SONG MEANING: “Focus” by Ariana Grande is about acceptance and focusing on someone on a deeper level–finding out who they really are beyond the way they look or their preferences. Keep reading to find out more and to hear Ariana explain it herself.
Ariana Grande’s new album Moonlight is set to come out in 2016 though a more specific time isn’t set yet. In preparation, Ariana has released her first single from that upcoming album: “Focus.” The music is sassy and energetic, which is perfect because the message is also sassy and energetic. The music video isn’t quite appropriate for all ages, so I’ve found a concert video for you. Listen to it and then continue reading!
I’ve added “Focus” and many other recent hits to my Spotify playlist “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative.” Don’t forget to follow the playlist!
The Meaning of “Focus”
When I first read the lyrics to “Focus,” I thought it was about a guy who wasn’t respecting Ariana Grande. He was rude and belittling and someone who probably should be dumped. But then I did my research and found that the song’s meaning actually goes much deeper than that.
In one sense, yes, the song is about a relationship, but it’s not with just one guy. It’s about Ariana’s relationship with the world and culture around her. And she makes it easy for us to understand her meaning. Here’s a vlog she released at the beginning of October about what she wants people to “Focus” on when they see her:
For Ariana, “Focus” is about focusing on who a person is, not just details about them–a plea that I think many people can agree on. In the above video, she explains her song:
I literally mean focus on me–on what I’m all about and what I believe in. The more we focus on each other, as people and not on what we look like, not what we’re wearing, our gender, our hairstyle, our sexuality, the color of our skin, but focus on each other on a soul level. The more we realize how much we have in common, the more we listen to each other, the more one we become.”
She wants issues we “Focus” on to be more than skin deep and for us to spend more time worrying about what unites us all as humans. Ariana’s plea for “Focus” may catch on, but that’ll be up to listeners. In the meantime, let’s get deeper into the lyrics.
In Verse 1, she sings, “I know what I came to do / And that ain’t gonna change.” Grande is set in her purpose and will not let anyone change her. She encourages the haters to “go ahead and talk your talk / Cause [she] won’t take the bait.” As a pop star, she’s used to being in the center of the media’s eye and used to being discussed and critiqued by people in terrible ways. But according to this song, she’s happy to be “over here doing what I like” and to be ignoring the jerks.
She’s confident in herself and “working day and night” in her field and (presumably) to be a better person. She claims that “if my real ain’t real enough / I’m sorry for you, bae.” Others can do what they like, but Ariana Grande is going to be herself no matter what.
In the Pre-Chorus, Grande sings, “Let’s find a light inside our universe now / Where ain’t nobody keep on holding us down.” She encourages listeners to be the light they want and to be kind even when others aren’t doing so. She wants people to coexist and to be kind and sensitive to each other. She encourages her listeners to “come and get” her–who she is, not someone she’s pretending to be–and to “let [the haters] say what they say.” She won’t be worried about them much longer because she’s ready to “put them all away” and to ignore their negativity for forever.
In Verse 2, Grande sings that she “can tell you’re curious / It’s written on your lips.” Listeners want to know how she’s different from others and want to know more about who she really is.
But some of these curious people will learn about her only to throw what they learn back in her face. Grande encourages them to do so: “Ain’t no need to hold it back / Go ‘head and talk your shit.” She knows that they’re hoping to see her react and that they’re hoping she’ll look back over her shoulder, distracted from her purpose to be more herself.
“[I]f my real ain’t real enough / Then I don’t know what is.” If who Grande is isn’t good enough for other people, then she’s not going to waste her time trying to be a fake version of herself just so that she’ll be accepted by others. She wants peace and kindness but not at the expense of authenticity and sincerity.
I always think it’s weird when a pop star makes a big deal of being authentic and being “who they are.” The pop industry is so much make-up and filtering and careful word choice–the singers rarely even write their own music–that it’s hard to tell reality from glamorous fiction.
On my post for “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato I’ve had lots of people tell me that just because Lovato sings about same-sex experimentation we shouldn’t think that she means it’s about her or how she feels–it’s a pop song meant for others to sing along to and not a true expression of the singer’s self.
Perhaps we can apply the same idea to “Focus” and perhaps we have to. If Grande didn’t even write the song herself (she had three co-writers, which usually means the artist’s name in the by-line is just for show), how much is it worth to us? If she (like most pop stars) is merely a small part of the brand she represents–a brand that’s supported by back-up dancers, songwriters, other musicians, make-up artists, and more–is she even really who she says she is?
You can argue this with me (please do!) but I don’t think that the person Ariana is in her shows or her music videos is really who she is. It’s who the music industry makes her so they can make money, and nothing but that explosive, sexy image do we hear in this song.
Thus, perhaps “Focus” is meant to be sung and purchased by people who want to embrace the sassy sincerity Grande uses in the video so they can feel sassy and sincere too.
If this is you, enjoy! But I don’t think Grande really is singing along with you.
Thanks for reading about “Focus” by Ariana Grande! Please don’t forget to share, like, and follow on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog. I have an insider e-mail list where I ask for your help to explain pop songs and let you know about new posts and podcasts. When you sign up, you’ll get a copy of my “Top 10 Tips to Help You Decipher Pop Music”!
Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/desk-watcher at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome.