Ariana, the nostalgic pop star of the moment
Ariana Grande’s smash hit, “thank u, next,” initially felt as though it was an overstep. One of the most powerful pop stars of the moment coming for an ex whose credentials were less than stellar could be seen as an abuse of the pulpit from which Grande croons.
A re-evaluation of the source material, however, frames the chart-topping track as a wonderful testament to self-love and overcoming adversity. Instead of vague lyrical clues and fan speculation over who the song was about, Grande’s blatant name-drops lend a substantial bit of heft to an expertly crafted and languidly produced pop song. It should stand to reason, then, that the video would be just as clever – and the songstress and company didn’t disappoint.
What started as seemingly random references to 2000s romantic comedies on social media came to manifest themselves as a fully-fledged music video built upon audience nostalgia. The classic movies “Mean Girls,” “Bring It On,” “13 Going on 30” and “Legally Blonde” were parodied in the video and likely later plucked by fans from the vast abyss that is their Netflix watch list.
Music videos have a propensity to be rather predictable displays of wealth, fashion and finesse, thus this narrative space – film nostalgia – was the perfect lens through which to view a powerful song.
Breakups in popular culture are often framed as either emotionally heart-wrenching, as evidenced by Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” or grandstanding claims of “I Don’t Fuck With You” in really any verse by the name-dropped Big Sean. The notion that such events could instead be a positive, “who cares” exchange is a welcome reprieve from the established status quo.
It’s clear that the creatives behind this effort have an eye on the times. Five years ago, this video may have resulted in various look-alikes popping up and being pushed away by Grande as she recited the names of their famous counterparts. Such a measure would’ve shifted the focus from the potency of the artist to a series of mental repetitions of, “Hey, that guy looks like so-and-so.”
A video promoting self-love and moving on from past romantic entanglements should only have one protagonist – a mentality Grande auspiciously recognizes.
While some fans were less pleased with her August-released “Sweetener” than “Dangerous Woman,” the album that preceded it, it is impossible to ignore the artist’s immense growth from the days of “The Way.” We’re still being given the signature sweeping range and attentiveness to bubbly production, but the artist behind the mic continues to mature. This is to be expected, of course, but such a transition is seldom done with such grace.
Grande’s “thank u, next” video unequivocally places her as the definitive pop star of 2018, if Billboard’s “Woman of the Year” designation didn’t state this already. “Chun-Li” rapper Nicki Minaj once vocalized on the pair’s “Side to Side”: “I’m the queen of rap, Ariana run pop.”
Was this statement tied to the song, or rather a premonition? As of now, it’s both. Haters – if there are any left – should take note: Dethroning a queen is damn near impossible, and why, really, would you want to try? Thank u, next.