Ariana Grande sues Forever 21 over failed deal and lookalike model

Ariana Grande is suing Forever 21 and seeking $10 million in damages, claiming that the retailer used her unauthorized likeness in a social media campaign.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Ariana Grande has filed a civil lawsuit against fast-fashion retailer Forever 21 after declining an endorsement deal with the beleaguered company. She claims it went ahead and hired a Grande lookalike model and used other copyrighted material in a social media campaign.

Her complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, alleged that the violations occurred after the Los Angeles-based clothing retailer and its beauty company, Riley Rose, sought a social-media marketing campaign with Grande in late 2018 and early 2019 pegged to the release of her fifth album, “Thank U, Next.” She is seeking $10 million in damages.

The company disputed the allegations on Tuesday but would not comment on the pending litigation, citing company policy.

“That said, while we dispute the allegations, we are huge supporters of Ariana Grande and have worked with her licensing company over the past two years,” the company told The Times in a statement. “We are hopeful that we will find a mutually agreeable resolution and can continue to work together in the future.”


The global pop star, who is among the most-followed women on Instagram, had declined the company’s promotional arrangement, which included the promotion of clothing and accessory products, because of “Forever 21’s unwillingness to pay the fair market value for a celebrity of Ms. Grande’s stature,” according to the complaint, obtained by The Times on Tuesday.

Examples of Forever 21's posts depicting singer Ariana Grande that led to a $10-million lawsuit.
(O’Melveny & Myers LLP)

“Fearing irrelevance in a rapidly evolving market with increasing competition from other fast fashion brands, rather than pay Ms. Grande, Forever 21 and Riley Rose, the beauty company started by the daughters of Forever 21’s founders, instead stole her name, likeness, and other intellectual property to promote their brand for free,” the complaint said.

Grande has never shied away from what she believes she’s entitled to. The Grammy winner has been breaking with tradition over her music releases and blasted the Recording Academy earlier this year after it disagreed on her performance at the Grammy Awards.

Her lawsuit also comes on the heels of news that the company is reportedly in financial trouble and developing restructuring plans to avoid a possible sale or bankruptcy. The retailer, which has built an empire on making the latest trends available and affordable, has about 800 stores worldwide and more than $3 billion in estimated annual sales.

The singer’s lawyers argued that the company allegedly violated her rights by launching a misleading campaign across its website and social media platforms in January and February that capitalized on “Thank U, Next’s” success and imagery from its corresponding music videos. They claim the company enlisted a Grande lookalike model to wear hairstyles and costumes strongly associated with Grande, as well as re-creations of those primarily featured in her “7 Rings” video.

Examples of what the lawsuit says are unauthorized posts depicting singer Ariana Grande published by Forever 21 and Riley Rose.
(O’Melveny & Myers LLP)

The complaint cites 13 instances wherein Forever 21 “falsely suggested” Grande’s endorsement of its products through the use of the model. The company is also accused in the suit of infringing on her copyrights by publishing images, lyrics and audiovisual clips from her copyrighted songs “7 Rings,” “Thank U, Next” and “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.”

Upon discovery of the posts, Grande contacted Forever 21 about removing them, but the complaint said that it did not remove “all of the unauthorized content” and that Forever 21 and Riley Rose “improperly appropriated and profited” from Grande’s influence and star power for about 14 weeks.

Nearly a decade ago, before Instagram influencers existed, Forever 21 helped teen girls dress like their favorite celebrities, for cheap.

Grande and her Florida corporation GrandAri Inc. are seeking a jury trial to award actual damages, the disgorgement of Forever 21’s ill-gotten profits, and an award of punitive damages to deter Forever 21 and Riley Rose from future violations of her personal and intellectual property rights, the complaint said.

Grande’s lawyers also argued that companies are willing to pay “enormous sums of money” for Grande to endorse their brands, with a single social media post commanding “several hundred thousand dollars” and her longer-term endorsement arrangements commanding fees “in the millions of dollars.” They did not indicate how much Forever 21 offered Grande for the deal that fell through.

Grande’s attorney, Daniel M. Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, declined further comment.

Forever 21 Inc. is scrambling to line up additional financing this month as cash to pay vendors and landlords dwindles to a critical level.