Will I Ever Stop Being Emotional Over Ariana Grande's "thank u, next"?
Seems unlikely :)
|Jodi Walker||Nov 9, 2018|
You can go ahead and tuck all your favorite diss tracks into whatever dusty receptacle holds the VHS tapes, socialized patriarchy, and Nokia phone chargers down in your basement. Because in this season of thanksgiving, Ariana Grande has given us something better than a coy, petty break-up anthem: in “thank u, next” we have been gifted with an enlightened bop of gratitude.
As it seems to so often with people younger and wealthier than me, this all started with a tweet. Or rather, with a Saturday Night Live spot following the not-exactly-shocking dissolution of Ariana and Pete Davidson's engagement.
A few weeks after the breakup was made public, Davidson jokingly asked on an SNL promo if musical guest Maggie Rogers might like to marry him. She said no; he snarked, "0 for 3." Ariana then tweeted, "for somebody who claims to hate relevancy u sure love clinging to it huh"; deleted it. Tweeted "tag yourself I'm Maggie"; hilarious; deleted it. Tweeted the now iconic “thank u, next”; seemingly once again regretted her hasty retort; deleted it.
These are the sassy comebacks you might expect from a young pop star annoyed with her ex. But given the time and artistic space to elaborate, the title track from Ariana’s next project, “thank u, next”, has turned out to offer something much more unique. This is no clap-back — this is Ariana's round of applause for herself.
Ariana hasn’t just given us a new kind of diss track, she’s given us a new kind of love song: a romantic tribute to self-love (and no, I don’t mean masturbation, mostly because that is its own genre altogether). "Thank u, next" also happens to feature some of Ariana's best annunciation yet, I think, because it's important to her that this time, we hear every word…
Thought I'd end up with Sean
But he wasn't a match
Wrote some songs about Ricky
Now I listen and laugh
Even almost got married
And for Pete, I'm so thankful
Wish I could say, "Thank you" to Malcolm
'Cause he was an angel
“Thank u, next” doesn't just reference a few of Ariana Grande's ex-boyfriends by name — it does so in the first verse. Four boyfriends; four breakups; four lessons learned in the painful, patient reality of love. There is nothing coy about this break-up ballad, because as Ariana seems to be telling us that she's learned: there is nothing coy about love, at least not real, adult love. And in "thank u, next" Ariana shows herself to be a grown ass woman.
Listening to this song, I had no idea how it emotional it would make me. Not only witnessing someone's emotional growth, but having them invite you along for the journey in real time through their art? Oh yeah, I cried. Sure, I cried. Because I feel proud of her, and I feel proud of myself, and for anyone who's done the difficult work of moving on. A song did that.
Love is a thrill unique to each relationship that music so often attempts to universalize, but heartbreak — baby, that's so run of the mill, it takes a mere few words to relate to heartbreak. It is a deep, deep artistic well. Breakups are what made Adele an icon, and what Taylor Swift goes back to again and again. And there's still plenty of room for that in music because just as the pain of a breakup is universal, it is also timeless.
But what comes after heartbreak? Well, ideally: growth. The singularity of this track’s empowering message is what makes it so novel: the song isn’t about them. “Thank u, next” is about Ariana.
I know they say I move on too fast
But this one gon' last
'Cause her name is Ari
And I'm so good with that
If “thank u, next” dismisses anything, it's not Ariana's past relationships, which she clearly states have imprinted on her for better and worse. But of the outsider's notion that these relationships, in their youthful magnitude, were mistakes. Just because something is ill-advised does not make it a mistake. It may make you immature, or willfully ignorant, or far too patient — but it doesn't make you wrong.
The outside world might see Ariana Grande as someone who has had a lot of boyfriends, and therefore, made a lot of mistakes. But if the Bachelor franchise has taught me anything [ed. note: it has not!], there are those who see themselves as people with "a lot of love to give" and there are those who...would never even consider using a phrase like that because they have just your average one-to-two-serious-relationships amount of love to give.
She taught me love
She taught me patience
How she handles pain
That shit's amazing
I've loved and I've lost
But that's not what I see
'Cause look what I've found
Ain't no need for searching, and for that, I say…
Thank you, next
Perhaps Ariana has more love to give than most, but "thank u, next" assures us that she's taking on the emotional responsibility of her own mental well-being. We stan a self-reflective pop princess.
Truth reveals itself with time alone, and Ari is getting there. And she's taking us with her in such a startlingly joyful way. Look no further than her debut performance of “thank u, next” on Ellen to understand that this song about breakups and pain and learning is still an undeniable celebration.
Before "thank u, next" I'd only ever been an Ariana Grande fan from afar. But a joyful anthem about moving on, coupled with First Wives Club cosplay? I now understand that she is a businesswoman, an artist, a skilled musician, and a subtle comedian all wrapped up in a Limited Too trench coat.
One day I'll walk down the aisle
Holding hands with my mama
I'll be thanking my dad
'Cause she grew from the drama
Only wanna do it once, real bad
Gon' make that shit last
God forbid something happens
Least this song is a smash
With the humanizing stumble, the inescapable swell of emotion, and her friends, frequent collaborators and "thank u, next" cowriters Victoria Monét and Tayla Parx supporting spunkily be her side, it is an imperfectly perfect performance.
It would be easy to look at this song and the Ariana/Pete breakup, and say: Ah, yes it was Ari who had the Big Dick Energy all along. But I don't think that's true. BDE, for all its silliness, is defined by exuding an effortless satisfaction with oneself. What Ariana is saying in "thank u, next," and what she's often shown through the vulnerability and candor of her public-facing platforms like Twitter is:
This. shit. takes. effort.
🦠kyridescence @hellakyrawho is ariana's therapist and are they accepting new clients
Surely this "thank you, next" sentiment will be swiftly co-opted into funny memes (check), a Whopper commercial, and a little further down the road, a 2020 Presidential campaign. And that's fine. It's pretty broad—and not at all terrible—advice when taken out of context.
But in context, Ariana's "thank u, next" is not a simplistic dismissal of exes, nor a thoughtless platitude about moving on. It's about unloading the angry burdens of our past to pave a way forward with gratitude and graciousness. Even if Ariana, that little minx, did drop her record-breaking banger 30 minutes before Saturday's East Coast airing of SNL…
Hey, if Ariana has taught us anything [ed. note: she has!], it's that there's no reason self-improvement can't be productive and at least a little bit of a smash at the same time. As I think the saying goes: Revenge is a dish best served smokin' hot, in a white pantsuit, serving transcendent emotional realness.