Ariana Grande damn near might be the reigning Princess of Pop. And I don't give out titles like that often. Judging by the cumulation of her growing popularity as a pop artist, recent breakup (a called-off engagement with Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson), and biggest hit yet—"Thank U, Next,” the impeccably catchy, emotionally mature, I-loved-you-but-I-love-me-more breakup anthem— she’s soaring.
Since the song’s release, which was Grande’s first to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, her fans have been eagerly awaiting the accompanying music video. Before its official drop today, Grande hinted through social media posts and behind the scenes footage that it would be a visual homage to four of our favorite teen rom-coms of yesteryear: Legally Blonde, Bring It On, 13 Going on 30, and of course Mean Girls.
The video is Grande’s strongest yet. Starring as Regina George, Elle Woods, Jenna Rink, and Missy Pantone, she effortlessly mashed together fan-favorite memorable moments from each of these movies. Mean Girls’ burn book, locker smashing, and the infamous naughty Christmas recital (featuring a cameo from everyone’s favorite momager Kris Jenner) have moments. But also the bend and snap scene of Legally Blonde— proving Grande and director Hannah Lux Davis missed no small details. Each scene flawlessly led up to a cute, choreographed version of the song’s chorus and diehard fans will notice her subtle nods toward her exes throughout the video. She looks towards the sky when she sings of Mac Miller. She wrote “sorry I dipped” on Pete Davidson’s burn book page. (ouch.)
Don’t be fooled—Ariana isn’t playing light with the cheerleading routines, feather boa robes, and highlighted hair. Creating the visual for her biggest hit yet in this nostalgia-inducing format was a power move. It’s evident from countless sitcom revivals, the fashion week runways, celebrity style, and probably your private Pinterest board — Grande’s fan base and millennials, in general, are obsessed with all things early millennium. Her incorporating of everyone’s favorite 2000s-centric films was a purposeful form of creative direction that assured whether you love Grande or not—you were going to watch this video.
Grande’s finesse of millennials love for nostalgia was yes, maybe genius. But don’t get it twisted—this wasn’t the first time a music video has taken inspiration from beloved movies to set the pace for a song’s visuals. Grande’s most obvious influence, Mariah Carey, took note from Mean Girls first in 2009 with her song “Obsessed” (then aimed at her never confirmed fling with rapper Eminem), followed years later by Iggy Azalea’s biggest hit “Fancy” inspired by Clueless. More recent examples include Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s “1999” (which pays homage to Titanic, American Beauty, and *NSYNC and Spice Girls’ music videos) as well as Big Sean’s “Martin”-inspired “Play No Games” visual. Oh, and of course Madonna’s “Material Girl” that mimicked everyone’s favorite muse, Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
It’s a tried and true formula that many pop stars experiment with, especially when they want the masses paying attention to their videos. Based on the fact that this record is Grande’s biggest single yet, as well as the most honest peek into her personal life, maybe that’s what she needs from the world—a little fun and a little laughter to pair alongside all of this immense scrutiny and attention—to help her heal.
Pop fan or not, it’s hard to not want to root for Ariana. Alongside career highs, she’s had major public ordeals in a short period of time. Without ever sharing too much, Grande always let us inside her mourning, but even while mourning, she never once sacrificed her quirky, bubbly, sense of humor (and sense of self!) that her fans have grown to love.
Though “Thank U, Next” is Grande’s biggest hit yet and symbolizes the past few years of her love life, it also feels like the closing chapter of the Ari we’ve grown to know. Like the "Thank U, Next" song lyrics infers (“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/That shit's amazing”), she’s comfortable being single and being on her own, and whatever comes next from Grande—musically or personally—will almost most definitely, be better than her last.