It brings me no pleasure to do this. Mining frothy pop songs for depth is most often a fool’s errand. But “thank u, next” is at least coherent enough to warrant a moment’s thought. And maybe more.
The chorus of Ariana Grande’s three-and-a-half minute confessional involves varied repetitions of “Thank you, next. I’m so f***ing grateful for my ex.” Unlike another famous purveyor of break-up anthems, Grande makes explicit (yet tender) reference to her notable exes, from Pete Davidson to the late Mac Miller.
“One taught me love, one taught me patience, and one taught me pain,” sings Grande. “Now, I’m so amazing.” For a donut-licking child star, it’s all surprisingly mature. She’s obviously happy with herself, but there’s a certain humility to giving others the credit, and choosing to grow from the experience, rather than wallow in rage or depression.
“Watch me strike a match on all my wasted time” looks infantile by comparison, understandable as cathartic arson may be. Even the title’s lowercase spelling conveys Grande’s unusual nonchalance.
The point is that “thank u, next’s” healthy processing of personal pain is a rarity on the pop charts. That’s probably fine; therapist-approved lyrics don’t exactly make for easy listening. But being both graceful and catchy is no simple feat, and “thank u, next” will probably vault Grande to an even higher tier of pop stardom (perhaps the highest).
To be clear, poetry these lyrics are not. More importantly, Grande slips by the second verse into a trite and sophomoric satisfaction with self-love that sounds like it was inspired by a bad Oprah monologue.
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
She taught me love
She taught me patience
How she handles pain
That sh*t’s amazing
I’ve loved and I’ve lost
But that’s not what I see
‘Cause look what I’ve found
Ain’t no need for searching
But Grande redeems herself. Although the singer purports to feel “no need for searching,” she ends the song by envisioning her future wedding. “Only wanna do it once, real bad. Gon’ make that sh*t last,” insists Grande, who recently ended her whirlwind engagement to Davidson. Ultimately, “thank u, next” concludes that self-love is no adequate, long-term substitution for marriage on its own.
I won’t go so far as to call the song refreshing so as not to lower the bar further than it already is. But there’s something about “thank u, next” that stands out in a good way. Grande’s attitude is made even more impressive by the quick turnaround between her broken engagement, Miller’s tragic death, and the song’s release.
As for that future marriage she’s hoping to land? “God forbid something happens,” Grande sings, “least this song is a smash.” She at least predicted that correctly. As of Monday, “thank u, next” topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for the third week in a row.