There’s a reason why musicians typically do a roaring trade in snarled break-up anthems; raw from having your heart torn up into tiny pathetic tatters, and cast asunder into the world once more to navigate the confusing worlds of Hinge and Tinder alone, there’s very little that’s more therapeutic than slagging your ex off. Preferably while having a dance to the sort of rousing pop banger that acts like a musical hanky, mopping up the tears with a huge dollop of angry venting.
Yet Ariana Grande’s latest break-up extravaganza does the opposite. Released shortly after the end of her relationship with SNL’s Pete Davidson (the pair were engaged, and Grande even named a song on latest album ‘Sweetener’ after him) ‘thank u, next’ is a song that instead comes from a place of compassion. Pure compassion?! For an ex?! Unbelievable stuff.
And in case you’re left reeling, consider this, too: ‘thank u, next’ goes even further and extends kindness and gratitude to four different exes in the first verse alone. Ariana’s a kinder woman than most of us.
While many people ghost their failed blind dates and give long rambling speeches about their latest fuck-boy encounter accompanied by an overflowing glass of red wine, ‘thank u, next’ takes another, more wholesome path. “Thought i’d end up with Sean but he wasn’t a match, wrote some songs about Ricky now I listen and laugh, even almost got married, and for Pete, I’m so thankful, wish i could say “thank you” to Malcolm,” she sings, referencing the late Mac Miller, “‘cause he was an angel”. Not even a vague hint of pass-agg – just pure gratitude for the person she is today.
It’s a song that sets Ariana Grande apart from break-up song tradition, but looking around, 2018 has been full of healthy and constructive break-up bangers. Though ‘Party For One’ – Carly Rae Jepsen’s new single – makes passing reference to a failed relationship with no way forward (“If you didn’t know that you were right for me/Then there’s nothing I can say” the song begins) it’s overwhelmingly focused on moving forward as an individual instead. Being alone is not the same as being lonely in Jeppo’s Wes-Anderson-meets-karaoke-bar hotel. Instead of dwelling on the past, ‘Party For One’ instead concentrates on other things: primarily, lots of wanking metaphors and healthy amounts of self appreciation all round.
It’s a similar story with The 1975’s ‘Sincerity is Scary’ – a far cry from Matty Healy’s “I don’t want to be your friend” mentality from 2013’s ‘fallingforyou’. Instead, atop parping brass, he asks this question: “why can’t we be friends, when we are lovers? ‘Cause it always ends with us hating each other” A very fair enquiry, even if it is far easier said than done. Far from being smug about how very reasonable he’s being – because that would be intolerable – Matty has his moments, too. “I’m just pissed off because you pied me off” he adds, as if to demonstrate this exact point. But hey, at least he’s trying.
The Japanese House took things even further still, inviting her ex Marika Hackman (wahhh!) to star in the music video for ‘Lilo’, Written as their relationship fell apart, the sadness of the song comes from the lingering use of the past tense. That said, there’s no bitterness; instead, Amber Bain perfectly captures the hollow feeling of a relationship turning into a “habitual” comfort, a lilo “going where the tide goes”.
And then there’s Troye Sivan, who maxes out the wholesome-o-meter and actually apologises for being a bit of a dick! Not only does he say he’s really sorry for skipping out on a committed ex on ‘The Good Side’. He then says he’s sorry for the numerous bangers he penned during the ensuing fallout, and acknowledges how horrid it must’ve been to witness his ‘Blue Neighbourhood’ album tour taking him around the world. “I’ll say I’m proud of all that you’ve done, you taught me the ropes, and you taught me to love,” Sivan finally sings. For god’s sake, it’s just so bloody wholesome, isn’t it?
Robyn’s latest album ‘Honey’, meanwhile, taps into a generous kind of post-relationship reflection that clings onto the positive as much as it wallows in heartbreak. Though ‘Because It’s In The Music’ and ‘Missing U’ are both drenched in that familiarly bitter strain of sadness, they’re also hopeful, compassionate songs that value the good times alongside the sour.
Of course there will always be a valid place in this world for a savage ripper that tears into a particular lousy ex with brute force, but led by ‘thank u, next’ – probably one of the nicest songs ever written about breaking up with a fiance – 2018 might just be the year of the wholesome break-up. Given that we’re now surrounded by so many truly messy separations that are going tits up on the news every single day *cough* Brexit *cough* shambolic negotiations *cough* maybe it’s prompted a bit of a rethink from pop stars. Getting dumped might not be so bad after all.