CFC: Will the Real Ariana Grande please stand up?

One of these people is Ariana Grande. The other is cosplayer Paige Niemann. Which is which?

From Mav: The nice thing about having your own pop culture podcast is that sometimes something happens and you’re like “what the actual fuck” and you just want to be given the opportunity to work things out? Well, I do have a show and so I’m taking that opportunity today. This is a little different than most of our shows. I’m not perfectly clear what I believe here. I’m really just looking for opinions so I can work out how I feel. I heard a weird news story this week on a podcast. There is a young woman named Paige Niemann. She basically made something of a name for herself the last few years as an Ariana Grande cosplayer on Instagram and other social media sites. And she’s really got the look down. If I ran into a picture of her in a collection of Ariana Grande pictures, I’d probably not notice that she was “a fake.” Apparently at some point a few years ago Grande made some comment about being disturbed or creeped out by “people pretending to be her” and Niemann (who was only 15 at the time) took a bunch of flack from Grande’s fans. But it died down over the years. And sure, while Ariana’s followers might have been devoted to supporting her from the faker… impersonators are just part of being a celebrity musician. Just ask Elvis or Cher!

Same thing here. One of Grande and one is Niemann. Can you tell them apart?

Well, a few days ago, Niemann who is now 18, started an OnlyFans account and the controversy reignited. Ariana Grande fans are complaining about Paige because “she’s violating Ariana” but like… Niemann’s page clearly says “18+ exclusive content that you wouldn’t normally see from me ! not cosplaying or impersonating <3” She uses her own name. Grande’s name appears no where on her page as far as I can tell (I didn’t subscribe, so I can only see public stuff) But still… like… she looks EXACTLY like Grande… So much so that I’m not sure most people can consistently pick which one is real and which is fake when their pictures are next to each other. And I’m trying to figure out how I feel about this…

Alyson Tabbitha cosplays MANY movie characters of different genders.

Part of it reminds me of our episode on deep fakes and its usage for porn of celebrities. But this is a little different. Paige isn’t using Ari’s face. She’s not using Ari’s body. She’s a grown woman who has decided to sell sexy pictures of herself. Isn’t the fact that she’s got a look that is similar to someone famous immaterial. She’s not claiming to be Ariana in these pictures anymore than any other cosplayer/impersonator who is famous for looking like WonderWoman or Spider-man or Cher or Elvis is claiming to be the person they look like. I follow a cosplayer instagram named Alyson Tabbitha who is absolutely amazing at impersonating Gal Gadot, Natalie Portman, David Bowie and Johnny Depp! Or rather, she impersonates those people in their guises as iconic pop culture characters. Tabbitha’s got like Chameleon-esque fucking superpowers. It’s amazing! I don’t think it’s wrong. So I’m not sure it’s wrong that Niemann is doing it. Maybe it’s just that Niemann is VERY GOOD at being an Ariana Grande impersonator… and so good that she can’t turn it off.

Megan Rain and Megan Fox

So how do we feel about this? Is it different because Ariana, Cher and Elvis are real people? Because there is DEFINITELY Elvis porn parody out there. Is it different because Ariana has cultivated a trademark look? I’m not clear on that either? Is it different because it feels more violating because it’s “porn”? Or potentially porn? Because as far as I can tell, Paige hasn’t even posed nude, but less done anything sexual. I think they’re just lingerie pics (I didn’t feel like paying for her OnlyFans rate to find out). But here I’m thinking of porn star Megan Rain who absolutely has her “look” tailored around her passing resemblance to Megan Fox. Rain clearly cultivates her look to be “Megan Fox-like” and that’s served her well.

Marilyn Monroe and other blonde bombshells of the 50s

But I never actually confuse Rain and Fox. I don’t think anyone actually would. They look as alike as any two pretty white, brunette model/actresses in 2022. No one actually thinks that’s Fox in any of Rain’s films anymore than they think that Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford are actually in the Star Wars porn parodies. But maybe Niemann is just better at mimicking her inspiration? Or maybe she just naturally looks like that as an 18yo zennial trying to be an IG influencer. Besides, Grande didn’t “invent” that look. She’s basically just trying to be a real life Bratz doll. I’d argue that at 18, Niemann looks “more natural” looking like that than the 29 year old Grande. It’s just “a look.” Much like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Barbara Nichols, and a dozen other actresses shared a look in the 50s. And people DID confuse those actresses, and still do. ALL THE TIME. So I think that I personallyfeel like Paige is pretty within her rights morally and ethically here here. I think I think that…

Paige Niemann at age 12.

On the other hand, I do sort of get where Grande and her fans are coming from. The truth is, a lot of revenue Paige gets here is going to be based on her resemblance to Grande. Certainly whatever explicit pictures she posts are going to get reshared in collections that are supposed to be Ariana. Even though Paige clearly lists her name, she’s certainly going to get a lot of fans who are watching her just to fantasize about Ariana. However, so what? Isn’t that just going to happen no matter what? People apparently noticed that Paige looked like Ariana when Paige was like 10! She’s been mistaken for her since she was 12. This is just how she looks now and Paige has to live a life. It’s the hand she was dealt. Who are we to tell her that she can’t try her hand at IG modeling (or just celebrity impersonation)?

I don’t think it’s just an Ariana Grande thing. Has a person who has an identical twin violated the other twin’s privacy by posing nude? I don’t think so. A twin certainly doesn’t ask for permission before having sex with a new partner. It just doesn’t feel like Ariana has any “rights” here. And yet… I do get why it all feels “kinda creepy.”

So I want to know what you think. What are the ethics of the situation here. Is Paige in the right or the wrong? Is there a line that is or isn’t being crossed? Is this different than deep fakes? Better? Worse? Let us know what you think so we can discuss it on an episode.

