“Thank u, next” isn’t a diss song, but it’s marketed like one. Like Kendrick Lamar’s “Control,” Drake’s “Back to Back” or Pusha T’s “Story of Adidon,” Ariana Grande‘s latest single ignited a firestorm of conversation when it was released. There was never a way that a song documenting Grande‘s past lovers — Big Sean, Mac Miller, Pete Davidson — could produce a reaction that was anything but rampant viral enthusiasm. In her latest cover story for Billboard, the pop star explains how hip-hop’s prolific and often random release schedule influenced her approach to dropping “thank u, next.”
“My dream has always been to be — obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does. I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren’t,” Grande said. “We have to do the teaser before the single, then do the single, and wait to do the preorder, and radio has to impact before the video, and we have to do the discount on this day, and all this shit. It’s just like, ‘Bruh, I just want to fucking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do. Why do they get to make records like that and I don’t?’ So I do and I did and I am, and I will continue to.”
The gamble worked. “thank u, next” became Grande’s first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and had YouTube’s biggest debut with 55.4 million views in its first 24 hours. Grande successfully upended the typically measured and over-scheduled pop strategy of album rollouts, instead leveraging the increased tempo of releases that (partially) made hip-hop the most consumed genre in the U.S.
Her central premise — that it’s more fun and attention-grabbing in 2018 to release music quickly and without a meticulously planned rollout schedule — is correct, but the roots of rappers’ productive streaks didn’t arrive out of nowhere. Often it was a lack of access to those traditional structures, and inability to deliver singles to traditional channels like pop radio and major labels that led to a need to create a deluge of music to compensate.
“Part of [what gets played on pop radio] is the song structure,” G-Eazy’s manager, Matt Bauerschmidt, told Rolling Stone in May regarding Top 40 radio’s problem with rap. “But I think, as with most things in our society, there is also an institutional bias… If listeners aren’t used to hearing black rappers, radio is afraid to play [them].”
Ariana, in this case, is getting the best of both worlds. She’s adapting to the new realities of the streaming world, heavily influenced by the rappers that have made their name on the increased pace of the music industry, while still pulling all of the levers afforded to her as one of the most popular pop stars on the planet. It makes sense that it’s working out for her, and the DIY ethos is expected to continue for her new album, tentatively titled Thank U, Next.
“To drop a record on a Saturday night because you feel like it, and because your heart’s going to explode if you don’t — to take back your narrative… I don’t want to do what people tell me to do, I don’t want to conform to the pop star agenda. I want to do it on my own terms from now on. If I want to tour two albums at once, I’m going to tour two albums at once. If I want to drop a third album while I’m on tour [in 2019], I’ll do that too!”