Ariana Grande's 'thank u, next' is the Maneater Anthem We Didn't Know We Needed
We don’t remember ordering a sacharrine, satirical bop with a side of female empowerment but we’re happy it’s here
Here’s everything I know about Ariana Grande. I know that she turned in a killer performance as an ill-fated sorority girl in Scream Queens and that her 2014 song “Problem” is one of the most underrated pop songs of the past decade. I know that she started her career as a Disney Channel kid which is a biographical tidbit akin to finding out that someone was raised by wolves or survived a shark attack as a child. I also know from my depressive late night trawling of trashy tabloid news that Ms. Grande is an enthusiastic appreciator of men (aren’t we all, honey) with a knack for cultivating the sort of ill-fated relationships that make the general public collectively grimace with concern.
Grande’s new song “thank u, next” is a tune that sees the singer unapologetically flexing all of these sides of herself in a self-celebratory sacharrine roar. She reels off the names of her exes with the sweetness of the Disney Channel kid she once was but there’s an underlying monstrous subtext to the song that makes it sound like she’s reeling off a snack diary of everything (or everyone) she’s devoured that day. “thank u, next” is the song equivalent of a woman wearing elasticated sweatpants to an all-you-can-eat buffet of men who has capably polished off the last tray of meat and is now voraciously demanding more.
It’s a wonderfully diabolical pop song with an underlying theme of female empowerment, and she’s not fucking around. She begins by directly addressing all four of her ex-boyfriends by name and delivering insightful epitaphs for each failed relationship - including a final dedication for Mac Miller who died in September:
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
She goes on to share thanks for all the great things she took away from each relationship, including the “pain” of having “loved” and “lost” and draws positives from each defunct romance. Hell, she even says she’s “so fuckin’ grateful” for all of them. Sounds legit, right? By the second verse, however, she’s abandoned her litany of failed romances to concentrate on the super important person she’s now looking to rebound with - her-motherfucking-self.
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
This isn’t just a song about self-preservation and of eagerly accepting that positive lessons can be taken from even the most epic (and public) of heartbreaks. This is a song about using men for powerful sustenance. If Ariana Grande is Popeye then these lads are the cans of Spinach she’s crushing between her fists and gulping down in seconds flat just so she can flex a fierce bicep afterwards and live to fight another day.
”thank u, next” is the song that Megan Fox’s character in Jennifer’s Body would have written in dedication to all the fine boys she devoured in her quest for survival. Listen closely enough and you can hear Grande using Pete Davidson’s bones to pick out hot chunks of expired romance from her canines. In an era of #MeToo revelations in which the media has been dominated with stories of forceful men abusing their positions of power to assault and harass women there’s a certain power to hearing a young woman unabashedly drawing power from men, instead.
That’s especially true when you consider how quickly certain corners of the internet were quick to point fingers at Grande as having some sort of an influence in Miller’s death and in the public’s eagerness to criticise her for moving too fast with Davidson. “thank u, next” is like a modern day “Oops, I Did it Again” but with even less sincerity than Britney Spears once delivered in faux-apology for playing with the hearts of men and making it out of a failed romance relatively unscathed.
The very fact that the song title is spelled out completely in lowercase is proof of how sardonic this song may actually be underneath the sparkling, upbeat bubblegum melody. Grande’s sentiment comes across as being so flippant and careless that it doesn’t even warrant capitalisation. Instead “thank u, next” comes off as the sort of three word response you message back to an ex who may be determined to serve you an onslaught of beratement and insults for having the nerve to end things in a bid to save yourself.
“thank u, next” suggests a woman with her shield up, swatting away emotional missiles with a wink and a smile while confidently and capably preparing for the next round. Whether for affairs of the heart or for life itself, that’s a statement and a fucking half everyone can probably draw some manner of power from.
Grande isn’t just addressing her exes in this song, she’s addressing her critics too. That’s familiar territory for many women who’ve scraped their way out of a failed romance only to find themselves unfairly blamed and judged for having the guts to call it quits when a romance isn’t right for them. For women in the public eye, especially, enjoying the company of too many men in apparently too short a time lands you the scarlet letter of M for maneater. But here, Grande has flipped the script completely, producing a maneater anthem that argues there’s supreme emotional nurishment to be had from the consumption of such relationships.
And fuck it, why shouldn’t she be happy with whatever she can take from these men and the leftovers of such relationships? Grande’s thankful for the feast, and she’s already plating up for her next course.