ONLY NOISE: “thank u, next” Became My Recovery Anthem After Falling for an Alcoholic

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Rachel Cromidas explores the healing power of Ariana Grande’s most recent pop smash.

I never thought I’d be walking around my neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon singing, “I’m so fucking grateful for my ex,” but Ariana Grande will do that to a girl. That’s the catchy power of “thank u, next” – the surprise single the pop force of nature dropped last fall in the wake of her very public breakup with Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson.

Everyone has their problems, and mine is that I Google people I don’t know way too much. I devotedly tracked Grande’s relationship arc with Davidson (and before him, rapper Mac Miller, who died of a drug overdose in August) with much more than the passing interest I’d otherwise take in celebrity gossip. This past year I also dated an active alcoholic, and then rebounded with a person in recovery. And while the comparison of my life to Grande’s fully ends there, I couldn’t help but view her ongoing statements about Davidson, Miller, and her own emotional distress through the lens of my experiences in Al-anon. It’s a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, that helps people who love alcoholics find peace, whether or not their person has stopped drinking.

Most people have heard of AA, but fewer are familiar with Al-anon. Much in the same way that many alcoholics find sobriety with the support of a 12-step program, Al-anon is founded on the idea that it can be sad, scary, and painful to have an alcoholic family member or partner. And many Al-anons decide to go through their own process of recovery and healing, after recognizing they’ve been harmed by someone else’s drinking, as Grande herself has alluded. That’s certainly how I felt this past summer when, reeling from a confusing breakup with a man who’d said he was an alcoholic, but did not want to stop drinking, I started going to 12-step meetings.

In that problematic way that the celebrity gossip mill can convince us that the personal life of a 25-year-old pop star is any of our business at all, I read Grande’s tweets and scoured the lyrics on Sweetener for clues as to whether she was in the program herself—and whether she even saw herself as needing her own recovery from the pain of being in love with people who have struggled with substance abuse. Now, after “thank u, next,” I have to say that Ariana Grande is my favorite Al-anon, even if she didn’t intend to write an Al-anon anthem.

That’s because “thank u, next,” is very much a song about recovery—particularly regaining a sense of dignity, gratitude, and self-love after dark times. It’s about finding yourself again and learning how to cope with pain and trauma, not in spite of your crappy ex-boyfriends, but because of them. It’s a wild idea.

With its curt, Internet-shorthanded title that in a parallel universe would be the perfect title for a sarcastic diss track, it’s tempting to view the song as insincere, and the timing of its release – minutes before the weekly airing of SNL – as too on the nose. Or to note, cynically, that, like many of Grande and Davidson’s statements throughout their relationship, it’s meant to fuel a fantasy and capitalize on public fascination. And in some ways, “thank u, next” is selling a fantasy—one in which Ariana is calm, joyful and thriving in the face of a broken engagement and a loved one’s tragic death—when realistically, most people would be an utter mess in her position. But fantasy or not, her voice is beautiful and the song is a total earworm, and I’d argue that there’s enormous power in its repetitive chorus. In the same way I go to meetings every week, where we always recite the same Serenity Prayer and re-read the 12 Steps, I’d like to believe that humming along to the earnest chorus of “thank u, next” might really turn me into the kind of person who can move on with grace and gratitude.

When it comes to exes, conventional wisdom has it that living well is the best revenge. But there’s nothing vengeful in Grande’s insistence that she is thankful for the men she’s dated and that she’s learned meaningful lessons from each failed relationship. “One taught me love / one taught me patience / and one taught me pain,” Grande sings. Pain—whether it’s referring to heartbreak or the emotional weight of knowing you can’t save your partner, or stop them from hurting themselves—that’s the moment in the song when my mind jumps to anger over the times I watched my own ex use drugs and alcohol. But there’s no bitterness in it for Grande: “Now, I’m so amazing,” she concludes.

Being in awe of herself? That’s way better than trying to “win” a breakup. I cringe now to think of the selfies I’ve posted in the wake of my relationship ending, in service of appearing hot and fun and over it all to a person with arguably much bigger problems than mine. To think – all those Taylor Swift lyrics I’ve narrowly stopped myself from morosely subtweeting! What could have easily become another song about men who weren’t good enough (looking at you, Tay) quickly transforms into an anthem of radical self-love instead. That’s something we could all use more of after a breakup, but the sentiment becomes especially powerful in “thank u, next,” knowing that it comes from a young woman whose pain is tied up in having watched someone she loved fight and lose his battle with addiction and self-harm.

