quite simply, “unacceptable.” The letter goes into far more detail beyond those three adjectives, particularly in addressing what’s apparently the most glaring of Grande’s offenses: her demand that photographers fork over the rights to their images. “This surprising and very troubling over-reach by Ms. Grande runs counter to legal and industry standards and is anathema to core journalistic principles of the news organizations represented here,” it continues.
If those words sound familiar, it might be because the NPPA released a similar statement in 2013, shortly after Beyoncé embarked on her own world tour. Reportedly upset with the “unflattering” (and quickly memed) photos of her taken during her Super Bowl performance, Beyoncé went even further in laying down the law: She simply banned the press from taking photos at her shows, referring them to a link to download (Beyoncé-approved) photos from each performance instead.
Those restrictions are, to say the least, extreme, not to mention potentially in violation of the First Amendment, as the 19 media groups who teamed up with the NPPA in response quickly pointed out. But even Beyoncé, who has inspired Kendrick Lamar and the Killers to follow suit, can’t compete with Grande in getting under the group’s skin. Grande has the considerably longer and more detailed letter of complaint to prove it.
Then again, maybe that’s because Grande’s language is ringing a bell for the NPPA too. In 2015, Taylor Swift came under fire for attempting to enforce quite a similar set of restrictions, requiring media to acquire “written consent” from Swift or her agent before using their photos, which they also had to give Swift the “perpetual, worldwide” right to use for publicity and/or promotion—or face the wrath of her security, which technically was allowed to grab photographers’ cameras and delete their photos.
That last detail speaks to just how much Grande has offended the NPPA for it to consider her demands egregious enough to merit the same words—“onerous” and “overreaching”—that it used to describe Swift’s. Currently, Swift is in the NPPA’s good graces (she eventually even worked with the group to revise her photography agreement), and it appears Beyoncé has made peace with the organization as well.
As for Grande, she has yet to reply or attempt to minimize the damage. Here’s hoping that she takes a page from Swift’s book—or that the press photographers resign themselves to becoming Arianators, seeing as Grande’s restrictions don’t carry over to her fans. Otherwise, it’s going to be quite a long year: Grande’s nearly yearlong tour, after all, has just begun.