just look up

I Rocket-Launched Myself Into Ariana Grande’s Outer Space

Me. Photo: R.E.M. Beauty

Ariana Grande’s new makeup line, r.e.m. beauty, is based on nothing less than the very concept of space. It’s a timely theme. Brave, even. Billionaires have recently ruined space, but Grande, a longtime NASA insider and possible NASA plant, is still going hard for it, and I respect that. It’s important to remember that space didn’t ask for any of this. It’s possible, I suppose, that r.e.m. beauty is an attempt to restore some of space’s recently lost dignity, paying homage to its vastness and unknowability with a series of eyeliners, lipsticks, eye shadows, and false eyelashes. Perhaps in this way, r.e.m. beauty is quietly radical. Grande wants to remind us that we cannot capture space in our hands no matter how much money we have; it will always evade us, this unconquerable void growing larger by the day, eventually turning its immeasurable powers against us, melting us where we live. But we can buy a little lipstick in the shape of an astronaut’s helmet.

A few weeks ago, I asked for and (eventually) received some r.e.m. beauty samples in the mail; I also purchased a few things from the line with my own money, anticipating that I might not receive said samples in time, seeing as I have long enjoyed a BDSM relationship with Grande’s official merch store. Flush with adorable silver-plated beauty products shaped like various space-related entities, I planned to test and review them — not just their ability to change the way my face looked but also their inherent ability to reclaim space from the capitalist oligarchs destroying our current planet as they look for a new one to ravage.

On a more quotidian level, I also wanted to know if the various and very complicated eyeliner looks Grande was posting to her Instagram and the r.e.m. website were actually achievable with r.e.m. beauty products and without the help of a professional makeup artist. For some reason, I decided the way to do all of this was to go out three nights in a row (pre–Omicron hell) wearing three different r.e.m. beauty looks to see how the makeup held up in various New York social settings — which, if you think about it, are not of this Earth.


Look 1: Swoopy Black Eyeliner and Other Mysteries of the Universe

I decided to keep things simple for my first r.e.m. night out — or what I believed would be simple in my unrelenting naïveté. The first r.e.m. promo images showed Grande in a Barbarella-inspired outfit with a cute space weapon and a sort of swoopy black-eyeliner look: a cat’s-eye extended and then inverted over her eyelids. It looked easy enough, so I set out to re-create it with her “at the borderline” eyeliner marker. The eyeliner itself was great: essentially an actual marker, extremely idiotproof, thin enough to create a good cat’s-eye but thick enough to create the illusion of control in a chaotic universe.

My muse. Photo: R.E.M. Beauty

I began to carefully doodle on my eyelids, slowly drawing the cat’s-eye outward and then arcing over my eyelid. I felt good about what I was doing until I stepped back and looked at myself — up close, it had resembled something beautiful, but seen from a few feet away, it was utterly incomprehensible. I sent a photo to my sister, a Gen-Z Grande stan who I knew would be honest with me for better or worse. “U tried, so good job,” she wrote.

“U tried, so good job.” Photo: Rachel Handler

I understood then that “user error” would have to be a massive disclaimer in this review, just as it is during rocket launches. I promptly set out to the apartment of my friends Dan and Chanan, the latter of whom works in fashion and therefore is innately better at doodling. I brought my supplies with me: the aforementioned eyeliner marker in “midnight black” (all of the product names are lowercase, due to space), a sparkly liquid eye shadow in the pale-pink shade of “fembot” (a type of robot famously employed in space), matte lipstick in the similarly pale-pink shade of “roller skates” (unclear how this one relates to space … yet), and a pair of ostensibly reusable false eyelashes called “dream lashes” (do not wear these to sleep).

Chanan took one look at my face, Bradley Cooper’d it, and started over, drawing the eyeliner across my eye in one quick, freehand motion instead of in the painstakingly slow way I’d been doing it. The key to re-creating Grande’s eye makeup, I realized, was the same as the key to being an astronaut: confidence, hand-eye coordination, and not giving a shit.

Ready for launch. Photo: Rachel Handler

Later, I applied my lashes, which looked absolutely fantastic and crazy, two fat caterpillars sitting on top of my eyes and obstructing my vision. But that, too, was an authentic astronaut experience, as space is famously dark. I added a bit of the liquid eye shadow, a product I’ve avoided in the past because I am incapable of putting on eye shadow evenly; it was sheer and glittery enough that it obscured these personal shortcomings. I felt like a hot alien who could not see two feet in front of herself, a lifelong dream of mine.