Grande has already had to answer to harsh attacks in the wake of Mac Miller’s death, staring down the toxic assumptions that many women face when a partner or ex is struggling with substance abuse. There’s the pressure to stay in a relationship that isn’t working, thinking that your presence could help or even save that person. And then there’s the dangerous tendency to blame the partners of addicts, especially women, when their partners act out.

When Mac Miller totaled his car and got a DUI in May for example, just over a week after Grande broke up with him, many people on social media accused her of being responsible. The young pop star spoke like a seasoned woman in recovery with a Twitter reply to one fan, who bluntly wrote that “Mac Miller totalling his G wagon and getting a DUI after Ariana Grande dumped him for another dude … is just the most heartbreaking thing happening in Hollywood.”

“I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety & prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming / blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem,” she replied, defending her choice to end the “toxic” relationship. “Of course i didn’t share about how hard or scary it was.”

In this context, the second verse of “thank u, next” becomes a blueprint for recovery, as Grande celebrates choosing to cultivate self-love and self-worth. “I met someone else / We havin’ better discussions,” Grande writes, tongue-in-cheek, about spending more time with—wait for it—herself. “Her name is Ari,” she reveals a moment later, singing, “she taught me love / she taught me patience / how she handles pain / that shit’s amazing.”

Loving an alcoholic is a major lesson in better and worse ways to handle pain. I’ve likened it to playing a game of Clue that refuses to end, even when you’re just trying to do something as simple as have dinner, or meet up with friends. You could look for explanations and excuses for why the alcoholic is often running late, acting strange, lying, picking fights, nodding off during conversations, or worse. You could become suspicious and paranoid; you could upend your life trying to predict, plan for, and control the alcoholic’s drinking or drug use. But, after a year of loving a problem drinker, I realized that the answer to the mystery whodunnit was always, disappointingly, the same: It was my lover, with the bottle of whiskey, in the kitchen, in the study, in the bedroom, on and on and on.

Loving alcoholics, whether they’re drinking or not, can make you crazy; it’s frighteningly easy to lose yourself in the need to fix their problems. I don’t know if that was anything like Grande’s relationship with Mac Miller, or if her relationship with Davidson was notably better. But, days after Mac Miller died from an accidental overdose of a lethal mix of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol, Grande wrote this on Instagram in tribute to the deceased musical artist: “i’m so sorry i couldn’t fix or take your pain away. i really wanted to.”

Many of the Al-anons I know can relate; we say we made it our missions to fix the alcoholics in our lives, and our self-esteem tanked when we realized we couldn’t. We say that a big part of our recovery is figuring out who we are, what our strengths are, how we can be of service to others, without causing harm, without losing ourselves in someone else’s disease. We say recovery isn’t linear—it might look like leaving the alcoholic and then going back; it might look like quickly rebounding with a comedian who’s no stranger to addiction, and then getting engaged to him, and then breaking it off, all in a whirlwind of inextricable distress and elation.

And some of us are a little bit obsessed with “thank u, next.” It’s got us and probably thousands of other people running around town singing about how grateful we all our for our exes, after all. That’s unreal. That’s not something I could have said before the 12-step program, even in the form of someone else’s song. And it’s not something I would have believed, necessarily, if I couldn’t imagine a bit of what Grande has been through over the past few years.

For me, the clarity I needed to understand how much my ex’s substance use was hurting me came from meetings. For Grande, it sounds like therapy has been key. After one fan jokingly tweeted “who is ariana’s therapist and are they accepting new clients,” Grande tweeted back this ringing endorsement of seeking professional help: “therapy has saved my life so many times … u don’t have to be in constant pain & u can process trauma. i’ve got a lot of work to do but it’s a start to even be aware that it’s possible.”

It’s not therapy, but “thank u, next,” also offers a way forward, a start. Infinitely memeable, (is that a requirement to become a top song these days?) “thank u, next” might be the healthiest Internet trend I know. It raises the question of what comes next, in a life of recovery, (and for some, a life of sobriety) and offers this answer: the person who has to come next is you.

