Ariana Grande released her fifth studio album, "Thank U, Next," in February 2019.
Here's a complete breakdown of the 12-song tracklist and its trove of revealing lyrics.
Ariana Grande's fifth studio album, 2019's "Thank U, Next," is arguably her most personal release to date.
While Grande said her previous No. 1 album "Sweetener" was about "bringing light to a situation or to someone's life, or somebody else who brings light to your life," she told Billboard that her follow-up captured "a super sad chapter."
"The whole thing takes place over the course of like 3 of the worst weeks of my life," she revealed on Twitter.
She has also said that much of the album "mourns failed, yet important beautiful relationships in my life."
Grande went into a creative flurry after the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and end of her engagement to Pete Davidson — and it certainly seems that many lyrics were directly inspired by these two personal tragedies. She later told Vogue that she barely remembers making the album because she was "so drunk" and "so sad."
Here's all the context you need to appreciate the 12-song tracklist.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2019.
"Imagine" was the second song released from "Thank U, Next," although Grande was careful not to call it a "promo" single.
"it's a song that i'm dropping," she wrote on Twitter. "i don't feel like labeling it a 'promo' single because it's just a feeling. a vibe. the word promo makes me nauseous tbh lol. i just want you to have it and enjoy it."
Grande said that "Imagine" explores "denial" after the end of an important relationship: "kind of like... pretending it never ended," she wrote.
She also described the inspiration for the song as "a simple, beautiful love that is now (and forever) unattainable."
Many fans believe that "Imagine" was written about Miller, whom Grande dated for two years before their split in May 2018.
Fans had been anxiously awaiting "Needy" since Grande teased a snippet of the song in October 2018.
It feels safe to assume that "Needy" is about Grande's behavior during her relationship with Davidson, considering the song was written before they split. News of their failed engagement broke just two weeks after Grande posted the snippet from the studio.
Grande and Davidson were criticized for getting engaged almost immediately after they began dating, and then again for becoming the queen and king of PDA on social media.
"I'm obsessive and I love too hard / Good at overthinking with my heart," Grande sings in the pre-chorus. "How you even think it got this far?"
Some fans have noticed the chord progression in the outro of "Needy" sounds nearly identical to the chords used in the song "Pete Davidson" from "Sweetener."
"NASA" kicks off with a tweaked version of Neil Armstrong's famous quote about the 1969 moon landing: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Grande's version changes "man" to "woman" and "mankind" to "womankind," signaling that "NASA" has a layer of female empowerment.
The quote that introduces the upbeat track is spoken by "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Shangela, who recorded it for Grande as a voicenote on her phone.
As the queen explained to E! News, Shangela visited the studio one night with Grande's brother Frankie. Grande played "NASA" and Shangela immediately decided to perform it for a drag number.
"I said, 'I'm just going to put a fun intro on it for drag, and I'm going to be in a spacesuit with like space-titties and I'm going to come out in a moon man suit," Shangela said, "and I'm going to lift the mask and say, 'This is one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind.' And she was like, 'Oh my God! I love that!'"
Grande echoed this story on Twitter: "she came thru w frankie one night to visit us in the studio and said that to ... i was like ..... pls say that again and be on my album."
Throughout the song, Grande employs a pun about the word "space," using both galaxy-related imagery and literal requests for space away from a partner: "It ain't nothing wrong with saying I need me time / Usually I would orbit around you / But gravity seems to be the only thing that's pulling me / You'll be my rise and shine soon as them stars align."
—NASA (@NASA) February 8, 2019
Interestingly enough, during their first (and only) red carpet appearance as a couple, Davidson sported a "Sweetener" sweatshirt with an added NASA patch.
However, after fans noticed this connection, Victoria Monét — one of Grande's closest friends and collaborators, who co-wrote "NASA" — denied that this has anything to do with the song.
"Yo I promsie we did not write a whole song about this mans shirt," she tweeted. "It's just a universally commmon word."
—Victoria Monét (@VictoriaMonet) January 24, 2019
Replying to Monét on Twitter, Grande revealed that Davidson was actually wearing her own shirt at the event in question.
It's not unreasonable, however, to believe that Grande's concept of needing "me time" during a committed relationship was conceived during her engagement to Davidson.
"You don't wanna leave me but I'm tryna self-discover," Grande sings in the bridge, possibly referencing the Space Shuttle Discovery, which was built by NASA in the early '80s.
Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the journey of the first-ever female shuttle pilot, Eileen Collins.
"Bloodline" opens with the voice of Grande's grandmother Marjorie, whom she calls "Nonna."
"Because I'm trying to do the best I can, and they can't find something to satisfy me," Nonna says, followed by Grande laughing.
Grande revealed on Twitter that "Bloodline" is about love that's not strong enough for marriage — or, in her own words, "wanting somebody but not enough to have them in your bloodline."
While the playful lyrics could be interpreted as describing a "friends with benefits" situation ("Love me, thank you, leave me / Put it down, then it's time to go"), many fans believe Grande was drawing from her decision to break off her engagement to Davidson.