10 Comments and 6 Webmentions for “CFC: Will the Real Ariana Grande please stand up?”

  1. I think the difference really lies in the…. reality of it. Like the weird al movie is going to be amazing and he can get away with banging Madonna and murdering people because everyone knows it’s Daniel Radcliffe playing dress up and it’s not trying to pass itself off as “authentic” Same with parody porn. Like yes, the actress in the Sarah Palin porn looked like her but not SO MUCH that you’d get confused out of context. I think here the point is that, Yeah, released naked photos of this girl are going to be passed around as noods of AG, and whether or not they’re real, people will THINK they are and that’s damaging to her brand. Honestly, it feels like the revenge porn laws might come into play here, now that deep fakes are included

  2. There is an entire plot in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL about sex workers who are made to look like Hollywood starlets (the time period being the ’50s). Kim Basinger’s character plays a Veronica Lake lookalike. My guess is James Ellroy probably based this on some sort of reality, as he prides himself on researching weirdo historical detials. My point is, you’re right. It’s not new.

  3. i think: Paige is in the right, and she can do absolutely anything she wants with her body and her “look” – with full transparency about her actual identity. She’s not responsible for anyone else choosing to use her creations to deceive. It’s entirely different than a deep-fake (not that I know that much about them, but in my mind they’re digital creations that don’t accurately represent events or actions of biologically living entities) in 2 ways: 1) it’s “Real” (real-life image of real person, not digital creation), and 2) it’s not created/ intended/ released to lie to people (allowing or enabling them to lie to themselves isn’t the same as lying to them)

  4. This is a phenomenon that exists in Bombay cinema. We call them “copy actors” and “copy singers” and I’ve written about it in an article on the film, FAN, which is about a superfan becoming a “copy actor” of Shahrukh Khan.

  5. Mark says:

    Strangely, this “resembles” (or more accurately the opposite) a minor plot thread in She-Hulk wherein a guy was catfished by a being into thinking he was involved in a text relationship with Megan Thee Stallion. In the tiny details, we can see the artist is going to file a cease and desist order against the culprit. At least, that’s a current pop culture narrative this reminded me of. Also thought of L.A. Confidential.

    If Paige were seeking OF revenue by presenting herself as Grande or representing a fantasy version of Grande specifically, that might as well be catfishing.

    But the info you shared seems to clearly demonstrate that Paige is doing her due dilidence to communicate that she’s not making any such statements. She could go one step further and expressly state “I am not impersonating anyone else in my content,” and it will still set off Grande fans. (Whether in protest or support/subscriptions.)

    How much her history of being told she looks like Grande and her capitalization on it for cosplay recognition went in to her decision to do OF is maybe a consideration. But for all we know, she would have chosen to do OF either way because she’s young, attractive, and posing for content for pay on OF is an option for people today even if it’s not pornographic. (I made a free OF page a while ago for comedy and just never got around to uploading content, which some might consider comedy in itself. I have a handful of subscribers. Mostly OF models.)

    I’m also reminded of a conversation I had online wherein someone thought they found a deep fake porn of Millie Bobby Brown while the actress was underage. Some were undoubtedly made, but this specific instance was a real porn with an actress who resembled MBB and it didn’t appear that her content was released with the intention of representing the Stranger Things actress. But someone saw her and found the resemblance convincing enough to get a thrill making the connection. In the 90s, there was a clip being shown in the era of Yahoo chat and AOL of a blonde porn actress who resembled a still-underage Britney Spears in the center of a group scene. Didn’t seem that the clip was made to be her, but it was being shared as being her.

    Point being, porn-watchers are going to see resemblances and connect dots in their masturbatory fantasies whether intended or not. And whether or not Paige chose to enter into the periphery of that industry to earn based on her looks solely because of that reality is none of our business. So long as she never says her intent is to deceive or emulate in her content, she is legally, morally, and ethically clean on this. At least, that’s what I think.

  6. If sex work weren’t viewed like it is, it wouldn’t be “cheapening” Ariana Grande’s reputation to have someone else doing sex work while looking like her. If women weren’t considered to be only the sum of what they look like, this would also be a non-issue. The lookalike only looks like Ariana, but she cannot sing like Ariana, and that’s the part that should matter.

  7. I don’t see how looking like a celebrity should ever reduce a person’s bodily autonomy. People have thought I look like Alicia Silverstone, Heather Graham, and Elisabeth Moss (the latter so much so that guests at my friend’s wedding actually thought she happened to have Elizabeth Moss in her wedding party). Should that mean that I can’t take and share photos of myself? That I don’t have the right to use and profit off of my body in the ways that I see fit? Speaking as a naked-on-the-net former stripper that would be fucking restrictive and unfair. I take photos to express myself, understand my emotions, and honestly get an outside perspective on my own physicality – I used to hate my body and my face and nude photography changed my world. I stripped so I could attend fucking college. I’m proud of it and I would never take that time away from myself. The idea that a celebrity’s “brand” supersedes another person’s choices bodily autonomy is utterly absurd. What if Paige chooses to participate in political protest and Grande doesn’t want photos of a lookalike circulating from the protest? What if Paige decides to get pregnant and Grande doesn’t want people thinking she has a baby bump, or a child? What if Paige wants to go to the laundromat in sweatpants and Grande doesn’t want a rogue photographer to think she has worn out hems? Are we going to decide that this woman has to hide in the shadows for the rest of her life because a celebrity is offended that they look alike? If someone wants to distribute fake nudes of Ariana Grande, they’re gonna do it, with photos of someone else or with photoshop. And if an 18-yo feels happy and empowered and wants to share that with the world, and ease her financial strains? Good on her.

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