Hoo boy, did I see the hottest of hot takes today. This past week, Ariana Grande released the music video for her latest single “thank u, next.” It pretty much immediately became one of the most watched videos on YouTube of all time. In the video, Grande pays homage to four of her favorite movies: Mean Girls, Bring It On, 13 Going on 30, and Legally Blonde. It’s phenomenal and you can easily tell she had a lot of fun with it.
In comes a writer (whose name has since been removed from the piece due to alleged death threats, but we’ll call Into Editor) for internet magazine, Into. I’d never heard of this magazine before, but they seem to feature a lot of LGBT+ writers. However, if this article is any indication of the kind of content they produce, I have no interest in reading any more of it (though it is interesting how whoever wrote the update seems to be distancing the rest of the site from the Into Editor’s controversial opinions).
But what is so bad about Into Editor’s interpretation of the video? Not to be one of those people who constantly mocks SJWs, but… well. Basically, Into Editor argues that the video is filled with “transmisogyny, heterosexual pride, and blackface.” Moreover, they claim, both the video and Ariana Grande herself are “anti-queer.”
That’s a lot to take in, and Into Editor hits you with it all within the first couple paragraphs. But it gets so, so much worse. After reading the whole article, I knew I had to respond. I’ll be including each of Into Editor’s claims and arguments, so it’s not necessary to read the original article first. But if you want to, check it out here. This is going to take a while to get through, as Into Editor made a lot of… interesting claims. I combined some of their claims together, and it’s still going to take me fifteen bullet points to get through this whole mess. Now let’s get into this, shall we?
- Into Editor’s Claim: The setting the video starts in is a white/wealthy high school, which excludes people of color and highlights Ariana Grande’s underlying racism.
My Rebuttal: The video plays homage to several iconic movies, starting with Mean Girls. Where does Mean Girls take place? A wealthy/white school. There’s no hidden agenda here.
Actually, that’s not true. There is an agenda. Grande’s version of North Shore High is far more diverse than the 2004 film’s. There are more queer people and people of color than in Mean Girls. If anything, Grande’s high school is kind of progressive.
- Into Editor’s Claim: Grande plays queen bee Regina George in the video, instead of well-meaning Cady Heron. It muddles the narrative.
My Rebuttal: No, it doesn’t. She’s not remaking Mean Girls, she’s paying homage to it. She’s not following the plotline of the story at all. But Regina is a mean girl, so why did Grande choose to portray her?
I think there are a couple reasons. First of all, Regina George is a bad bitch. Awful, but a bad bitch nonetheless. Secondly, this entirely video is clearly just for fun. Why not play the character most unlike you? I don’t know Grande personally, but she seems really sweet and genuine. Essentially, she’s the anti-Regina George. Maybe she just wanted to let loose and have some fun.
The main reason, however, is so they can recreate the iconic “I heard Regina did XYZ, so I did XYZ” scene. Yeah, they later recreate that scene with Cady later in the film, but it’s the Regina version everyone remembers most. Given that, Regina was the obvious choice for Grande to portray.
- Into Editor’s Claim: Scott Nicholson, one of Grande’s dancers, is dressed in women’s clothing and wearing a long-haired wig. He makes feminine gestures. This is grossly transphobic.
My Rebuttal: Have you never heard of drag? Clearly Into Editor has because they refer to Nicholson as being in drag a few times in the article. No one, at any point, ever said Nicholson was playing a trans woman. This is something you and a few SJWs on Tumblr projected onto him.
Also, have you ever seen a drag performance? Their entire schtick is being super feminine and boisterous. It’s an entire performance. It also has nothing to do with being transgender. And neither does Nicholson’s performance in this music video.
- Into Editor’s Claim: Troye Sivan says of Grande, “I heard she’s a lesbian now and dating some chick called Aubrey. It’s fucking sick.” This makes lesbians a punchline.
My Rebuttal: My followers know this, but I am a lesbian. Where’s this offensive punchline? I don’t feel like I’m the butt of a joke here. What am I missing?
