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Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next: A Track-By-Track Breakdown

Posted on February 13, 2019

Ariana Grande has done it again with thank u, next.

After her last album Sweetener became the inescapable soundtrack for the second half of 2018, Ariana has delivered another collection of smashes only five months after with thank u, next.

When the title track dropped in November (and quickly ascended to #1), the intimate portrait of her very public affairs resonated with fans. It wasn’t a scathing, revenge-fueled anthem after the dust of her “Pete Davidson breakup” had settled–Grande took the high road and brushed the dirt off her shoulder. It was about self-love, self-gratitude, and healing yourself before trying to fix others. It was optimistic. It was mature. And it gave Ariana a chance to control the story over the constant tabloid fodder.

Whereas Sweetener was a blossomed rebirth tackling grief after the tragic Manchester Arena bombing (where 22 lives were lost at Grande’s concert on May 22, 2017), thank u, next is a celebration of life (even after loss) and shedding the weight of melancholy.

thank u, next is dominating charts and playlists everywhere, so we’re taking a moment to breakdown the 12 tracks that make up this self-assured pop masterpiece.


After the title track, “imagine” was the second peek into how the album was shaping up. The emotive track is a showcase for Grande’s impeccable four-octave range, including her whistle register.

Fans speculated the song was about her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, who had a tattoo of “imagine” scrawled on his arm.

Another clue lies in his song “Cinderella” about Ariana, where Mac raps about stir-fry. On “imagine”, Ariana sings about ordering pad thai.

Miller tragically passed away in September 2018. When asked by a fan what the song was about, Ariana said this:

The lyrics also allude to a high-profile couple living outside of the limelight:

Step up the two of us, nobody knows us
Get in the car like, “Skrrt”

Looks like the heartbreak of never being able to see Mac again is what fueled the creation of this utopian dreamworld where the couple can go unnoticed.


The aptly titled “Needy” deals with insecurity and seeking attention to fill the gap. The song can be summarized by its centerpiece lyric:

I can be needy, tell me how good it feels to be needed

With all that Ariana has had to endear the past two years, it’s fair to see why she craves companionship more than ever.


Ariana’s soaring pipes are put on full display with the larger-than-life “NASA”. She parallels the mysteries of the universe with a lover who keeps all their tricks up a sleeve.

She also contemplates the need for space in a relationship to work… and what has more space than, well outer space?

For such a heavy concept, “NASA” proves to be one of the lighter songs on the album sonically. She’s not ashamed to take some ‘me time’ and have fun riding solo.

The space agency even got in on the fun, posting this to its Twitter account:


It’s fun to have a casual fling with someone (in this case, Ari mentions a “friends with benefits”), but get married, buy a house, and have some kids? “Nahhhh, we good!”

That’s exactly what “Bloodline” sets out to dispel: her heart isn’t ready to be occupied by that commitment.

The song infuses reggae vibes to further drive home how chill Ari is about the whole situation.

Don’t want you in my bloodline, yeah
Just wanna have a good time, yeah
And no need to apologize, no
But you gon’ have to let this shit go

No better way to sweat someone out of your thoughts than by dancing, and “Bloodline” proves to be a groove.

fake smile

It’s no secret Ariana is constantly dealing with public scrutiny. With her relationships under a constant microscope, blogs criticizing her outfits, social media posts, tattoo choices, etc. etc., it’d by an easy option to bury those emotions and wear a mask.

But Ari doesn’t want to do that. She hits back at her haters, makes music on her terms, and is unapologetic for her personality. “Fake Smile” celebrates being real with fans in a world where celebrities can feel the pressure to conform to a certain ideal.

“Fake Smile” is guided by a sample courtesy of Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” from 1964. While the album has no features, the presence of other vocals makes for a delightful, soulful switch-up.

Ari previously teased the track on Instagram a month before thank u next’s arrival:


bad idea

“Bad Idea” snakes in with a moody guitar before thumping hand claps announce it as a danceable track. Ariana battles with doing something she might later regret to numb the pain of past flames:

I got a bad idea
How ’bout we take a little bit of time away?
I got a bad idea
Forget about it, yeah, forget about him, yeah
Forget about me

Fun fact: you can hear “Ari-Chan” shouted as an ad-lib on the chorus. “Chan” is used as a form of endearment for a lover, family member, etc. Grande has been learning Japanese since 2015.

make up

The shortest track on thank u, next, coming in at 2:21, and it’s… fitting. “Make Up” plays on the double entendre by paralleling fixing relationship problems with her beauty regime.

Seems like a little, um… make-up fun doesn’t bode well for a face of mascara, concealer, and lipstick:

I love it when we make up (Yeah-eh-eh)
Go ’head, ruin my makeup (Yeah-eh-eh)

She first hinted at the lyrics in a very pink Instagram post:


Ariana even shouts out Rihanna’s Fenty make-up line:

No eyeliner on, but looking at you is the fix
Highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit

If only we could get a collaboration from these two, in music, or in cosmetics.


“Ghostin” is the clear emotional crux of thank u, next. The lyrics address the idea of breaking a man’s heart because she’s crying over another man.

I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again
Over him, mmh
I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again
‘Stead of ghostin’ him

Fans speculated the song is about her struggles maintaining a relationship with Pete Davidson while mourning the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller.

Conceptually, “ghostin'” plays on the infamous dating trend where somebody disappears without a trace or reason why. Is Ariana becoming a ghost to her lover as she slips away emotionally? Or is she suggesting she’s trying to let those memories fade like an apparition? The interpretation for the song’s many layers is up for debate.

in my head

“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. Uh, the only person 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.​”

The introduction quote provides a bout of tough love from Grande’s close friend Doug Middlebrook. It captures the essence of the song perfectly: Ariana has crafted a persona for somebody that she falls for versus the person they actually are.

Fans had speculated a song like this would make the album, which the singer confirmed on Twitter:

7 rings

Inspired by a trip to Tiffany’s where Ari bought her and “six of my bitches” (her words, not ours) matching rings. There’s a very tongue-in-cheek angle of spending your problems away, and the satisfaction of retail therapy.

The intro melody was inspired by The Sound of Music’s classic track “My Favourite Things”, and the mix of hard trap drums is a surprisingly effective combination. The song thematically revels in decadence, female camaraderie, and flexing on her doubters.

“7 Rings” was Ari’s second #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. It also debuted in the top spot, following in the footsteps of…

thank u, next

The song that started it all. Ariana broke the Internet by mentioning four of her exs in the first verse alone–Big Sean, Ricky Alvarez, Pete Davidson, and Mac Miller–but it wasn’t hate: she acknowledged she learned lessons from each of them, and she grew from the repeated broken heart. She then falls in love with herself in the second verse, and foresees a wedding day where her mom walks her down the aisle. Adorable.

Not to mention the video also had some of the most iconic references. From 13 Going On 30, to Bring It On, and yes, who can forget Mean Girls–Ariana captured our attention once again thanks to plenty of ‘Burn Book’ easter eggs and celebrity cameos.

break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored

When the tracklist to thank u, next was released, the Internet went into FULL private investigator mode as to who this song could be about. Was it about her ex-boyfriend Big Sean, who Ariana hinted in the “thank u, next” video could “still get it”?

Others have speculated that the song is actually about self-love, where Ari is telling her boyfriend to break up with her. The video alludes to this angle, where Ariana attempts to separate a couple, where the woman looks very similar to her.

There haven’t been any clear answers, but one thing is for sure: break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored is a total earworm and a perfect closer for the album.

Stream Ariana Grande’s thank u, next below: