Ariana Grande, Mean Girl

Um, Hello? Regina George Was the VILLAIN

Oh, reader, neither of us ever thought we’d be in this position: me, breaking down an Ariana Grande video scene by scene, and you, reading the result. But the video for “Thank U, Next” is…wrong. It is a bad thing, doing a bad thing. It milks nostalgia instead of upholding worth. It perpetuates the inane, mean, sexist, dishonest attitudes decried by the movies it imitates.

“Thank U, Next” makes pastiches of three films: Mean Girls (2004), Bring It On (2000), and Legally Blonde (2001). In case you have not seen them–

Mean Girls: unpopular girl Cady Heron battles popular girl Regina George. The whole institution of popularity that relies on conformity is (temporarily) defeated.

Bring It On: cheerleader Torrance learns that her team’s routines were stolen from a team of mostly black cheerleaders at a less advantaged school. She tries to make it right.

Legally Blonde: seemingly shallow, actually smart Elle Woods enrolls in Harvard Law to win a man. She discovers that a) she has the chops for legal work and b) the man is worthless.

As for “Thank U, Next,” here are the major scenes.

1) Various high school environments, face-to-cam interviews. Everyone talks about how much they worship Ariana Grande, in absurd overstatement that is somehow also dead serious. It’s not reasonable to punch yourself or get knocked up based on Ariana’s offhand comments, but the devotion itself is normal.

2) Ariana toys with a version of the Burn Book from Mean Girls. The Burn Book is an invention of Regina George in which the popular girls write cruel things about the people in their orbit. It is unequivocally bad, and for Ariana to be writing in it makes her bad, too, right? I assume?

3) Ariana imitates Regina in a high school hallway with Mean Girlscast members and lookalikes. People she shoves and snubs look happy to have been touched by her. Reminder: Regina George is the antagonist.

4) During the chorus, Ariana et al. dance dirty in Sexy Santa costumes from the “Jingle Bell Rock” scene in Mean Girls. In the film, the scene is a grotesque. In the video, Kris Jenner camcords, which is stupid in all kinds of ways.

Here comes Santa Claus

5) Ariana looks sexy while brushing her teeth, after a scene in Bring It On. Full makeup, fake eyelashes, fake nails, signature high ponytail. Because that’s what I wear to bed.

6) Ariana poses and plays with tiny, useless pom-poms on her high school bed. Right around here, let’s acknowledge that this is creepy. Fetishizing high-school-girl bedrooms, placing adult women in them to act kittenish and sexy for the camera, is not a good thing. Not.

7) Cheerleading scene with costumes etc. from Bring It On. In it, Ariana aligns with the plagiarists, the white girls. Yay, white girls. Go team.

8) Arriving-in-car-at-college-ish sequence, imitating Legally Blonde. Full display of ARIANA FABULOUSNESS, i.e. pounds of makeup, sky-high platform heels, perfect hair, candy-colored accessories, oral fixation, sultry look, blah blah blah. The shots in this sequence are much more interested in the colors and accessories of Legally Blonde than in the actual characters. Elle Woods is into fashion, but part of what makes her interesting is the depth she manifests via her nominally shallow interests. ARIANA FABULOUSNESS is all surface, no depth. Elle would be nice to her, but they’d never be friends.

On The Basis Of Sex

9) Unfortunate, awkward scene in beauty parlor set similar to Legally Blonde’s with Jennifer Coolidge, who understands paychecks. Ariana performs a “bend and snap” (an attention-getting move that Elle teaches Coolidge’s character), which has none of the spontaneity and guilelessness of the original and is, instead, hideously performative. As is this entire goddamn video.

10) More “Jingle Bell Rock.” A great deal of walking in slo-mo and sitting down in a bikini, showing ARIANA FABULOUSNESS. Finally, after the song fades mercifully out, Kris Jenner appears once more, for no other reason than to say “bitch.” (There was also some business at the song’s bridge with a dollhouse and silicone tears that I don’t understand, so I left it out.)

In sum, Ariana has excised all the decent values espoused by these early-00s teen films in order to remind her audience of the pretty parts. Elle Woods using her brain to stamp her sexually harassing professor under her stiletto heel is not the point; the stiletto heel is, and the attraction that Elle generates from the professor is, too. Bonding with the nice boy via nightly hygiene is secondary to that ponytail. Sexy Santa costumes are fun and great! Cheerleading is awesome and has no negative dimensions at all! Use your tongue to get boys to look at you! Be Regina George!

Is it even possible for someone to watch these movies and miss the point so completely? Or is it deliberate? An attempt to direct society toward the horrifying extremes of simulated, transactional femininity? The appearance of Kris Jenner, matriarch of simulacrum, would suggest the latter. But the whole thing is just so gross that I can’t give it that much credit.

Like, gag me with a spoon.

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Katharine Coldiron

Katharine Coldiron's work has appeared in Ms., the Times Literary Supplement, BUST, the Rumpus, and elsewhere.

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