Actually, I’m not missing anything. It’s Into Editor who’s missing something. The joke isn’t “Oh my God, what if Ariana Grande were a lesbian? Lol, can you imagine?” The joke is, when “thank u, next” first came out, people misheard the line “’Cause her name is Ari” as “’Cause her name is Aubrey.” As Grande had just said she’d met someone new two lines before, people thought she was coming out. Once they realized they just misheard the name, it became a meme.
Did Into Editor miss all the viral tweets comparing this to similar lines in Lorde’s “Liability”? People weren’t really even all that mad. I guess you can kind of argue that it’s queerbaiting to tease a mysterious female lover and then it turns out it’s herself. I just don’t think it’s that deep. After all, it’s not like she’s ever really done anything like this before. Hence why it became a meme and then Grande referenced that meme (through Sivan) in the video.
- Into Editor’s Claim: Grande intentionally garbles her name in the song so people will mishear “Ari” as “Aubrey.”
My Rebuttal: So you’re telling me you think Grande was in the studio and decided to sing her name just intelligibly enough to trick people into thinking she likes women? Why would she do that? What purpose would that serve? That doesn’t even make sense. There is no way she foresaw people mishearing “Ari” as “Aubrey.” If she did, she would’ve said “Ariana” instead.
Besides, being somewhat intelligible has been a problem for her throughout her entire career. People used to make fun of her for it all the time. Just because they don’t much anymore doesn’t mean this hasn’t been a consistent issue for her. She’s not being malicious, she just has enunciation issues.
- Into Editor’s Claim: Grande does blackface in this video.
My Rebuttal: Bitch, have you never heard of a tan?
To be fair, Into Writer does explain themselves on this one. They use a quote from New York University performance studies Masters student, Anh Vo. Vo says, “Contemporary blackface no longer involves minstrelsy’s burnt cork or greasepaint to blacken the performers’ skin, but instead, make-up foundation, artificial tanning, and digital coloring are employed to play with racial mythologies and to exploit what blackness signifies.” And Vo is right. This is something some entertainers and public figures are doing.
The problem is, not everybody who gets a tan is trying to look black. There’s a difference between someone like Grande who has been tanning her skin since around 2014 and the Instagram models who use the aforementioned techniques to appear black. After all, there’s a reason people felt catfished by these Instagram models and not Grande— the models made their skin so dark, they fooled thousands of people into believing they were actually black. No one thinks Ariana Grande is black.
What’s more, it’s not like Grande has a history of appropriating black looks or culture. I can’t even think of a single cultural appropriation controversy involving Grande, period. There is literally nothing from her history that supports the claim she’s trying to look or act black, let alone that she would do blackface in any form.
- Into Editor’s Claim: Grande’s skin varies in color from scene to scene.
My Rebuttal: You know what else changes from scene to scene? The lighting. Did you know that the amount of lighting in a room or picture will affect how dark or light your skin looks? That’s just how lighting works, my friend.
- Into Editor’s Claim: The lines “I met someone else/We havin’ better discussions/I know they say I move on to fast/But this one gon’ last/’Cause her name is Ari/And I’m good with that” show that Grande only cares about herself. Moreover, only cis, straight, white women can relate to and be empowered by this.
My Rebuttal: I’ve seen a couple people claim these lines make Grande sound self-centered and I’m genuinely unclear as to how. She’s talking about learning to love herself and becoming comfortable with being single. That’s huge for her.
For pretty much her entire career since 2013, Grande has always been in a relationship. She’s also been accused of moving on too fast, especially when she started dating Pete Davidson shortly after her breakup with Mac Miller. This is the first time she’s not only been single, but seems to want to stay that way.
I also don’t see what about that sentiment is only applicable to straight, white, cis women. Queer people and people of color can’t love themselves or be happy to be single? Promoting self-love is literally one of the most widely applicable sentiments. But let’s say nobody else in the world can relate. Why is that bad? Can’t Grande talk about her own feelings and experiences without it having to apply to anyone else? Is she only allow to share feelings everyone can feel? Why should she have to carry that burden? It’s not her job to make you feel included in all things. If you are queer and/or a person of color and can’t relate to what Grande is saying here, that’s not on her. That means you’re not in a good place and need to figure out how to fix that for yourself.
