Just months after dropping one of the most intelligent and acclaimed pop albums in recent years with her fourth studio album, Sweetener, Ariana Grande surprise-released “thank u, next” following her breakup with SNL comedian, Pete Davidson.
On a number of levels “thank u, next” challenges the current parameters for pop music in the current landscape and songwriting from the female perspective. The song has also proved how streaming has truly changed the art of the music release. “Thank u, next,” a pop-influenced R&B track written by Grande, Victoria Monét, Tommy Brown, Tayla Parx and Co., immediately shot to #1 on every music platform upon release. The song spends no time getting to business as Grande immediately name drops her four most recent ex-boyfriends: Pete Davidson, Mac Miller, Ricky Alvarez, and Big Sean. Despite many assumptions, “thank u, next” is not a diss track. In actuality, Grande’s newest single is about self-empowerment, growth, and maturation. About herself, the four-time Grammy nominee sings “she taught me love / she taught me patience / how she handles pain, that shit’s amazing.” Grande sprinkles her signature vocal runs over a lush production as she muses about how she has turned her pain and heartbreak into becoming a stronger and smarter person. Grande’s message of self-care and self-love has been a refreshing addition to mainstream pop music. From her comeback single, “no tears left to cry” and her most recent Sweetener single, “breathin” to Sweetener album track, “get well soon,” Grande has been a calm voice of reason in a chaotic year.
“Thank u, next” was surprise-released ahead of a Saturday Night Live episode with no fanfare. Of course, Ariana Grande’s name was on everyone’s lips in light of the end of her engagement to Pete Davidson. Every single from her Sweetener era has achieved great commercial success and Grande has been the single biggest name in pop music this year. Yet, despite all the heavily curated promo plans, high budget music videos, and awards show performances, it was the lowkey release of “thank u, next” that achieved record-breaking success. This week alone “thank u, next” has broken the record for “most daily plays for a song by a female artist on Spotify” five days in a row. The success of “thank u, next” has elevated Grande to the zenith of female artists and she is now the biggest streaming artist this year besides Drake.
In the streaming era, the consumer has more say than ever. For example, the Michael Jackson-featuring “Don’t Matter to Me” was originally slated as the fourth single from Drake’s blockbuster Scorpion album. Nevertheless, when the album was released, listeners gravitated to “In My Feelings” (via playlist algorithms and on their own accord) and eventually made it the Number One song in the U.S. for ten consecutive weeks. Relatability is the driving factor for many artists today, and the nature of the streaming landscape allows artists to simply release music with little to no fanfare or warning. Beyoncé popularized the surprise-release with her landmark 2013 eponymous album, and as streaming became more popular, surprise-releases became more frequent. It is no secret that pop stars have struggled in this new era dominated by rappers, yet “thank u, next” bodes well for the future of the female pop star in the streaming era. Grande is a new kind of pop star. With “thank u, next” her dreamy pop/R&B vocal-focused sound has transcended demographics. The lyrics, however simple and repetitive, have easily become her most recognizable. A plethora of sports teams (Pittsburgh Steelers), brands (Netflix), and television shows (This Is Us, The Office) have made the pre-chorus of the song a meme, and everyone can relate to the overall sentiment of the song. The success of “thank u, next” reminds us that consumers do not care for drawn-out promotional schedules and the traditional way of advertising music. Sweetener‘s most recent single, “breathin,” is climbing the charts while “thank u, next,” the lead single from Grande’s upcoming fifth album, is smashing around the world. Incredibly, Sweetener is not even half a year old.
Many critics have compared “thank u, next” to various songs from Taylor Swift’s catalog, and others have derided Grande’s decision to explicitly mention her ex-boyfriends’ names. Countless male artists have crafted entire albums and supported careers around stories of ex-girlfriends in past relationships. From Drake to Ed Sheeran, some of the biggest male artists in the world have made a fortune out of drawing from their past relationships. Why is this a problem or any different when a female artist does this? Furthermore, unlike some of the songs from the aforementioned artists, “thank u, next” has an overtly positive message of love and gratitude. As the chorus states, Grande is “so f*cking grateful for [her] ex,” as she has used those experiences to grow and better herself as a person. This should be applauded and supported, not demonized.
“Thank u, next” is barely two weeks old and even less-frequent social media users can feel the song’s impact. With a simple standalone surprise single, Grande has achieved some of the greatest success of her career so far. “Thank u, next” reminds us that, above all, consumers want to be able to connect with a piece of music. There’s a reason that Grande keeps breaking and resetting historic streaming numbers with this song, and it is not because of the name drops. “Thank u, next” is one of the most important songs of the year because it understands the intelligence and beauty of simplicity and directness. Grande and her co-writers probably did not realize this when the song was made mere weeks before its release, but nevertheless, they truly made magic and the music world is better off for it.
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