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thank u next

'If Ariana Grande can survive 2018, you can make it through today'

An ode to Ariana’s strength and resilience.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, The 1975 appeared in BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and performed a cover of Ariana Grande’s thank u, next. Introducing their cover, lead singer Matty Healy described the pop star as having become “the main protagonist—is that the right word?—in most people’s lives.”

The person I see spoken about most. And somebody I’ve started to really care about for some reason. She’s had a right old tough time and I like her a lot.

“Somebody I’ve started to really care about for some reason” is precisely how I’d describe the evolution of my relationship with Ariana Grande. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a casual fan of her music. From the anthemic One Last Time to the sultry Dangerous Woman, the brassy Problem to the sensual Love Me Harder, her output over the last five years has been consistently very good.

But I was never overly invested in her career or, indeed, in her personal life. Instead I tended to lump her in with the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, Demi Lovato, Pink, Kelly Clarkson et al – pop stars who could be relied upon to deliver the goods, but to whom I had no massive connection. If they released a bop, great. If not, it wasn’t the end of the world. 

Everything changed on May 22, 2017 when a terrorist walked into the Manchester Arena and detonated a homemade bomb as people were preparing to leave an Ariana Grande concert. Twenty-three people, including the attacker, were killed and scores more were injured. Hours later, Grande tweeted that she was “broken”.

What happened next defied all logic. Instead of retreating from the spotlight, Grande stepped right back into it and hosted One Love Manchester, a concert to benefit the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund. 

It was a joyous, if bittersweet, occasion, one that served as a reminder of the power of pop music and its ability to unite people. Even the snarkiest pop skeptic couldn’t help but be moved by the cathartic outpouring of grief and pain on display that Sunday afternoon.

That the singer, then 23, was able to muster up such grace and composure in the face of senseless evil bowled me over. I was indescribably moved by her willingness to put her own personal trauma on the backburner so that she could help heal a broken city. That was the moment I started to really care about Ariana Grande. 

The last eighteen months have been tumultuous for the singer. It has been a period marked by creative highs and personal lows. In April, she released No Tears Left To Cry, the defiant lead single from Sweetener. The following month, she announced that she and longtime boyfriend Mac Miller had ended their relationship.

Within weeks, she was dating comedian Pete Davidson and the pair were reportedly engaged in June. They quickly became the darlings of the internet with fans and tabloids alike trying to make sense of their whirlwind courtship.

In August, she released her fourth album, Sweetener. The album was critically adored and spawned singles like God Is a Woman, The Light Is Coming and Breathin. A month later, her former boyfriend Mac Mlller was found dead in his home of an accidental drug overdose.

A few weeks later, she called time on her engagement to Pete Davidson. At the beginning of this month, she released thank u, next, an ode to self-love and moving on from your exes that manages to be neither vindictive nor vengeful. It might just be the pop song of the year. 

The demise of a relationship, a sudden death, a broken engagement.

A number one album, several chart hits, more cultural relevance than ever before.

When it rains, it pours. 

And yet she has continued to demonstrate a level of resilience I can’t quite fathom. While she has made no bones of the fact she is in mourning and has openly alluded to her sadness in various tweets and Instagram Stories, she has somehow managed to harvest her pain and transform it into something glorious: great, big, feeling pop songs that proudly wear their heart on their sleeve. 

Consider the line in thank u, next in which she suggests moving on romantically with someone else only to flip the script and reveal she’s talking about herself.

I know they say I move on too fast/But this one gon’ last/’Cause her name is Ari/And I’m so good with that.

That one could endure such tremendous heartbreak and emerge with a renewed sense of self and optimism is nothing short of extraordinary.

Maybe that’s why she has assumed the role of the main protagonist in all of our lives. Because hers is a classic story of getting knocked down and getting back up again, even when the universe appears to be conspiring against you.

While many of us would have quite reasonably succumbed to self-pity, Grande has opted to channel her pain into something celebratory and joyous. To paraphrase the woman herself, she has turned “the literal sourest of lemons into the sweetest pink ass lemonade ever”. How many of could say we’d do the same? 

There is a popular meme that goes, “If Britney can survive 2007, you can make it through today.” Might it be time for an update? “If Ariana can survive 2018, you can make it through today.” I think so. 

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