In “Thank U, Next,” Ariana Grande Proves She’s the Anti-Taylor Swift
She wants to be inserted into *every* narrative.
Has any music video ever been teased as much as Ariana Grande’s “Thank u, next”? For weeks, Grande has shared candids from the set, in which she appears as the ingénue of various 2000s rom-coms, from Mean Girls to Bring It On to Legally Blonde and even the Jennifer Garner vehicle 13 Going On 30. Now the video is finally here, with cameos from Jennifer Coolidge, Kris Jenner, and a woman who looks more like Lindsay Lohan than Lindsay Lohan. It’s sparkly, puffy, pop fun—but what, really, does it have to do with the single’s breezy message of self-love and romantic resilience? Why did she make herself the star of every rom-com? Is this some kind of solipsistic bubblegum pink nightmare?
In fact, it seems consistent with the moxie of Grande’s celebrity. Grande has been particularly vocal on Twitter lately, dashing off opinions and shade with a kind of devil-may-care determination that flies in the face of the carefully arranged celebrity social media machine. If the Kardashians have taught us anything, it’s that even the most spontaneous outbursts are thought out with battle-like precision. Wording, angles, and timing are fussed over; whole teams weigh in. But Grande called out Piers Morgan for shaming her opening act Lil Mix and their Dixie Chicks-inspired publicity shot: “i look forward to the day you realize there are other ways to go about making yourself relevant than to criticize young, beautiful, successful women for everything they do,” she tweeted. She criticized Pete Davidson for exploiting their breakup for Saturday Night Live lolz. You could fault her for making a mountain out of a mole hill—Davidson’s whole schtick has been mocking himself, even before Grande was on the scene—but she wanted respect. She deserved it.
Even before that, Grande established herself as a woman with a strong sense of morality, an eager empath. Since the Manchester Arena was bombed during her concert in May 2017, killing 22 people, Grande has spoken frequently about her experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, which has surely been a salve for those suffering similarly from the effects of terrorism and other forms of violence. As Lois Beckett, a senior reporter for the Guardian who covers guns and gun violence, pointed out earlier this fall on Twitter, “Grande has been a central figure at benefit concerts honoring victims of violence in Charlottesville and Parkland. She has showed up repeatedly with messages of hope—the kind of graceful, unifying rhetoric you usually expect a president to offer.”
This contrasts with another narrative-obsessed pop star, Taylor Swift, who infamously issued a statement in the midst of the Kanye-West-Kim Kardashian “Famous” imbroglio that, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of”—a line that seems to summarize the Swift philosophy overall. When she refused to discuss politics leading up to the 2016 election, rumors swirled that she might be a Republican or Trump supporter; even if she wasn’t, her silence ran counter to her pro-feminism stance. It wasn’t until October of this year that Swift even publicly encouraged people to vote. Grande, as her cotton candy video shows, is ready to be inserted into every narrative. Even if she never asked to be a part of it, she has something to say.