We often see Ariana Grande make headlines for her work as one of the world’s leading contemporary recording artists. But more recently she has made headlines because of the whirlwind of incidents that have happened within her personal life – the most prominent being Grande’s quick engagement to Pete Davidson and their sudden breakup four months later. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her mind while this was all going on, especially on top of recovering from the Manchester shooting as well as the suicide of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller. I wanted answers. Why did their relationship end? And who ended it: Pete or Ariana? I knew Ariana wasn’t going to speak about the break-up publicly so I figured I would have to wait until her next album release to hear her, much anticipated, break-up anthems. I had originally thought this would take quite a bit of time as the release of her album Sweetener was only weeks before their breakup. But to my surprise, Grande released her next album Thank U, Next only five months after Sweetener. And while this album helped to answer some of my questions, I can’t help but still be somewhat confused about the state of their relationship.
After a week filled with rumors regarding the sour state of Grande and Davidson’s relationship post-breakup, the song, thank u, next, was released – just a half an hour before Davidson appeared on Saturday Night Live, where he spoke about their called off engagement in his skit. Coincidental? I don’t think so. Ariana does not hold back at all in this song. She bravely lays out her vulnerability by publicly addressing her ex-boyfriends by name with the opening lines. She starts off referencing her ex, Big Sean as she confesses “Thought I’d end up with Sean, but he wasn’t a match” which is followed by a line referencing her ex and former backup dancer, Ricky Alvarez – “Wrote some songs about Ricky, now I listen and laugh” Of course then, she goes into talking about Pete Davidson – “Even almost got married, and for Pete, I’m so thankful.” On my first listen,I paused at this part of the song to make sure I was hearing the lyrics correctly. Is she actually thankful for their relationship? Because it appeared that they had bitter feelings towards one another after the breakup…at least this is what the media led all of us fans to believe. Could Ariana have used this line sarcastically? While the lines about Pete definitely got my attention, the lines about Mac Miller, Ariana’s ex of two years who had committed suicide in September 2019, struck me the most. Hearing the lines “Wish I could say, ‘thank you’ to Malcolm,’cause he was an angel,” I could feel the grief that was evident in Ariana’s voice. She makes it clear that she learned something in each of her relationships- love, patience, and pain – which enabled her to learn how to be loving and patient with herself. She wraps up the song with a conclusion of what’s most important for her right now, which is having a healthy relationship with her self – “Plus, I met someone else / We havin’ better discussions, / 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.”
In February 2019, Ariana Grande appeared on the Zach Sang show to discuss the details of her Thank U, Next album. Surrounded by her team that were there for her when the record was being made, the interview covered the process of this album from start to finish – “I made it with my best friends over the course of a really small period of time, and it kind of saved my life,” Grande said referring to the Thank U, Next album. “It was kind of this super challenging chapter that sucked, and then my friends made it amazing and special.” It turned everything around in my life. It sounds really corny, but it was the most beautiful,” she said before admitting, “I don’t think life has ever been as bad as it was when we started.” When asked about how she created the song thank u, next, she admits that before it was released she had made a couple different versions of it – one including the names of her exes and one stating something very generic about her past relationships as a whole. Grande states that she “is shy when it comes to pitching wild ideas” and that the idea of individually calling out each of her exes by name in the song seemed like a beyond wild idea. Her team encouraged her to do so, but Ariana explains that she was still wavering about the version of this song that she wanted to release but deep down knew that calling them out by name was much more powerful – “in my relationship [with Pete] at the time things were up and down and on and off, so I had to change the song a couple different times in order for it to make sense.” Grande then goes into talking about the importance of accurately putting into words her feelings for her exes – “I just wanted to cover all of the bases. It was a big deal because it is my life. I spent a lot of time with each of those people, learning and shit. It was really scary to put it in a song,” Grande says while tearing up. It the becomes apparent that maybe Grande feels more sadness towards her exes than anger.
It all began to come together for me when Zach Sang asks Grande about the hardest song on her album to write, where she responds that ghostin was the hardest as the writing process of it “absolutely sucked.” The whole song only consists of two verses and the rest is an instrumental. Ghostin shows a more emotional and vulnerable side to Grande amidst all the savage tracks. In fact, Grande goes on to say that she “was begging” her manager, Scooter Braun, to remove it from the album but then came to the conclusion that she should just allow herself to let go. The song lyrics in ghostin are very telling – most speculate that that this song is about Grande grieving over the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, while being engaged to Pete Davidson. In Grande’s words, as she tweeted in response to fan’s questions about the meaning of the song, it is about “feeling badly for the person you’re with bc you love somebody else. feeling badly bc he can tell he can’t compare…. and how I should be ghosting him.” Grande dated Mac Miller for two years – from August 2016 to May 2018 – and started dating Davidson just a month after their break up. After Mac Miller committed suicide through drug overdose, Grande and Davidson’s relationship ended shortly after. In the first verse, Grande sings “I know you hear me when I cry / I try to hold it in at night / While you’re sleeping next to me.” Perhaps this is referring to Davidson, as it was confirmed that he moved in with Grande in her Chelsea apartment. The next line “Look at the cards that we’ve been dealt,” could refer to the hardships that Grande and Davidson encountered in their relationship such as the shooting at Grande’s concert in Manchester as well as the death of Davidson’s father in the 9/11 attacks and struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder. The next lines could refer to Davidson’s understanding and patient nature as Grande is dealing with Mac Miller’s suicide – “you’ve been so understanding, you’ve been so good / And I’m puttin’ you through more than one ever should / And I’m hating myself ’cause you don’t want to / Admit that it hurts you.” It seems as though she admits through this song that, even though she was engaged to Davidson, her mind has become consumed with thoughts of Mac Miller after his death. And for this, she feels guilty – “know that / it breaks your heart when I cry again / Over him, mmh / I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again / ‘Stead of ghostin’ him.” Grande goes on to admit that ghostin is the only song on the album that she does not listen to and when Zach Sang asks her why this is, she refuses the question saying “next.” This further shows Grande’s sensitivity towards the subject, particularly the subject matter displayed in this song, and her discomfort in talking about it. Until this day, Grande has yet to perform ghostin live, as she said when the album first came out that she never will.
I feel as though Grande used her album Thank U, Next as a way to work through the emotions she was feeling during the period of time she was making it. Because of this, we see a very diverse group of song subjects, ranging from liaisons and money to self-love and emotional growth.