Ariana Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’ is a document to life’s traumas in the form of 12 heartbreaking pop songs. While the record doesn’t boast any musical features, it does have several guest cameos and samples of other acts woven into its fabric. Here’s our guide to the hidden nods that might have passed you by.
Shangela, drag queen
Avid Ru Paul’s Drag Race viewers might recognise the distant voice at the start of introvert anthem ‘NASA’. It belongs to drag queen Shangela Laquifa Wadley, who declares, “Just one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind”, sounding as if she’s beaming her message back from outer space.
Nonna, Grande’s grandmother
If you follow Grande on Twitter, you’ve probably seen her mention Nonna, her grandmother Marjorie. A clip of the eldest Grande woman opens ‘Bloodline’, with her heard saying: “Because I’m trying to do the best I can and they can’t find something to satisfy me.” The snippet ends with a giggle from her pop star granddaughter as the track kicks in.
Wendy Rene – ‘After Laughter (Comes Tears)’
It’s fitting that such a sad song should lend itself to the foundations of a track called ‘Fake Smile’. Stax soul singer Wendy Rene released what is probably her best-known single, ‘After Laughter (Comes Tears)’ in 1964 and, since then, it’s become a favourite for others to sample. Before Grande, Wu-Tang Clan, Metro Boomin, Alicia Keys, French Montana, and many more made use of the song, and it also appeared in This Is England ’88. Fittingly for Grande’s story right now, the song is full of weariness. “When you’re in love, you’re happy,” the track begins. “This doesn’t last always.”
Mac Miller – ‘2009’
It’s currently unconfirmed whether this is a direct sample or not, but ‘Ghostin’, the most heartbreaking moment on ‘Thank U, Next’, at the very least references Mac Miller’s ‘2009’. The track itself deals with Grande’s feelings of guilt over crying for Miller after his death while still with Pete Davidson. “We’ll get through this/We’ll get past this,” she sings softly at one point as a similar string arrangement to that on her ex-boyfriend’s song plays beneath.
Doug Middlebrook, Ariana’s friend
Grande’s best friend Doug pops up at the start of ‘In My Head’ in the form of a voice message. In it, he tells her: “Here’s the thing – you’ve fallen in love with a version that you’ve created in your head that you are trying to but cannot fix. The only thing 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.” On Twitter, the singer said he had been a “major help” through “some v difficult moments”, so she decided to honour him on the track.
Rodgers & Hammerstein – ‘My Favourite Things’
If you were wondering what Grande’s version of ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound Of Music would sound like, wonder no more thanks to ‘7 Rings’. On her list is Breakfast At Tiffany’s, bottles of bubbles, girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble, lashes, diamonds, and ATM machines, all of which sounds like a very fun and lavish life.
NSYNC – ‘Makes Me Ill’
Interpolating NSYNC or the band member’s solo output seems to be in vogue at the moment after Halsey’s ‘Cry Me A River’ reference. Grande rephrases the second verse of the boy band’s ‘No Strings Attached’ album track ‘It Makes Me Ill’ on ‘Break Up With Your Boyfriend, I’m Bored’. “You could say I’m hatin’ if you want to/But I only hate on her cos I want you,” she sings in the song’s bridge.