AF 2018 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums and Singles of the Year

Here we are again! As the new year approaches, it’s time to look back and take stock of the albums and singles that defined this moment in music history. 2018 was an eclectic year, to say the least, and there are a lot of new names on the list: Tirzah, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, King Princess, and Kali Uchis all had phenomenal debuts this year, not to mention the inimitable Cardi B, who made good on the promise of last year’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” with Invasion of Privacy in April. There were established artists who still managed to surprise us, whether in the form of unearthed Prince demos, The Arctic Monkeys’ loungey sci-fi concept album, Tim Hecker introducing us to ancient Japanese court music, Dev Hynes making his most personal Blood Orange record yet, or Lil Wayne finally dropping Tha Carter V. And then there are those artists who fall somewhere in between, their ascendant careers a thrill to watch as 2018 saw them finally hit their stride. US Girls. Yves Tumor. serpentwithfeet. And perhaps most spectacularly, Mitski and Janelle Monáe.

As each of our writers (and editors, too) created their own mini-lists, those were two names that kept cropping up, and there’s no doubt you’ve seen them on just about every year-end list on the interwebs. If there’s any chance you haven’t heard Be The Cowboy or Dirty Computer, by all means, fire up that Spotify Premium post haste. But the recommendations here are as diverse as our writers themselves, so we hope you’ll take time to explore some of the lesser-known, hardly hyped artists we’ve highlighted, too – and keep your eyes peeled for more year-end coverage as we cruise in to 2019.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)

    Top 10 Albums:
    1) boygenuis – boygenius
    2) Soccer Mommy – Clean
    3) Nenah Cherry – Broken Politics
    4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
    5) serpentwithfeet – soil
    6) CupcakKE – Ephorize
    7) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    8) Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
    9) Snail Mail – Lush
    10) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Let’s Eat Grandma – “Hot Pink”
    2) Jon Hopkins – “Emerald Rush”
    3) The Internet – “Look What You Started”
    4) Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin – “I Like It”
    5) boygenius – “Bite The Hand”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)

    Top 10 Albums:
    1) Low – Double Negative
    2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
    3) Madeline Kenney – Perfect Shapes 
    4) Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands of Love
    5) DJ Koze – Knock Knock
    6) Caroline Rose – Loner
    7) Tim Hecker – Konoyo
    8) Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
    9) Frigs – Basic Behaviour
    10) bedbug – i’ll count to heaven in years without seasons
    Top 10 Singles:
    1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
    2) Loma – “Black Willow”
    3) The Breeders – “All Nerve”
    4) SOPHIE – “Is It Cold In The Water?”
    5) Jonathan Wilson – “Loving You”
    6) Empath – “The Eye”
    7) Sibile Attar – “Paloma”
    8) Jono Ma & Dreems – “Can’t Stop My Dreaming (Of You)”
    9) Shopping – “Discover”
    10) Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – “Dunce”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Social Media)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Miserable – Lover Boy/Dog Days
    2) Snail Mail – Lush
    3) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
    4) Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
    5) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Nothing – “Blue Line Baby”
    2) Hinds – “The Club”
    3) Mitski – “Nobody”

  • Lauren Zambri (Events)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Amen Dunes – Freedom
    2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
    3) Beach House – 7
    4) Iceage – Beyondless
    5) Tirzah – Devotion
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Jenny Hval – “Spells”
    2) US Girls – “Velvet 4 Sale”
    3) Yves Tumor – “Licking An Orchid”
    4) Amen Dunes – “Believe”
    5) Low – “Always Trying to Work it Out”


  • Ashley Prillaman (Premieres, AudioMama)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Alice Ivy – I’m Dreaming
    2) Sudan Archives – Sink
    3) Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
    4) Earth Girl Helen Brown – Venus
    5) Rüfüs Du Sol – Solace
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Rhye – “Taste”
    2) Alice Ivy – “Chasing Stars”
    3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”

  • Tarra Thiessen (Check the Spreadsheet)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) DRINKS – Hippo Lite
    2) Shannon & the Clams – Onion
    3) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction
    4) Prince – Piano & a Microphone 1983 
    5) Sloppy Jane – Willow
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Public Practice – “Fate/Glory”
    2) The Nude Party – “Chevrolet Van”
    3) Big Bliss – “Surface”

  • Natalie Kirch (Pet Politics)

