Ariana Grande's 'Thank U, Next' Is A Masterclass In Emotional Maturity
In this op-ed, Rae Witte shares why Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next" transcends pettiness and shines with nuance and depth.
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On Saturday night, just 30 minutes before her ex-fiancé’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, singer Ariana Grande made what, based off impeccable timing, could have been one of the pettiest music drops of all time.
Earlier in the week, Pete Davidson joked about his recent break up with Grande in a promotional clip for his November 3 SNL co-hosting slot. In response, Grande took to Twitter with a series of now-deleted tweets, ending with “thank u, next.” A few short days later, with artwork that appears like a collage of headlines about the tweet, she shared the now chart-topping “Thank U, Next” song that is undoubtedly the most emotionally-intelligent breakup song I’ve ever heard.
Typically, when an artist releases a song blatantly about an ex, particularly following a very public break up, we get broken-hearted ballads with high levels of pettiness that invoke listeners eyes to widen, lyrics to be tweeted, speculative hot takes to be written, and nostalgic late night text inducing deep thoughts.
In “Thank U, Next” Grande flexes in her breakup anthem as someone who has experienced love repeatedly and learned from the fall out of each. Ultimately, it appears that she’s found herself to be the person who is emotionally secure, who challenges herself, and who is going to continue to grow whether someone is standing by her side or not.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, according to Psychology Today. Rather than viewing her breakup with Davidson as another failed relationship, the 25-year-old sings in this song about how each experience with Davidson, Big Sean, Ricky Alvarez, and the late Mac Miller shaped her into a person that can and does love herself.
In March, The Weeknd released a surprise EP, My Dear Melancholy. Seemingly, the 28-year-old needed to get some things off his chest in the form of music as well. On track two of six, we were introduced to the breakup song “Wasted Times.” At the time, there was speculation that his extremely affectionate relationship with Selena Gomez was over and that he missed his previous ex-girlfriend Bella Hadid. The track opened up with the lyrics, “Wasted times, I spent with someone else/she wasn’t even half of you/reminiscing how you felt.” Ouch.
This is the musical version of a man recognizing he moved on too fast, picked up a new relationship where his other one left off, and tried to overcompensate throughout it —only to realize he needed to fix things with his ex for whom he still had feelings.
Typically, breakup anthems are out for blood. Big Sean, one of the exes mentioned in “Thank U, Next,” actually has one of the most iconic tea-spilling breakup tracks of all time. Following his 2014 breakup with Naya Rivera and subsequent coupling with our emotionally intelligent queen Ariana, Big Sean released “IDFWU.”
Big Sean leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination with this one. He goes on to proclaim, “And every day I wake up celebratin' shit, why? 'Cause I just dodged a bullet from a crazy bitch.” OK. Big. Sean. We get it. You’re doing great, “you got a new chick that you gotta to thank God for," but everyone knows hurt people hurt people, and because of the harsh lyrics and tone of the song “IDFWU” felt like it was created from a place of pain.
But “Thank U, Next” is different.
It isn’t salty or self-loathing. It isn’t mean or petty. And while I’m sure songs in the same vein as “Wasted Times” and “IDFWU” are cathartic to both the artists and the listeners, “Thank U, Next” transcends the therapeutic nature of them because I believe Grande sings it from a place of self-love and wholeness as opposed to hurt. To me, “Thank U, Next” isn’t as much about the process of recovery after heartbreak, but the self-assured product —which is incredibly important.