On Saturday night, roughly 30 minutes before her erstwhile fiancé Pete Davidson clocked into work at Saturday Night Live, Ariana Grande released into the ether, “thank u, next” —a petty bop seemingly aimed square at his tender heart.
The song calls out Grande’s various exes—including Davidson, who has been squeezing every ounce of content out of their relationship on SNL—but it is not the anthem of a spurned lover, looking to destroy everything in her path. Instead, Grande took a page from the book of Mariah Carey: “thank u, next” is a motivational narrative powered by pettiness, perfectly timed to put an end to the public messiness caused by the dissolution of her relationship with Davidson.
A week or so after Davidson and Grande ended their engagement, neither party seemed to be handling it very well. Davidson used his platform on SNL’s “Weekend Update” segment to milk their engagement for laughs; he opened the season by making jokes about replacing her birth control pills with Tic-Tacs, and has mentioned his relationship with Grande in every monologue he’s done. On Thursday, he fake-proposed to musical guest Maggie Rogers in a promo that caused Grande to tweet, then delete, “for somebody who claims to hate relevancy u sure love clinging to it huh.”
Grande has been explicit that the song is not intended to be a “diss track,” and she even let a few of the exes mentioned listen to it before its release, though it’s unclear whether or not Davidson was afforded that privilege. By the time Davidson showed up at work, urging viewers to vote in the midterm elections, he had already processed his former fiancée’s growth. “She’s a wonderful, strong person, and I genuinely wish her all the happiness in the world. Now please, vote on Tuesday.” While my feelings about Davidson stand, I hope this is the last we hear from him about this brief period in his life. Like Ariana, I wish him the best.
What works so beautifully about the song is how unbothered it is. Here is pettiness for mostly good with a dash of evil, subverting the traditional spurned lover subtweet of the sort preferred by an artist like Taylor Swift, who litters her hits with references to the many men she’s been involved with, airing dirty laundry with little self-reflection. Not all music that comes out of heartbreak has to be introspective, but it is often so much better when it is. Fame rushes people towards a sort of forced maturity in many ways; thanking every single one of your exes for allowing you to be the person you were always meant to be exhibits the kind of growth I thought only achievable after years and years of therapy. Pettiness, when used for good, is quite powerful.