- Into Editor’s Claim: During one of the Mean Girls scenes, Grande rolls her eyes at Nicholson and shoves Sivan. Both guys are seemingly happy about this. According to Grande and her director, queer people are glad to be disrespected as long as it’s by someone like Grande.
My Rebuttal: Grande is portraying Regina George, the meanest of the titular mean girls. Regina isn’t nice to anyone outside the Plastics (and sometimes not even within the Plastics). Sivan and Nicholson are not playing anyone in the Plastics. Therefore, they’re losers and receive Regina’s scorn.
The fact that the two characters who end up on the receiving end of Grande-as-Regina’s cruelty are both queer is pure coincidence. Sivan and Nicholson are friends of Grande. That probably earned them more than one cameo. Grande is playing Regina, so she needed to do something mean. Otherwise, what was the point?
Both Sivan and Nicholson both do, in fact, seem happy to be disrespected by Grande. That’s the joke. That was the joke in the movie too. Regina was awful, but she was also popular. The girls in her class both hated and idolized her. Remember the girl who thought it was awesome that Regina punched her in the face? That’s the same joke at play here.
- Into Editor’s Claim: The video misses the important points of Bring it On, including cultural appropriation and togetherness.
My Rebuttal: The video doesn’t discuss the important points of any of the movies to which it pays homage. It’s literally just about reenacting iconic scenes. There’s no thesis here. Again, this whole video is just for fun.
That said, I would almost say Grande and Co. do understand the significance of cultural appropriation. So many non-black artists have been criticized for using black dances in their videos and not including any black dancers. Grande’s video features several black female dancers doing dances their culture originated (ex. Twerking). It seems to me that that’s a sign Grande pays attention to the criticism other artists receive and figures out how to do better in her own work.
- Into Editor’s Claim: During one of the Legally Blonde scenes, Grande-as-Elle Woods and Coolidge as Paulette (whom she played in the film) discuss one of Grande’s exes (they don’t say his name, but it’s Pete Davidson). Grande says, “He was really cute… and it was really big.” As the bit goes on, the women clarify they are talking about teeth (but really about dicks). Coolidge asks Grande is she has ever dated someone with no teeth at all, to which Grande says no with a smile. Not only is this explicit anti-queerness, but it’s the second time in this video Grande feels the need to tell us she’s straight and flaunt her heterosexual pride.
My Rebuttal: There’s a lot going on in this one. Bear with me.
Firstly, yeah, they’re not really talking about teeth. “Teeth” is a euphemism for penis. Do you know why they’re having this conversation? Because of the Big Dick Energy meme from earlier this year. It’s been a while, so Into Editor may not remember, but that meme originated with Pete Davidson. In a now deleted Tweet, Grande made a joke insinuating Davidson has a ten-inch penis. Another Twitter user said he has “big dick energy.” And then the meme took off. This scene is a joke about that meme. (Also, like, Davidson actually does have big teeth. That’s just factual. So the joke works on two levels.)
As Into Editor suggests, “someone with no teeth” is a euphemism for a woman. As we discussed earlier, there have been rumors that Grande likes girls. These rumors came to a head with the “Ari”/“Aubrey” confusion. It’s only fair that Grande get to address the rumors and confirm that they aren’t true. She decided to do it in a cutesy way. But nowhere does she say that same-sex attraction is wrong or treat it like a joke. She just confirms that she’s not queer.
Regarding the assertion that Grande tells us this twice in the video, it’s really not true. Sivan mentions the rumor that Grand is “a lesbian now” and dating a girl named Aubrey, but it isn’t contradicted. The scene in the salon is the only time in the video that Grande explicitly confirms she is straight (or at least has never dated a woman, but the implication is she’s straight).