    Top 10 Releases Out of the Brooklyn DIY Scene (in Chronological Order):
    1) THICK — Would You Rather? (Self-Released)
    2) BODEGA — Endless Scroll (What’s Your Rupture?)
    3) Baked — II (Exploding In Sound)
    4) Pecas — After Dark (Broken Circles)
    5) Big Bliss – At Middle Distance (Exit Stencil Recordings)
    6) Kevin Hairs — Freak In The Streets (GP Stripes)
    7) PILL – Soft Hell (Mexican Summer)
    8) Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend (Exploding In Sound)
    9) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction (Little Dickman Records/ Rich Moms)
    10) Janet LaBelle – I Only See You (Loantaka Records)

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Kali Uchis – Isolation
    2) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    3) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
    5) Noname – Room 25
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Ama Lou – “Tried Up”
    2) Britney Stoney – “OD”
    3) Janelle Monáe – “PYNK”

  • Luci Turner (Playing Atlanta)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) The Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
    2) The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
    3) Charles Bradley – Black Velvet
    4) Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
    5) Jack White – Boarding House Reach
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) The Raconteurs – “Now That You’re Gone”
    2) Mac Miller – “2009”
    3) Dead Naked Hippies – “Rare”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    2) Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
    3) J. Cole – KOD
    4) Preme – Light of Day
    5) Jazz Cartier – Fleurever
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Lil Wayne feat. Reginae Carter – “Famous”
    2) Cardi B – “Thru Your Phone”
    3) J. Cole – “Brackets”

  • Desdemona Dallas

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Noname – Room 25
    2) Flatbush Zombies – Vacation In Hell
    3) Mountain Man – Magic Ship
    4) Lucy Dacus – Historian
    5) Nao – Saturn
    Top 3 Singles:
    1)  Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
    2) Twin Shadow – “Saturdays”
    3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”

  • Erin Rose O’Brien

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Mitski — Be The Cowboy
    2) Antarctigo Vespucci — Love in the Time of E-mail
    3) Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy
    4) Soccer Mommy — Clean
    5) Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Bad Moves — “Cool Generator”
    2) The Beths — “Future Me Hates Me”
    3) Miya Folick — “Stop Talking”

  • Ysabella Monton

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
    2) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
    3) Brockhampton – Iridescence
    4) Soccer Mommy – Clean
    5) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) King Princess – “1950”
    2) Childish Gambino – “This is America”
    3) Pusha T – “If You Know You Know”

PLAYING DETROIT: Sarkis Mixes Motown and Funk with L.A Sunshine on ‘Tangerine’

Gabe Smith has wandered far from his small hometown of Waterford, Michigan, but hasn’t forgotten the role that his neighboring city of Detroit had in shaping him as an artist and songwriter. After moving to LA in 2014, Smith spent two-and-a-half years touring on the John Lennon Educational Tour bus, helping students write/record original music and videos. Landing back in L.A earlier this year, Smith started working at Shangri La Studios in Malibu and recording his debut LP, Tangerine, under the name SarkisThe record is an amalgamation of Smith’s roots in the Motown sound, time spent traveling the country, and the glimmer of L.A. sunshine that seems to rub off on all ye who enter there.

While Smith says a small part of the album was written during his time on the Lennon bus, the majority was written and produced at Shangri La studios, with the help of his writing partner Tyler Bean and other friends that work at the studio. “I had a lot of guys playing on it and helping me record it and write it,” says Smith. “It was a cool collection of people from all over making music… that was kind of a whole other layer of creativity that I hadn’t had in any of my music before.”

This collaborative effort resulted in a sound that blends funk, hip-hop and soul. One of the most obvious funk elements is the presence of consistently strong bass lines throughout the record. “I played a lot of bass this year,” says Smith. “I’ve never considered myself a bass player but now I wish that I was a dope bass player – those (musicians) are the legends of funk.” Smith cites meeting Bootsy Collins last year as one of his most transformative musical experiences. “That changed my whole perspective of funk music,” Smith says. “He even listened to some of my music and that was a big moment for me – he is definitely a life-altering person to meet.”

Funky bass lines, bright vocals, and different musical textures characterize Tangerine, and keep it feeling bright and optimistic, even on “Messed Up,” a song about the disenchanting state of the world. “I always try and remain positive, so I try to put that into the music too,” says Smith. “The music itself is upbeat and trying to make people dance and feel good. Even on a song that’s saying ‘the world is messed up,’ I still want to have a positive twist on it.”

