Defying industry norms and everyone’s expectations, Ariana Grande emerged from an extremely difficult couple of months with a surprise release of her new song, “thank u, next.” Written as an ode to her famous exes, the catchy hit expresses gratitude for what her previous relationships have done for her, while also finding confidence and resilience in her independence.
This song is a gift. It has been praised highly by both fans and media — The Atlantic proclaimed in a headline, “Ariana Grande Conquers the Breakup Song.” It was streamed on Spotify over three million times on Sunday, Nov. 3, the day of release.
More than a gift, “thank u, next” represents how Grande exceeds expectations and responds to hatred and horror with love and growth. We’ve come to expect consistent bops from Grande, but this release is more than a song to sing in the shower — “thank u, next” represents both Grande’s resilience and the absurdity and danger that comes with expectations we hold women to.
Social media users harassed and threatened Grande for breaking up with Mac Miller before he died in an apparent overdose on Sept. 7, 2018. This blame placed on Grande is not only unfounded and misled; it is representative of a common demand for women to stay in unhealthy relationships in order to heal men.
Media outlets such as TMZ have suggested the singer is to blame for Miller’s death, with statements such as “trouble recently with substance abuse… in the wake of his breakup with Grande.” Fans on social media have emboldened this statement with baseless accusations, such as, “you really did kill him,” from Twitter user @slackrbitchh. These comments piled up so quickly on an Instagram post of Grande’s that she had to disable comments.
These remarks and claims imply that it is Grande’s job to put up with a relationship that she herself had labeled as “toxic,” and that her choice not to was not only selfish but pushed Miller into his grave.
This gendered expectation is nothing new. Author Robin Norwood terms it a “beauty and the beast” expectation in her book “Women Who Love Too Much.” It is a “cultural assumption that we can change someone for the better through the force of our love, and that, if we are female, it is our duty to do so.”
If a man leaves a woman dealing with her own issues, he is thought to have “dodged the bullet,” but a woman who endures his financial problems, violence, mental health issues or addiction is praised and is encouraged to stay and help him turn his life around. Female endurance is romanticised; she is seen as loyal.
This expectation is not only annoying and draining for women who feel the need to take the blame for the faults of all men they associate with. It is also dangerous.
Cynthia Hill is the director of HBO’s “Private Violence,” a documentary answering the commonly asked question of “why do victims of domestic abuse stay?” In an interview with The Guardian, Hill said, “anywhere between 50 percent and 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen at the point of separation or after [the victim] has already left [their abuser].”
This dynamic holds strong on college campuses. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as many as 88 percent of college students experience psychological abuse while dating. Too many people stay in unhealthy relationships in fear that distancing themselves from their friend or partner, whom for whatever reason they feel no longer able to support, will directly make things worse for their struggling partner.
Reading an angry flood of abusive tweets sent to Grande will no doubt scare others in similarly vulnerable position, pressuring them to stay in toxic relationships when they know they need to leave. Grand responded to one tweet, which garnered over 139,000 likes. In her response, Grande argued that no one should “minimize female self-respect and self-worth” by pressuring someone to stay in a “toxic relationship.”
For many straight women on this campus, this is likely to resonate. You are often asked to explain your partner’s behavior, take responsibility for them when they mess up and even sometimes prioritize their care above yours. Not every self-destructive man who has entered our lives is going to emerge fixed, and that is not our fault.
Personal tragedy being made extremely public is nothing new for Grande. In May 2017, a suicide bomber attacked a concert Grande was performing in Manchester, England. This summer, she was groped onstage at Aretha Franklin’s funeral by the officiating bishop. Grande has handled all of this with grace.
She raised $13 million for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund by performing a benefit concert, reported by Associated Press. She paid tribute to Miller in a raw and vulnerable Instagram post, and cherished him in her most recent hit.
She did not have to give us “thank u, next.” She did not owe us an answer or an apology or a response, but she gave one, and she gave a great one. So stream it a couple more million times, turn it up at a party and celebrate your own growth that happens when you put yourself first.