As I pull on my new, noise-cancelling headphones, my friend skips over and tells me to stop whatever I’m playing on Spotify. “Play ‘thank u, next!’” she exclaims, despite the doubtful look written across my face. Nevertheless, I hit play and watch her interpretive dance to the catchy tunes and thrilling lyrics. On Ariana Grande’s newly-released album, the eponymous single “thank u, next” is definitely a highlight. “thank u, next” is not only catchy, but also representative of Grande’s character, grit, and presence in pop culture, as she continues to overcome the distressing setbacks she has faced in her life.
Many of Grande’s feats are overlooked because of her grace under pressure. It is easy to forget that she had to transform from a child star on Nickelodeon to a pop princess, dominating the world with her classic, sleek ponytail, distinct voice, and feminist attitude. While many other artists of her generation struggled or failed to go from child actress to superstar, Grande made it look easy. For example, Grande’s co-star on Victorious, Victoria Justice, who was the same age as Grande at the start of their careers, never emerged as a mega-star. Unlike Grande’s rapid start to her musical career—“The Way” debuted as No. 10 on the Hot 100 chart and sold 219,000 downloads in its first week of release—Justice’s debut failed to place in the top 10 of the hot hits chart. In fact, Justice’s initial song release missed the top 100 altogether. Since that first successful single, Grande has only grown, using her voice and positive image to encourage her fans with her music.
Grande, unlike many artists, is not only looked up to for chart-topping music, but also for her upbeat personality. Her reputation is built on an almost squeaky-clean image and radiant poise. Although she has been involved with scandals, they were all minor incidents. Some believed that she had a “diva” personality because of her desire to be photographed from only one side. In actuality, though, it could be argued that she didn’t want others to control her image. Of course, in 2015, there was the donut-licking incident, in which she walked into a shop with her friends and licked the donuts, claiming they were “disgusting.” However, she boldly owned up to her mistakes and apologized.
With her fame also came emotional difficulties, as seen in the Manchester bombing just last year at the end of a performance. She posted her reactions to the devastating event on Twitter, stating that she was “broken” and speechless. Her trauma led her to doubt whether or not she could sing again. Though Grande believes that she may never fully recover from the tragedy, she recovered with grace and overcame her troubles by finding comfort in creating more music. This is evident in her song “get well soon”, which responds to her anxiety about the event and opens up to her audience regarding the fears provoked by the bombing. The song is exactly 5 minutes, 22 seconds long, which correlates with the day of the massacre (on May 22, 2017). She adds 40 extra seconds to the end, devoted to the people who passed away from the horrific event. While the Manchester bombing was awful, she used it as an opportunity to be emotionally open and honest with her fans.
Aside from the Manchester tragedy, she has overcome many obstacles in her personal life, which have been further exacerbated by negative publicity. From her most recent breakup with her fiancé Pete Davidson, to the death of Mac Miller, who passed away due to drug overdose, Grande’s well-publicized relationships have often brought her actions under close scrutiny. Recently, she was judged for the way she remembered Miller, posting an Instagram photo with him from last Thanksgiving, captioned with a “you’re v missed.” To all the hate she received for the way in which she mourned over this loss, she responded with a Twitter post, stating “everything i feel is valid and safe. everything i do is genuine and honest. there is no right or wrong during this period.” Instead of acting negatively in response, she held herself up with grace and explained her perspective. She responded with compassion and dignity, wishing upon her audience of viewers and listeners her innate desire to share kindness rather than resorting to hate and misjudgment. Despite the negative attention that she has gotten, Grande has resolved to devote herself to creating new and positive music, and her songs hit the spot every time. For example, her album, Sweetener, which was released in August 2018, is perfect for any late-night jam session.
In addition to her confident individuality, her four-octave range never fails to impress and is clearly reflected in the unique music she produces. The songs she creates display inherently positive messages, empowering women and embracing LGBTQ rights in society. Her song “God is a Woman” speaks for itself — Grande challenges the norm and appeals to fans who believe in her inspiring feminist messages. Similarly, in “no tears left to cry”, she mentions how she sparked connections with gay fans who feel safe to approach her and to talk to her about their sexual identity. In her music, Grande has created a safe space for her fans and forged a community for people to look up to her values.
Grande’s latest song, “thank u, next,” is worthy of admiration because of its important message that channels her experiences into a song of appreciation and gratitude. While most songs don’t explicitly state the emotional breakup or pain from heartbreak, “thank u, next” speaks to the message of moving on, becoming stronger, and learning from past mistakes. “I’ve learned from the pain,” “I turned out amazing,” and “I’m so fuckin’ grateful for my ex” are lines that indicate how she envisions a positive takeaway from a negative situation. Unlike other songs that mourn over the pain of heartbreak, she twists it into a way to empower many young women and celebrate her own self-worth in the process. “God forbid something happens, least this song is a smash,” she sings, which mirrors Grande’s response to negativity and highlights her own personal successes in the face of an emotional breakup.
Aside from the memes of “one taught me love, one taught me pain, one taught me patience,” this song and its message are ultimately enduring. “thank u, next” is a jam that will live on in pop history. Playful and sophisticated, yet light-hearted and easily relatable, “thank u, next” is a masterpiece that displays Grande’s growth as a musician and person. Grande’s evolution from a teenage actress to musical superstar has not been easy or perfect, with the emotional trauma from devastating tragedies to the media’s portrayals of her character. However, by expressing her vulnerability and demonstrating her strength during challenging moments, she offers hope to her fans and uses her encouraging music to inspire others to do the same. Her new music video on Youtube, which has already received 293 million views, suggests the song is set to be a worldwide sensation, just like Grande herself. It’s no wonder that “thank u, next” just so happens to be the most overplayed song on my playlist.