The way that “Thank U, Next” has taken over our hearts and minds and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 almost makes me want to say no one is having a better year than Ariana Grande. Almost. But with everything that preceded the runaway single’s debut—two breakups, including the end of her engagement with Pete Davidson, and ex-boyfriend and collaborator Mac Miller’s overdose—it’s hard to imagine what Ari is going through right now. Speaking to a reporter Natalie Weiner for Billboard for their Woman of the Year cover story, the singer lets on that it’s been a hard year for her:
On this November afternoon, it’s still too soon for Grande to talk about what has happened in anything other than broad strokes. “I’m really lucky and really unlucky at the same time,” says the 25-year-old.
It’s hard not to think of Miller now, even if Grande isn’t ready to or doesn’t want to talk about it with the press. Miller co-wrote and was featured on Grande’s breakout single, “The Way”; fans will remember the two smooching in the music video. This was years before they were dating. Grande looks back on that relationship positively, as collaborators and friends:
He was 20 and she was 19, so naturally they first talked on Twitter. The pair became fast friends, and she invited him to do a verse on her first album’s lead single, 2013’s bouncy ’90s throwback “The Way.” Grande told Billboard at the time that Miller was giving her Pro Tools pointers as they recorded. She added, “If you want to motivate Mac Miller to do anything, just bake cookies.”
Working with Miller also made Grande feel more confident in her dreams, as she left behind her Nickelodeon days to pursue a career in music (in this section, Weiner also reveals that Grande might be working on a song about Miller):
Now, she looks back on the song as the first time she really captured her own musical style, what she had been searching for while growing up idolizing India.Arie. “When we made ‘The Way,’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m onto something here,’” says Grande. Her face dims slightly; just before this interview, she was working on a new song, which, when she plays it for me later, I realize is about Miller. “It felt like, ‘I should do this forever.’”
At one point, Weiner writes that talking explicitly about her past relationships is a “non-starter” for Grande, but that “[t]he wound left by Miller’s death is, unsurprisingly, still raw,” considering how she used to spend Thanksgiving with him and his family. At various points in their conversations, Grande tears up or begins to cry, often owning it:
“I just hope you’re OK with me crying, because that’s not going to not happen,” she says, laughing even as she’s tearing up in the midst of talking about how she has coped with so much tragedy in such a short span of time. “I can’t even say ‘Good morning’ to anyone without crying.”
It wouldn’t be fair to pin Grande’s successes on her relationship to the men she’s worked with or dated. But it’s nice to hear that Grande and Miller had a positive working experience, especially because that isn’t always the case—Grande also talks about walking out sessions with men who won’t let her take the wheel, and more generally, about how she’d like to see a better gender balance on the charts.
Read the entire interview here.