"I know what you looking for, but I'm complete," Grande sings in the bridge. "I know what you need, but it won't be me."
5. Fake Smile
"Fake Smile" kicks off with a sample of "After Laughter (Comes Tears)" by Wendy Rene, a soul singer from the '60s. The chopped-up sample reappears in the chorus.
The song addresses the struggles that Grande has faced over the past few years ("If I'm being honest, I done been through way too much"), as well as the increased scrutiny on her personal life ("I read the things they write about me / Hear what they're sayin' on the TV, it's crazy").
"I can't fake another smile / I can't fake like I'm alright," she sings in the pre-chorus.
Grande has repeatedly opened up about the anxiety and PTSD she has experienced since the 2017 bombing at her concert in Manchester. She has also been dedicated to destigmatizing the conversation surrounding mental health.
6. Bad Idea
"Bad Idea" describes the urge to "numb the pain" with love and lust — namely, it seems, pain caused by lingering feelings from a past relationship.
"Yeah, I'ma call you over here to numb the pain / I got a bad idea," Grande sings. "Forget about it, yeah, forget about him, yeah / Forget about me."
Some fans have theorized the song was written post-engagement, while Grande was trying to move on from Davidson. Others believe Davidson is the subject of the song, while the desire to "forget about him" refers to Miller.
Grande sings about finding someone "quickly," which could be a nod to the perceived speed with which she got serious with Davidson after breaking up with Miller.
While the lyrics are relatively vague and unspecific, finding temporary solace with another person (especially in a sexual way) is a running theme throughout the album.
7. Make Up
"Make Up" employs yet another pun, which lends itself to the imagery of "make-up sex" in the chorus: "I love it when we make up / Go ahead, ruin my makeup."
Grande also includes a specific shout-out to Fenty Beauty, Rihanna's makeup line, using another double-meaning for the word "highlight."
—Fenty Beauty (@fentybeauty) February 8, 2019
The lyrics also describe a toxic relationship cycle, wherein Grande sees her partner as more attractive after she riles him up: "I like to fuck with you just to make up with you / 'Cause the way you be screamin' my name / Make me wanna make love to you / I might break up with you just to make up with you."
Grande herself admitted that, while she loves the song, she "hates" the behavior that inspired its lyrics.
"It's kind of masochistic," she told Zach Sang. "'Cause it's like, 'Ooh yeah, we're fighting and it's hot.' I hate it. But I love it. It's like, my favorite song, but it's also like, let's not let that be a thing in your life again... Let's stick to our guns here and respect ourselves."
"Ghostin" was the first song Grande wrote for the album. She also suggested on Twitter it would be too emotional for her to sing live, saying she "had to take lil breaks" while recording.
"that was the first hook done and then we came back and did the verses like two weeks later," she tweeted. "everything else we did in like an hour."
She also said she "begged" Scooter Braun, her longtime manager, to remove the song from the tracklist.
"'Ghostin' sucked [to write]," she told Sang. "It's super emo. It's a lot. It's like, too much, actually. I was literally begging Scooter to take it off and he was like, 'You're thinking too hard now. This is special and you should share it with everybody.' And I was like, 'I'm just gonna let go.'"
"Ghosting" is slang for disappearing mid-relationship without any explanation. According to Grande, the song is about "feeling badly for the person you're with bc you love somebody else."
She added: "feeling badly bc he can tell he can't compare.... and how i should be ghosting him."
"I know you hear me when I cry / I try to hold it in at night / While you're sleepin' next to me," she sings. "I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again / Over him."
Grande praises her partner throughout the song for being "so understanding," while chastising herself for being "a girl with a whole lot of baggage."
One interpretation is that "Ghostin" explores Grande's conflicting feelings for Davidson (the person she was with) and Miller (the person he can't compare to). The title could be a double entendre for Miller's presence lingering after death. Additionally, the song's melody bears a striking similarity to Miller's song "2009" from his album "Swimming."
"Oh, I wish he were here instead / Don't want that living in your head / He just comes to visit me / When I'm dreaming every now and then," Grande sings in the second verse, which she told Sang was the most difficult emotion to put in a song.
"You in my dreams, that's why I sleep all the time / Just to hear you say I love you, just to touch you / Just to leave you behind / I told you, you don't have to worry, you'll be fine," Miller sings in "Cinderella."
The "Ghostin" lyric also recalls Grande's song "R.E.M." from "Sweetener," in which she sings, "Last night, boy, I met you / When I was asleep / You're such a dream to me."
9. In My Head
"In My Head" opens with a voicemail from Grande's close friend Doug Middlebrook, who was previously confirmed to appear on the track.
"Here's the thing: you're in love with a version of a person that you've created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix," Middlebrook says. "The only thing you can fix is yourself. I love you, this has gone on way too long. Enough is enough. I'm two blocks away; I'm coming over."
Grande told fans on Twitter that Middlebrook was "a major help" while she was dealing with "difficult moments."
"i wanted to capture that a lil .... give him a musical hug," she wrote. "it's also his favorite song so it fits."
