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'I Guess' is Kathy Iandoli's battle cry of #shruglife. It's everything that impresses us and unimpresses us—which could be one in the same given the day.
Over the weekend, Ariana Grande released a new track titled "Thank U, Next," a mature ode to her past loves, yet still footnoted with an air of "I'm good, luv. Enjoy."
Grande's past relationships have seemingly been a focal point of her career, similar to that of fellow pop titan Taylor Swift. However, while Swift makes music to capitalize on the pain, Grande has upped the stakes by making music to work through the pain. And that's a massive difference.
Behind both Swift and Grande, you'll find a trail of tears. For Swift, it's made her a ton of money and hit records; though, as she's evolved as an artist the music has also shifted gears. Take her multiple odes to ex Joe Jonas from a decade ago: there was the pair of young-girl-scorned tracks ("Forever and Always," "Last Kiss") followed by the calm acceptance track ("Holy Ground"). A year later, she wrote an "I'm sorry" song for Taylor Lautner titled "Back To December," followed by a scathing "Dear John" to John Mayer. Over time, it felt like every ex had their own song (or songs), though she turned a corner around 2013 when she wrote "I Knew You Were Trouble" for Harry Styles and "Look What You Made Me Do" for Calvin Harris three years later, considering she changed her narrative from the broken-hearted girl to the "don't fuck with me" ex.
The running joke has been that not only does Taylor date men for song fodder, but when she finally ends the affair it means that a new song and/or album is brewing. The authenticity of the artistry gets compromised in those moments when the relationships become like a jazz musician's opioid or '70s psychedelic rocker's hit of acid: the fix is needed for the magic to happen. It's not to say that the music isn't good; on the contrary it's quite the opposite, transforming Taylor Swift from a doe-eyed country singer to pop music icon. But it begs the question of which identifier is more appropriate for Taylor Swift: serial dater or serial songwriter?
And that is where Ariana Grande has taken the upper hand (and ultimately the high road).
The past few months have been quite the ride for Ariana. She dated comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson, released her fourth studio album Sweetener with a few nods to their love, became engaged to Pete, lost her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller to an overdose, and then later broke off her engagement to Davidson. She's been blamed for Miller's untimely death by delusional and vicious internet trolls, and then just last week watched as Davidson made light of their ended engagement in an SNL promo.
Over the years, we've seen Grande attached to four main men who comprise the subject matter of "Thank U, Next": there's Big Sean; her lower profiled relationship with backup dancer Ricky Alvarez; Mac Miller; and Pete Davidson. The song is an a-ha moment of sorts; at 25 years old, it feels like she's lived numerous lives in those two-and-a-half decades. Where someone like 28-year-old Swift will lash out and then apologize in her music (often not exactly in that order), Grande reflects on all of her failed romances and uttered three words: "thank you, next." She calls them all by name:
Thought I'd end up with Sean
But it 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
Yes, Ricky had some dedication songs—Pete got a personalized interlude—but that inspiration never became Ari's trademark. And in addressing each of them on this surprise release, she's showing her gratitude on being ready to move on with the lessons she's learned:
One taught me love
One taught me patience
And one taught me pain
Now, I'm so amazing
I've loved and I've lost
But that's not what I see
So, look what I got
Look what you taught me
And for that, I say:
Thank you, next
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Davidson's joke bit about their breakup (where he pretend-proposed to musical guest Maggie Rogers) struck a chord with Grande. So if Davidson's source of therapy is his art (read: comedy), then this is Grande's. Of course, releasing the track right before he would appear on SNL discussing the breakup was just the right amount of petty since revenge needs just a touch of sweetener:
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
But this is where the stark contrast between Ariana Grande's and Taylor Swift's farewell music is found. Grande named them all in one song, said her goodbyes, and is ready to level up. The song is even sealed with self-love and hope for the future:
Spend more time with my friends
I ain't worried 'bout nothin'
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
And so I guess Ariana Grande just did what Taylor Swift couldn't do: create an idyllic breakup anthem that anyone can vibe with and understand. Because while Taylor's are filled with that stiletto to the throat I'll show you final decree, Ari found peace in her chaos.
And that's a far bigger "fuck you" than anything Swift has ever written.
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