Frankie Grande Talks One Love Manchester, Gay Pride, and Being a Proud Big Brother

Chuck Arnold
Frankie J. Grande backstage during the One Love Manchester Benefit Concert at Old Trafford Cricket Ground on June 4, 2017, in Manchester, England. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/One Love Manchester/Getty Images for One Love Manchester)

As a big brother, Frankie Grande says he “could not be prouder” of the way his sister, Ariana Grande, rebounded in the wake of the May 22 bombing at her concert in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people. “The incident itself was such a horrific tragedy,” he says, “but I think the way she responded to it was so unbelievably admirable.”

Of course, Grande is referring to the star-studded One Love Manchester benefit concert that was quickly organized by his sister, who headlined the June 4 event. “I think it was above and beyond what anyone expected of her,” he says. “The message of unity and healing that she conveyed was so strong and so palpable, and it’s my hope that that message will just carry on and continue to make [live] music a holy place that does not get attacked ever again in that way.”

Grande, 34, says that he is not surprised at the mettle that his 23-year-old sibling has displayed in bouncing back to take action and not let the terrorists win. “We’re Grandes, so we were raised to always rise to the challenge that is put in front of us,” he says. “I think that she did that beautifully, even though it was hard. You could see it was so hard when she was singing [at One Love Manchester], but she did it. It was a very strong, powerful message to the world. And the support she received from her peers was so wonderful. Seeing music come together definitely gave her that extra oomph to get back onstage. And she is back slaying every night on [her ‘Dangerous Woman’] tour.”

Frankie J. Grande and Ariana Grande pose during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 28, 2016, in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

For his part, Grande — who previously appeared on Broadway in Mama Mia! and Rock of Ages, while becoming both a reality TV (Big Brother) and social media star — is jump-starting his own music career with his debut single, “Queen.” The nostalgic ballad, which was released last month, nods to glam rockers like David Bowie, one of Grande’s major influences. “I got as many people together for ‘Queen’ as I could from Bowie’s last record, Blackstar, and recorded it in the studio where he recorded that album and ‘Under Pressure’ [with Queen].”

Grande grew up loving ’70s music (“My first concert that I saw when I was 7 years old was Billy Joel and Elton John,” he says ) and got to perform songs by artists like Journey and Pat Benatar while he was in Rock of Ages. “I think I realized while doing that show that I’m a rocker,” he says. “That’s where my voice fits, that’s where I should be — I should be singing rock. Obviously my sister became an international pop star and people know that I sing, but I think I needed to figure out what my sound was. I think I figured it out.”

As a gay man, Grande said he also felt some pressure to go in a different musical direction. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’re gay — do a dance track.’ That to me felt inorganic,” he says. “Do I love gay dance music? Absolutely. Do I love a club song? Absolutely. But was that necessarily what was organic to me? I didn’t feel it. For me, the more true to who I am, the better.”

Grande — who plans to release another song later this year while still working on his debut album — says that titling his first single “Queen” was “a little bit of an homage to Freddie Mercury and his band.” But the name of the track was also meant to empower both him and the gay community.

“We always call ourselves queens,” he says. “I think I use the queen emoji — the crown emoji — more than I use any other emoji on Twitter. I must say, ‘Yas queen!’ 7,000 times a day. I think ‘queen’ is such a beautiful, regal word, but when I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it says that it’s a negative word for a male homosexual. And I was like, ‘A negative word?’ It’s a positive word. I don’t know when this definition was written, but someone needs to call Merriam and have a little conversation with her.”

But being an openly gay artist has presented some challenges for the flamboyant Grande. “I have encountered ‘You’re way too loud, you’ve got to tone it down’ so many times,’” he says. “I’m like, ‘OK, fine. I’m gonna throw on more glitter and dye my hair pink.’ This is who I am as a person. Don’t tell me that people aren’t gonna get it. I’m genuinely this. It’s not like I’m a clown. I’m not doing this as a character. As a gay man, as a gay artist, I feel like I’m constantly fighting [against] what people feel will have broader appeal.”

With June being Gay Pride Month, Grande has been feeling especially proud of his LGBT brothers and sisters. “I love it because it is when the community gets to come together and celebrate. I was at LA Pride last weekend,” he says. “It’s lovely that we get this month, but I hope that it’s just Gay Pride Year. I hope one day we don’t need Pride Month, but right now we do, and I’m very happy that we have it.”

As for his own coming-out story, Grande recalls, “I was 21, so I was a late bloomer. I came out to my [Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity] brothers first, and they were like, ‘Yeah, we knew, sweetheart.’ And they were so loving and so accepting. And they actually were the ones who gave me the strength to come out to my family. Ariana was 11, and she was like, ‘Oh, cool, when do I get to meet your boyfriend?’”

Grande — who describes himself and Ariana as “best friends” — says his younger sister asked him one very important question before he launched his own music career with “Queen”: “She was like, ‘Do you feel that this song is true to yourself?’ And I was like, ‘Yes.’ I’m a f***ing queen.”