Ariana Grande and Pete Davidon’s failed relationship was strung together by a series of inexplicable, enjoyable, and very online moments. From the second Ariana Grande released a song called “pete davidson” to sparking conversation about “Big Dick Energy” and inspiring one of the most popular couple’s Halloween costumes, their relationship has cultivated an aspect of online culture in 2018.
The song is a love letter to herself, echoing pop superstars of decades past in her strong declarations that she doesn’t need to define her worth by a significant other. Grande is open about her relationships with people like Big Sean, Davidson, and the late Mac Miller, thanking them for helping her grow in different ways. One of the song’s lines addresses those earnest moments, with Grande singing, “One taught me love / one taught me patience / and one taught me pain.”
It’s a line that’s become fodder for Twitter’s most popular meme right now. In a way, it encapsulates the final chapter of Grande and Davidson’s bizarrely transfixing relationship.
Plenty of celebrities have embraced their online personas, playing into the public figure millions of people make them out to be on Twitter. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend are a perfect example; Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are another. Their public displays of adoration, domestic bliss, joking arguments, and obvious togetherness help to establish their presence as power couples for millions of people who follow them.
Davidson and Grande were different. Everything about them seemed off from the get-go, which made it easier to relate to as we gawked at the spectacle. They weren’t a stereotypical Hollywood couple. Grande is the world’s biggest pop star; Davidson is Saturday Night Live’s oddball comedian. Grande is conventionally beautiful; Davidson is punk-rock cute.
It’s why there were endless conversations about Davidson’s “Big Dick Energy,” which in itself became a meme; it’s why there were countless Halloween costumes dedicated to the couple. Everything they did, from walking down the street staring lovingly at each other to flirting through Instagram comments, captivated us online, and that’s partially because the pair embraced the goofiness of their relationship. Davidson often joked about it on Saturday Night Live, and Grande responded to fans who wanted to discuss certain bits of gossip on Twitter. Memes are born when everyone is playing along, so when they wholeheartedly embraced how the public interpreted them as a couple, it was their relationship itself that became the meme.
They’re the ideal couple to take on these specific roles: both are young, well-liked (though that’s changed for Davidson in the wake of the breakup), charming, and most importantly, have proven they can play into jokes about themselves. They didn’t take themselves seriously and, in return, neither did their legions of followers. Memes born out of adoration for the couple and their intrinsic bizarreness were almost too easy to make, especially as the relationship became even more topsy turvy — including an engagement just a month after they started dating.
A relationship that’s developed around a never-ending series of memes can only end in one way — with the perfect meme. “thank u, next” is a song that started off as a Twitter thread replying to a Saturday Night Live promo that featured Davidson jokingly proposing to that week’s musical guest. This performative facet of their relationship made the song all that more emotional, raw, and intimate to fans. We saw everything play out and we could react in real time with Grande.
The whole situation surrounding the song is maniacal; a total juxtaposition to the song’s actual beautiful honesty about relationships. The song is a perfect ending to a troubled summer of youthful love — an optimistic outlook spun out of a crazy desire to maintain an intense love affair. The “thank u, next” meme is a reminder that everything about Davidson and Grande has been a whimsical whirlwind from the very beginning.
It’s easy to look upon the meme as nothing more than an online response to a popular song, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of engaging with Davidson and Grande’s magnetic presence one last time before we bid farewell to the idea of them as a couple. It’s our last-ditch attempt at closure knowing these two will likely never become a meme again as a couple — they said their goodbyes in a song and on Saturday Night Live, and we did it with a one-line meme and three accompanying images.
Our process of dealing with Grande and Davidson’s breakup epitomizes how we’ve dealt with much of 2018 — obsess over it, sit with new knowledge of a situation, and manage to find a small beacon of light with each other online, just like Grande continues to do with her fans.