“I’m so fuckin’ grateful for my ex,” trills Ariana Grande, and her gratitude is contagious, because she just released the sweetest, the sanest, and also, gloriously, the most cutting diss track of an especially cutting year. On Saturday night, a mere 30 minutes before Saturday Night Live hit the air on the East Coast, she debuted “thank u, next,” a thoughtful and impressively devastating riposte to her former fiancé, Pete Davidson, who has spent most of this young new SNL season milking their doomed whirlwind romance for content in increasingly gross Pete Davidson–type ways. In the show’s season premiere in late September, while he and Grande were still together, Davidson did a full “Weekend Update” bit about their relationship that included a lousy joke about switching out her birth-control pills. Post-breakup, in a promo for Saturday night’s episode, he jokingly proposed to musical guest Maggie Rogers.
Combining peak Drake’s impeccable timing with peak Taylor Swift’s bubbly ferocity, “thank u next” is, first of all, a very excellent pop song, fluffy and profound, with a meme-ready hook (the title, mostly) and verses that are all the more wounding for how kind they are. Opening lines:
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
This refers, respectively, to her former relationships with Big Sean, Ricky Alvarez, Davidson, and the late Mac Miller: “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now, I’m so amazing.” (I’m going to guess that Big Sean taught her patience.) In a later verse, she teases that she’s already met someone else, but this turns out to be a self-improvement head-fake: “’Cause her name is Ari / And I’m so good with that.”
For our buddy Pete in particular, the “thank u” in the chorus is so sincere and wise that the elegant shiv of that “next” barely even stings. In terms of leveraging one’s public romantic misadventures for transcendent pop, the result combines the sweet hookiness of “Kiki, do you love me?” with the triumphant catharsis of “I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town.” It is as tender and exultant as anything on Grande’s great new album Sweetener, and every bit as savagely victorious as “The Story of Adidon.”
Grande is a very easy pop star to root for, and her brief, mega-viral engagement to Davidson was all the more winsome for how colossally ill-advised it was. You might’ve predicted (correctly) that it wouldn’t last; you might’ve also predicted (even more correctly) that Davidson would be weird and exploitative about it. Per TMZ, he scrapped yet another skit about their relationship planned for this weekend’s SNL and instead dropped a conciliatory 15-second shout-out into a “Weekend Update” election bit: “I know some of you are curious about the break-up. But the truth is, it’s nobody’s business and sometimes things just don’t work out and that’s OK. She’s a wonderful, strong person and I genuinely wish her all the happiness in the world.”
Which is lovely, though it’s a little late to be taking the high road, especially when “thank u, next” rumbles all over it. Grande’s last verse flashes forward—hopefully a long, healthy, logical distance forward—to her future wedding, the groom TBD and entirely, blissfully beside the point. “Only wanna do it once, real bad,” she sings. “‘Gon’ make that shit last / God forbid something happens / Least this song is a smash.” She’s right about everything, including, very possibly, that last part. It turns out that she was the one with Big Dick Energy all along.