If Ariana Grande confirming she is not queer is her flaunting her “heterosexual pride,” then… well, I don’t know what. She just said she never dated a woman, not “Whoo! Straights rule!!!.” If that’s all it takes to make a pride statement, then we queer folk have been putting in way too much effort.
- Into Editor’s Claim: During this same scene, the salon is at first filled with many queer men. Suddenly, they are all replaced by women for a dance number. This shows the video director views queer men as replaceable.
My Rebuttal: The men are not in the dance break because, after the “teeth” discussion, there is a reenactment of the “Bend and Snap” scene. In the film, Elle Woods teaches Paulette the “Bend and Snap” move in order to attract her crush. As she does, many other women join in on the lesson. It’s a scene about women practicing a trick to entice men. As such, only women are necessary.
Could they have included some queer men? Sure. But the only reason they didn’t is because they were paying homage to an iconic scene about women. It’s not that queer men are replaceable, it’s that the dance break/reenacting wasn’t about them.
- Into Editor’s Claim: After the dance break, a UPS delivery man enters the salon. In the background, you see a queer man of color check him out. This plays on the “predatory gay” stereotype. This is exacerbated when the UPS guy starts to dance instead with Coolidge, whom he gets together with in the actual movie.
My Rebuttal: All the guy does is look. We’ve all checked someone out when they weren’t paying attention. This man doesn’t try to pursue the UPS guy. He doesn’t do anything suggestive or untoward. He just checks the dude out. That’s not predatory— that’s human (we also don’t know if this was something he was directed to do or if it was improv).
The only reason the UPS guy dances with Coolidge is, yes, because they get together in the movie. Again, it’s an homage. It would’ve been a cute twist if he’d instead danced with the queer MOC, yeah. But this video is about nostalgia more than anything and, in the movie, he’s into Coolidge. He never expresses disgust or discomfort at the queer man checking him out. He doesn’t even notice.
- Into Editor’s Claim: At the end of the video, Kris Jenner says, “Thank you, next, bitch!” This is a direct attack on her ex, Caitlyn Jenner and, thus, transphobic.
My Rebuttal: Grande actually came up with that line. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Caitlyn Jenner or Kris’ personal life.
Besides, Kris Jenner is playing Regina’s mom. You know, the one who’s not a regular mom. She’s a cool mom. Her character is supportive, but in an overly lax way. That’s where the comedy comes from. The line, therefore, is simply in-character and I wink-nudge to the audience.
- Into Editor’s Claim: We need to stop calling straight celebrities “gay icons.” Ariana Grande is not only straight, but blatantly anti-queer.
My Rebuttal: I actually agree with this one. Well, I agree with the first part. I appreciate celebrities who are allies, but they shouldn’t be regarded as “gay icons” when they don’t actually have to live with the consequences of being LGBT+. Their support means a lot and helps make a difference, but they don’t really know what it’s like to be us. “Gay icons” should only be actual queer celebrities.
But Grande is not anti-queer. Why? Read all of the above again. Grande has never said or done anything against the LGBT+ community. In fact, she’s been a staunch ally. So, while we shouldn’t call her a gay icon, we also shouldn’t call her a bigot when she is very clearly not.
The music video is a fun-filled trip down memory lane. It’s funny, charming, and nostalgic. What it is not is transmisogynistic, racist, or anti-queer. Ariana Grande fills the video with friends, cameos, and diversity. She pokes fun at memes she’s (however inadvertently) created. She seems the happiest and most confident she’s been in a long while.
And, personally, I think it’s disingenuous to read problematic issues into this video. It’s articles like these that make it harder for people outside minority communities to take us seriously. It’s dangerous to heighten perceived slights to megalithic proportions when we have real, serious issues we still need to fix. People who really care about social justice don’t make non-situations into big issues. They focus on the real problems, not make cynical, hyperbolic critiques of harmless music videos for Top 40 pop songs.
So, Into Editor, next time you go to write an article vilifying something or someone, take a moment to think through what any counter-arguments could be. And if they sound like mine, your best bet is to close that Word Document and move on to more important battles.
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