We set out on the town: karaoke, followed by a 12:30 a.m. taco-truck quesadilla. Throughout several renditions of Céline Dion classics, my eyeliner stayed exactly where I had put it. The lipstick was a shade too pale for me and didn’t survive the quesadilla, but what could, really? My blinding lashes had made it through the night and peeled off easily when I took them off before bed. Maybe a little too easily …


Look 2: Small White Dots and Other Failures

I was most excited to try this second look: a series of thick white dots orbiting my eyes like a bunch of sexy, empty planets. I pulled out the “at the borderline” kohl eye pencil in “so mod,” a bright-white shade, and set to work drawing tiny circles all over my eyes. Tragically, I soon realized the pencil was not designed to do this, much in the same way we were not designed to colonize the moon. The eyeliner is perfect for lining the waterline and for layering on top of your eyelid — it’s sheer and a little chalky, meaning there’s a lot of room to make mistakes and easily fix them. But similar to a moon colony, it sort of crumbles and erases itself if you push too hard. It simply does not have the range to create heavy circles, and perhaps that’s on purpose — a statement about the ephemerality of human technological achievement.

The impossible look. Photo: R.E.M. Beauty

I checked the reviews on the r.e.m. website, several of which expressed similar frustrations: “It kept on balling up and lifting as I was trying to layer it on as it is quite sheer. Took around 30 minutes to get the other eye down because of how it is to work with. I love that you can layer it to your liking and how long it stays but just not how it applies.” I didn’t like pondering the reality that Ariana Grande, for whom I watched half of this season of The Voice, could fail at anything, even white eyeliner. I wanted to blame myself.

Faced with this profound existential crisis, I decided instead to just line my inner eyes with the “so mod” pencil and create a more basic cat’s-eye on top. It looked great and stayed on for probably six hours at my friend Estelle’s birthday party, which also happened to be karaoke, but my personal karaoke problem is a topic for another piece. I finished the look with r.e.m.’s lip-stain marker in a plum shade called “booked n busy” (I have stopped trying to understand the names, but I suppose those SpaceX flights are full).

A failure but an opportunity to learn. Photo: Rachel Handler

Unfortunately, while the marker looked cute and it felt thrillingly transgressive to put a marker directly on my lips, like I’d always wanted to as a perverse child, it had completely dried out by the end of the night. I also put on my fake eyelashes again — one was still sticky; the other continually fell in front of my eyelid as I sang “Bang Bang” in honor of my intergalactic pop muse, adding an additional layer of drama to a song already fraught with it. I ended the night dancing at Friends and Lovers, one eyelash hanging in front of my face, the other giving Cher.


Look 3: Lessons in Intergalactic Hubris

For my last trick, I wanted to re-create my favorite look on the r.e.m. website: Grande, tiny head ensconced in an astronaut’s helmet, smiling with her eyes screwed shut, cat’s-eye on point beneath a very dramatic eye-shadow accompaniment. Though Grande shipped promos of her makeup line to her friends and celebrities inside a sort of novelty astronaut helmet, I did not receive one despite the fact that one time she asked me if we could be friends on Instagram and then never mentioned it again. Instead, I sat underneath a cool lamp for photos back at Dan and Chanan’s apartment.

Photo: R.E.M. Beauty

I felt like I had been hit by a privatized space shuttle after two nights in a row of going out, something I had not done since before March 2020 but which I had nonetheless decided to impose upon myself for absolutely no reason. I suddenly began to feel deeply envious of r.e.m. Grande, who was sleeping peacefully and safely inside an astronaut helmet, content with her insider knowledge of all the wormholes in space. We were headed to “Britney Night” at a local bar, and this time I just asked Chanan to do the makeup for me rather than attempt it alone and then have to start over. As Neil Armstrong once actually said, “Humans rarely achieve greatness on their own, and it’s important to know when to ask your friend to do your eyeliner.”

My space helmet is in the background. Photo: Rachel Handler

On my eyelids, we used a combo of the “fembot” liquid shadow and the eye-shadow palette in “midnight snack,” and Chanan again drew a stunning cat’s-eye with the eyeliner marker, which I plan to use to doodle on my eyes for the rest of my life. I used my own lip stuff this time, since the r.e.m. shade didn’t go well with my skin tone, and gave the rapidly dying fake lashes one last ride around town. At the bar, I received two compliments about my eyeliner from women dressed as Britney Spears but realized halfway through the night that one of my eyelashes had fallen off completely, making me look criminally insane. I decided to own it: I was keeping an eye out for hurtling asteroids.

Eyelashes intact before liftoff. Photo: Rachel Handler

This final look was the closest I came to achieving True Ariana, the apex of my r.e.m. beauty trial weekend, a real communal achievement. The last aspect was key: It could not have been a coincidence that I had not achieved True Ariana on my own. By forcing me to realize I was useless alone and successful only as part of a two-person makeup team, Grande had taught me something important — about individualism taking down the human race; about community as the only real way forward; about the abject moral failure of rich people plotting to escape Earth instead of staying and helping fix everyone’s janky makeup (… metaphorically). She had also taught me that I could pull off one gigantic eyelash in the club.

I Rocket-Launched Myself Into Ariana Grande’s Outer Space