I became a fan of Ariana Grande’s new album and her relationship with Pete Davidson. It’s been a turbulent month.

October 6: Sucked in

Ariana Grande’s state of being is magnetic and blindingly bright. Maybe it’s easy to get sucked into celeb buzz. Maybe that’s just the nature of my position as a media-addicted millennial, submitting to distraction from accumulating responsibilities. Yet, there’s something restorative about Grande’s latest album Sweetener, her relationship with Pete Davidson, and her presence; I can’t reduce it to mere entertainment.

Grande is paradoxically raw, open and vulnerable while exuding impenetrable light. She’s experienced trauma and isn’t glossing over it. She embraces mental health care and is honest about her feelings and intentions. In the process, Grande sparks hope. Her self-possession is a fierce shield and fuels the ineffable light she emits. Sweetener has been lauded by critics as an authentic triumph; within the realm of pop, this is unexpected. Prior to Sweetener, I barely paid attention (read: blocked my ears) to the sounds produced by Grande, who seemed to me a toy-sized encapsulation of mainstream pop. Now, despite my prior skepticism, the joy of Sweetener‘s vocal harmonies is helium and I’m floating on its fifteen buoyant songs (including standouts “God is a woman,” “successful,” and “breathin”).

In these polarizing times, I regularly feel my skepticism numbing my experience with the world. The more divided and dark the political and cultural climate becomes, the further I retreat into skepticism for protection. Withdrawing from emotional vulnerability is a safe–yet isolating–defense against energy-sucking, exhausting relationships and experiences.

Thus, witnessing the fearless love Grande shares with her fiancé, Pete Davidson, is perplexing. It sparks something like…hope? Grande is not here for games: “pete davidson” is a track on Sweetener. This kind of resolve and intention in today’s landscape of romantic relationships is disorienting. In several interviews, Davidson is giddily baffled by the progression of the relationship, and his reverence of Grande is palpable. Grande and Davidson’s relationship both affirms eternality and celebrates our limited temporality: after only a few months of dating, the couple now shares 5+ matching tattoos, a home, a pet, and an engagement to be married. There is something refreshing, even defiant, about this rapid-fire, old-school-paced love. Tattoos are permanent, but only in relation to the limited duration of our lives; if it’s love, there’s no reason not to celebrate it.

Especially because it’s been hard to find much to celebrate recently. While not new, it’s becoming abundantly clear that women are treated as less valuable than men in American society and are repeatedly denied respect, belief, and agency. As the possessors of power further cement institutional misogyny, skepticism seeps into my personal life; it is growing increasingly difficult for me to ignore the damaging effects and implications of gender roles. As I find myself questioning the way (heterosexual) romantic love can grow and persist in this toxic environment, the positivity radiating from Sweetener and from Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson’s dizzying love is subversively radical. Sweetener serves us listeners as fuel for hope.

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October 15: OMG, THEY BROKE UP?!

I was having a great weekend filled with fall weather and productivity. Then, I woke on Monday to speculation that Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson had split up. My heart sank. “What a sad day for love,” I thought. How do I (“I” as in me, Emma, not me, as in Grande or Davidson) rebound from this? The hope slowly kindling in me was whisked away as I scanned the reports from People, TMZ, even the Washington Post.

My sad reaction is tied to the unsustainable mainstream conception of love. We are taught that love is essential to happiness and that happiness is a goal to be achieved. With this way of thinking, we depend upon love being permanent. Once love is obtained, once it’s proposed and engaged and married, it’s the end of the story: if successful love is acquired, happiness is attained. This rigidity, coupled with the simplistic equivalence of all love with romantic love, places adherents in a fragile, easily saddened state.

In this particular case, it’s hard to linger in gloom when Sweetener’s reverberating giddiness and uninhibited love remain. “pete davidson” is still a gorgeous song, tangible evidence of free-flowing love. At a faster rebound rate than my previous bouts of celebrity-based sadness (due either to my deep and nuanced understanding of love or the fact that I’m 21 instead of 14), I recognize that Davidson and Grande’s separation does not invalidate the hope they engendered or the possibility of love. Instead of playing into the common despair of breakups, why not carry on the hope? We can celebrate the temporariness of romantic love, and our concept of love can expand to a broader appreciation and claiming of ourselves and others.

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November 6: THANK U, NEXT

On the evening of the midterm elections, I am dancing my heart out in my bedroom mirror. My roommate calls from across the apartment, “Is that song on repeat?” I hadn’t even noticed. I’m playing Ariana Grande’s latest single, “thank u, next,” and bopping on the momentum.

In this last month, both Grande and the campaigns for the midterm elections have been whirlwinds of relentless change. It can be overwhelming, but they each have created kinds of forceful energy and opportunity. From Grande’s ephemeral relationship with Pete Davidson emerged Sweetener, radiating love and positivity. Grande created an album full of hope, and it continues to resonate, all based on the energy and belief she placed in their love.

Something beautiful about the midterm elections is that they’ve created physical evidence of the power of belief. Candidate pins and t-shirts, time spent phone banking and reading articles, the conversations we’re having–through the energy and momentum of individual efforts, Americans have precipitated physical evidence of our convictions. While some we choose to support won’t win, here we are regardless, charged up over something we’ve chosen to believe in. It’s exciting and kind of saddening, but also really validating–like, damn, look what we can do with sheer energy and belief.

While we may get excited by the momentum of campaigns, albums and other external sources of energy, Ariana Grande has decided it’s time for us to level up. “thank u, next” centers Grande’s power within herself. In this 3-minute-27-second pop song, Grande appreciates the productivity of past relationships. Yet this appreciation quickly expands to an admiration of her own power: “But this one gon’ last/’Cause her name is Ari/And I’m so good with that… ‘Cause look what I’ve found/Ain’t no need for searching.”

“thank, u next” isn’t a massive force like “breathin” or “no tears left to cry.” Grande isn’t here to prove anything. It’s in the subtle steadiness of this bop that her strength is affirmed. Grande claims her power and story, and her conviction and energy are infectious. Side effects of listening to “thank, u next” include feeling yourself, shameless dancing, and posing like hot shit in your bedroom mirror. We are our own inventions. We get the credit for who we are, and we have the power to continue to become whoever we’ll be next.

Ariana Grande’s ability to hone in on the positive is relentless. With “thank u, next,” she yet again graces us with hope. Her breakup song is a bop and gives us the chance to channel energy and belief, whether generated for candidates, from albums, out of past loves, or into ourselves. I’m excited to say “thank u, next” to whatever comes next.

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