In 2019, Ariana Grande had much of the world dismissing their problems with the phrase “thank u, next.” Before the song was released, the pop princess had wrapped up a whirlwind few years full of engagements, break-ups, a bombing at one of her concerts, and the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller. With her personal life becoming a point of public discussion, her ability to chalk all of life’s pitfalls up to a learning experience was an inspiring feat.
“Thank U, Next” is mostly concerned with her past relationships. Having been in the entertainment industry since she was a teen, her fans have been more than privy to her romantic attachments. She doesn’t beat around the bush in the song, name-dropping her famous exes and explaining why their relationship went awry.
We’re breaking down the meaning behind the lyrics to this Grande staple. Take the trip with us, below.
Behind The Lyrics
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
Grande takes us through a sort of relationship timeline in the opening verse of “Thank U, Next.”
Kicking things off with Big Sean, Grande dated the rapper for a few months around 2014. Given their status in the music industry, their relationship was an oft-talked-about topic in the rumor mill. They collaborated on a number of tracks, including Grande’s “Right There” and “Best Mistake.”
Next, she references her relationship with one of her backup dancers, Ricky Alvarez. Grande reportedly wrote the song “Moonlight” about Alvarez, which is represented by the line wrote some songs about Ricky. Amid her Dangerous Woman Tour, she sang the lulling ballad while reaching out to Alvarez who stood at the side of the stage.
Former SNL cast member Pete Davidson and Grande got engaged after a few months of knowing one another. The stint was over as quickly as it started but, Grande makes it known she doesn’t regret it by thanking Davidson in the song, for their time together.
While both Sean and Alvarez didn’t say much about the name-drop following the song’s release, Davidson made light of the song in an SNL promo. Grande responded in a since-deleted tweet saying, “for somebody who claims to hate relevancy u sure love clinging to it huh.”
Lastly she thanks the late Mac Miller, who she started dating in 2016, but had been friends with for years prior. The pair first collaborated on Grande’s single, “The Way.” Miller died of an overdose in 2018.
After laying out her relationship timeline, she lets the listener know what the overarching idea of the song is. She aims to put her “failed” relationships into perspective, by thanking them for what they gave her. Even though they aren’t together anymore, she has gleaned valuable life lessons from them: love, patience, and pain.
One taught me love
One taught me patience
And one taught me pain
Now, I’m so amazing
Say I’ve loved and I’ve lost
But that’s not what I see
So, look what I got
Look at what you taught me
And for that, I say
“No drags…. no shade….. jus love, gratitude, acceptance, honesty, forgiveness … and growth,” Grande wrote on Twitter following the song’s release.
The accompanying music video is just as splashy as the song. Chock full of celebrity cameos and pop culture references, the video certainly befits such an empowering song.
Grande, a self-professed ’00s rom-com lover, takes over the lead role in a number of famous films—namely, Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring It On and 13 Going on 30. She recreates a number of classic scenes from each movie alongside a cast of her friends. Elsewhere the likes of Kris Jenner, Jennifer Coolidge, and Troye Sivan pop up as supporting characters.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Ariana Grande