Fittingly, Grande has said that "In My Head" is about "being in love w a version of somebody you've created in your head," or, in other words, "falling for someone that they are not."
"Yikes," she added.
It seems fairly clear that "In My Head" was inspired by Davidson. Grande has since described their relationship as a "distraction" from her real life.
"It was frivolous and fun and insane and highly unrealistic, and I loved him, and I didn't know him," she told Vogue.
In "In My Head," Grande sings that she believed this person was "the one" because she was "caught in the moment." During their engagement, Grande sang about Davidson being her soulmate, yet both acknowledged how quickly their relationship had progressed.
Grande also describes the song's muse as an "wingless angel," while others see him as a "demon." She doubles down by using a Biblical metaphor: "My imagination's too creative / They see Cain and I see Abel."
In the old testament of the Bible (as well as the Torah; Grande practices a sect of Judiasm), Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. When God preferred Abel's sacrifices more than Cain's, the latter murdered his own brother, making Abel a symbol of victimhood and martyrdom.
During their relationship, Davidson began to draw ire from Grande's fans and admirers: He made light of the Manchester bombing, said he would masturbate to Grande before they got together, and joked about sabotaging her birth control to trap her in the relationship. He has since been criticized for name-dropping Grande in comedy sets and casting himself in a sympathetic light after the high-profile breakup.
"Look at you, boy, I invented you," Grande sings, "Your Gucci tennis shoes, running from your issues."
This oddly specific line may be a nod to Davidson's now-infamous style; Gucci recently released a footwear line that Business of Fashion described as "revamped versions of your dad's old footwear." This expensive-to-look-cheap style is the hallmark of a "Scumbro," which Davidson has been partly credited for popularizing.
10. 7 Rings
"7 Rings" was the third song and second promo single released from "Thank U, Next." The hip-hop-infused track leans heavily on braggadocio, with lyrics like, "Who ever said money can't solve your problems? Must not have had enough money to solve 'em."
Grande previously called the song "a flex" and a "friendship anthem" on Twitter.
"7 Rings" was co-written by Njomza, Kaydence, Parx, Monét, TBHits, Scootie, and Mikey Foster. It was inspired by the time Grande had "too much champagne" and spontaneously bought seven diamond rings for herself and six friends.
"it was very insane and funny," she explained on Twitter. "on the way back to the stu njomza was like 'bitch, this gotta be a song lol.' so we wrote it that afternoon."
Grande added: "one of the worst days you girls were able to turn into one of the best."
While Grande was accused of lifting lyrics and flows from Soulja Boy and Princess Nokia, the song draws from Grande's historical appreciation of R&B and hip-hop; the lead single from her debut album, "The Way," sampled "Still Not A Player" by Big Pun.
Similarly, "7 Rings" samples "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music," interpolates The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Gimme The Loot," and pays homage to artists like Lil Mama and Destiny's Child.
11. Thank U, Next
The album's titular track was also its lead single. In the build-up to its release, Grande described its themes as "love, gratitude, acceptance, honesty, forgiveness ... and growth."
In the song, Grande name-drops her ex-boyfriends and details what they taught her. She sings that she's "grateful" for all of them because she "turned out amazing."
The music video is stuffed with hints about her real life, cameos from friends, and references to iconic rom-coms like "Mean Girls" and "Legally Blonde."
Grande later revealed there were multiple versions of "Thank U, Next" depending on how she felt about Davidson at the time
12. Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored
Grande teased a snippet of the album's final track during her cover art reveal on Instagram.
"Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored" was the last song Grande wrote for the album, most likely as a last-minute addition. She told fans that she decided to replace an emotional song ("that i decided i don't think wanna share w the world") with "a fun one."
In the music video for "Breathin," Grande teased a song called "Remember," which is also the name of a song that Miller wrote in 2013 about a friend who died. Presumably, "Remember" is the song that was replaced by "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored."
"i think it's funny," Grande said of the album's final track. "i liked the idea of ending a more honest n vulnerable project and with like a punchline."
While she revealed little else about the contents of the song, she did deflect a fan who asked who the song was written about, implying that it doesn't have a real-life inspiration: "girl don't u know all the boys in my life are gay (thank god)," she wrote.
Indeed, Grande sings in the bridge that she wants a person she's never actually met.
"You can say I'm hatin' if you want to / But I only hate on her 'cause I want you," Grande sings. "Say I'm trippin' if you feel like / But you without me ain't right."
The bridge interpolates the *NSYNC deep cut "It Makes Me Ill" from their 2000 album "No Strings Attached." One of Grande's cowriters on the track, Max Martin, also wrote and produced some of *NSYNC's biggest hits. The two songwriters for "It Makes Me Ill," Kandi Burruss and Kevin Briggs, are listed as cowriters on "Break Up With Your Girlfriend."
In the music video, which was released at the same time as the album, Grande flirts with another girl's boyfriend — as well as the girl herself, who was made to look like Grande with similar clothes and a high ponytail. Some fans have interpreted the video's ending as a cheeky representation of self-love.
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