I was 13 years old when Nelly dropped his hit single "Grillz," which is — admittedly — one of my favorite songs of all time. Yes, I still listen to it on the elliptical. Yes, I understand some people reading this probably have no clue what that song even is. And yes, IDGAF.
Roughly one year after I fell in love with "Grillz," Kelis released the visual for her girl-power anthem "Bossy," in which she chanted “Diamonds on my neck, diamonds on my grill” with her teeth, of course, decked out in bling. I would be lying if I said I didn’t steal aluminum foil from the kitchen cupboard and wrap it around my teeth to copy her bad bitch swag.
While those are the most vivid memories from my '90s childhood, diamond-encrusted canines and grills were popular way before that — most notably throughout '80s hip-hop culture. And, according to Vice, dental adornments date even further back to the seventh century (BC) when wealthy Etruscan women had their front teeth removed and replaced with gold.
So why the grill history lesson now? You can thank Ariana Grande, who has the kids on Twitter buzzing over the new diamond studs in her teeth. The star showed off her blinged-out canines after fans pointed out that her teeth were being Photoshopped on social media. “Wait I got these a lil’ while ago but u can never really see them so I’m showing u,” she wrote, flashing her new jewellery.
Like with anything Grande does, her fans went wild, fawning over her sparkly studs and sending kudos to the star for the “sickest style choice she's ever made.” And to be clear: There is nothing wrong with Grande's dental choice, she — along with everyone else — is free to do whatever they please with their smile, and in no way did she go public and say that she's responsible for (what seems like) the resurrection of grills.
The grey area comes in the responses from some of her fans. One Arianator wrote: “A true gangsta, we stan even harder.” Another fan called Grande “Pharrella,” which is likely a nod to Pharrell’s use of grills in the early 2000s. “Thuglife,” another responded, also a likely misinterpretation of the late Tupac's iconic stomach tattoo. And it continued… “It's confirmed!!! Rapper Ariana Grande is coming," one stan wrote. Another added: “Ur a Soundcloud rapper now.”
These responses acknowledge the link between grills and hip-hop culture, but it brings up another more complex question: When Grande’s fans give her props for being “gangsta” because she stuck two diamonds on her teeth, do they realize that Black men and women who have worn similar grills in the past (and present) have been considered unprofessional, ghetto, and a threat to society?
Of course, Grande is not the first (or last) celebrity to spark this debate (Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, Kim Kardashian, and Cara Delevingne have all shown off their own pricy dental work). But it's important to take a moment to acknowledge that Ari's studded canines are not a new trend we should all jump on, and that there's real cultural weight in the discussion we're having here. Now, where to draw the line between what's cute and what's culturally insensitive? We'll let you be the judge.