Watching the video for Ariana Grande’s record-breaking song “Thank U, Next”—which premiered on Youtube on November 30 and became the site’s most-watched video ever within 24 hours—I was, frankly, horrified by the flippant way Grande seemed to treat the recent overdose death of her ex, rapper Mac Miller.
The song takes us through Grande’s previous relationships—with rapper Big Sean, comedian Pete Davidson, and Miller, who fatally overdosed at age 26 from fentanyl and cocaine in September. Grande finally arrives in a “new” relationship—one that she knows will last. Her new love interest is herself—“Her name is Ari”—and, Grande reassures us, she is “so good with that (So good with that).”
Grande acknowledges that she has loved and lost (her most recent relationship, a whirlwind with Davidson, broke up after they had gotten engaged), but says it was all worth it for what she learned about herself, such as “How she handles pain (pain).”
Reflecting on herself and her current situation, Grande expresses happiness—“That shit’s amazing (Yeah, she’s amazing)”—and says that right now, she “ain’t worried ’bout nothin,'” particularly because she can be confident that “this song is a smash (song is a smash).”
To my ears, the song displayed Trump-like levels of callous narcissism from the petite pop star. Perhaps that’s why this collaged parody of Trump singing “Thank U, Next” seemed to resonate. Making someone else’s death all about him and how “amazing” he is doing is exactly something Trump would do.
Grande’s dismissal of Miller, who died less than two months ago, along with her other exes with a glib “thank u, next” was bad enough. But the video rubbed salt in the wound by pairing the song somewhat nonsensically with silly homages to four fun comedy movies from the early 2000’s—Mean Girls, 13 Going on 30, Legally Blonde and Bring It On—and seemingly random celebrity cameos by Kris Jenner and Australian pop singer Troye Sivan.
This is not at all to suggest that Grande deserves any blame for Miller’s death, as some of his fans cruelly claimed in the wake of the news. Nor is it exactly to say that Grande is “milking” Miller’s death, as one person tweeted in response to a Thanksgiving post by Grande about missing him.
It’s more that it seems like his death just didn’t register with her as something categorically different than, say, her break-up with Davidson.
In response to the “milking” accusations, Grande emphatically responded that “everything i feel is valid and safe. everything i do is genuine and honest. there is no right or wrong during this period.”
Most people seem to agree with her—”Thank u, Next” generated a storm of glowing press and social media reactions.
“i cant stop watching this video… her mind… her fucking mind…” tweeted one fan. “[T]he message being pushed is empowerment,” announced Vice. “Honest and vulnerable…ultimately a beautiful piece of music,” wrote a Forbes reporter.
The lack of concern about the way the song and video actually dealt with Miller’s death made me wonder if the disturbing thing wasn’t (just) Grande’s narcissism. Perhaps, amid an overdose crisis, a fatality like Miller’s is now common enough that to many people it doesn’t actually register as all that different from a break-up—a mundane occurrence prompting grief, but not, ultimately, that much of a surprise.
But if that’s really what’s going on, it’s not only a reflection of the devastating overdose toll. It’s also a concerning sign that people are accepting the seeming inevitability of such deaths—when in fact, we know how easily these deaths could be reduced, if we embraced the harm reduction strategies that are proven to save lives.
Shouldn’t people be up in arms about these preventable deaths, not simply saying “thank u, next, bitch” to those who die?