Smith also cites Stevie Wonder, Mac Miller, Ice Cube and NWA as influences on this record. He says he didn’t really start listening to West Coast hip-hop until he first moved to L.A. “The year after I moved to LA was when that movie [Straight Outta Compton] came out,” says Smith. “We saw Ice Cube at an IHOP or something and I was like, ‘oh my god.’ That was when I started listening to that music.”  

Smith’s recent hip-hop influence is obvious on the record’s kick-heavy, bombastic track “Dreamland” and on “Messed Up,” when he makes his first foray into rapping. “I think I wrote that right after Mac Miller died,” says Smith. “I listened to Mac Miller in high school and he was at the studio a couple months before he passed away… I was kind of feeling sad and he was doing this fast rapping thing on one of his songs, so I tried to do it on one of mine and I was like – I guess that sounds okay?”

While Smith takes cues from the artists he lists as inspirations, his music serves more as an homage than an imitation, putting a unique twist on funk and hip-hop and making it his own. For those enduring the blistering cold this winter, Tangerine serves as a light at the end of what can feel like a never-ending tunnel. And for people residing in sunshine-y states, it’s a reminder to appreciate what you have and try not to take life so seriously. You can stream Tangerine exclusively here today, and listen to it everywhere this Friday, December 15th.

Sarkis will hold a listening party for Tangerine at The Dessert Oasis (1220 Griswald St, Detroit, MI, 48226) on Friday, December 15. The party is free and open to the public. 


NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Mac Miller, Fashion Week, Pussy Riot Member Hospitalized & More

RIP Mac Miller

Last week on September 7th, Mac Miller died at the age of 26 from a drug overdose in his LA home. Since his passing many celebrities such as Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Ariana Grande and many more paid tribute to the rapper. Earlier this week thousands of Mac Miller fans held a vigil at Pittsburgh’s Blue Slide Park – the namesake of his debut album. The blue slide had a fresh coat of paint and Miller’s grandmother made an appearance that evening thanking fans.

Fashion Week

Rihanna closed out New York’s fashion week with her Savage x Fenty Lingerie Show at the Brooklyn Navy Yard celebrating women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities. Her runway show included plus sized models and two visibly pregnant models, one of whom went into labor backstage. The line mixes organic and futuristic concepts, and according to Rihanna is “what we hope to see in the future: women being celebrated in all forms and all body types and all races and cultures.” 

Cardi B and Nicki Minaj had an altercation at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons Party. Cardi threw a red high heel at Minaj while yelling that Minaj talked trash about her child. Cardi B was escorted out of the party with a bump on her head. Cardi issued a statement on Instagram, and Minaj responded on her Beats 1 Queen radio show denying she ever said anything about Cardi’s child and claimed Cardi B built her career off of “sympathy and payola.” Cardi responded on Instagram with videos of fans screaming her lyrics at her concerts early in her career prior to radio play as well as the list of 2018’s top Hip Hop Albums (Cardi’s Invasion of Privacy in the top three), with the caption “NUMBERS DONT FUCKIN LIE.”

Listen to a playlist of fashion week’s best music below…

Pussy Riot’s Peter Verzilov Hospitalized

Peter Verzilov, a member of Russia’s political punk band Pussy Riot and publisher of independent news website Mediazona, was hospitalized on September 11th and is currently in critical condition. He began showing symptoms of losing his sight, speech, and mobility shortly after a court hearing, leading his friends and partner to believe he had been poisoned. Verzilov is currently being treated at the toxicology wing of Moscow’s Bakrushin City Clinical Hospital, though the details of his diagnosis or treatment have not been released.

The New New

Lana Del Rey released the first new song “Mariners Apartment Complex” she recorded with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. She will be releasing another track, “Venice Bitch,” on Tuesday, although the album won’t be out until 2019.

Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker  released the second single off her album abysskiss, called “symbol.” The album will be released October 5th on Saddle Creek.

The Smashing Pumpkins are releasing their first album in almost 20 years featuring founding members Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, along with guitarist Jeff Schroeder. Their first single “Silvery Sometimes” was released this week; the full album will drop November 16th on Corgan’s label Martha’s Music. 

End Notes

  • Apple will no longer provide the dongle adaptors for headphones free of charge with the iphone.
  • Spotify is lifting the 3,333 song download limit for offline listening and increased it to 10,000 songs.