It was a tragedy when TMZ reported on Friday that the rapper Mac Miller had died of an apparent overdose at only 26 years old. After the loss of rising rapper Lil Peep in 2017 and reports that Demi Lovato almost overdosed just a few months ago, the fatal consequences of young artists’ substance abuse has become increasingly prevalent in the last year. But almost instantly, it became clear there would be another conversation about Miller’s death; it became clear his ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande would be blamed for it.
TMZ’s initial report insinuated that Grande was at fault when they implied that Miller’s drug usage increased in the wake of their highly publicized breakup. In the original version of their report (caught by former Jezebel writer Madeleine Davies) TMZ wrote, “Miller has had trouble recently with substance abuse ... in the wake of his breakup with Ariana Grande.” But anyone who has been paying attention to Miller’s career can tell you that he has long struggled with substance abuse. He has often told reporters about being addicted to promethazine (aka lean) and using cocaine. In 2014 he rapped that “a drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin.”
TMZ must have realized this, tweaking their post just minutes after publishing to instead read: “Miller has battled substance abuse issues for years ... something that came up again in the wake of his breakup with Ariana Grande.” But it doesn’t matter what substance actually killed Miller, or how long he had been struggling, because his fans, just like TMZ, had already decided that Grande was somehow at fault. A quick search of “fuck you @Ariana Grande” on Twitter predictably yields hundreds of people blaming the pop star for leaving Miller. “fuck @ArianaGrande, you left Mac cuz he ‘couldn’t get sober’ and went straight to Pete Davidson’s junkie ass” one person tweeted. Comments on her Instagram were eventually disabled due to harassment.
None of this was particularly surprising because we’ve been here before. Steeling myself for the inevitable influx of Grande hatred, I was reminded of when the late DJ Avicii (Tim Bergling) was found to have died by suicide and trolls came for his girlfriend Tereza Kacerova. “A lot of vultures stepped out of the shadows,” she wrote on Instagram, calling out those who had speculated that Bergling died because he was “sick of her.” After Anthony Bourdain died, Asia Argento attracted conspiracy theories that she not only helped drive him to suicide, but also had a literal hand in Bourdain’s death, and was subsequently cyber-bullied. And who can forget the vitriol Courtney Love attracted when Kurt Cobain died and obsessed fans believed her to be an instrumental part of his suicide? Or how Yoko Ono was accused of not grieving the death of John Lennon properly? “She wasn’t crying,” a Roosevelt Hospital hospital attendant told reporters in a 1980 story on Lennon’s murder. “She’s got $30 million coming to her. Do you blame her for being so cool?”
When famous, troubled men fall, fans look for someone to blame—women are an easy target. They’re accused of being terrible influences or of being the kind of women who speak too loudly in interviews, grubbing for attention or financial gain. Or there’s the suggestion that these women aren’t good partners, that they are too selfish or not doting or caring enough. The hatred directed at Grande is the manifestation of a deeply sexist expectation: that women are always supposed to be both a salve and savior for men, responsible for both their health and wellbeing, addicts or not.
But this blame also carries with it the assumption that women who choose to love musicians must above all—even before tending to their own life and work—assuage the depression and addiction of male artists. Grande’s massive success as an artist and the way it overshadowed her relationship with Miller was arguably an affront to many fans who believed him to be an underdog genius who needed saving. None of these fans would have ever walked away from him, they truly believe, so how could Grande? “I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be,” Grande told a fan who expressed disappointment that the singer had broken up with Miller shortly before the rapper was arrested for a DUI, as if she were the cause. “Shaming / blaming women for a man’s ability to keep his shit together is a very major problem,” she added.
When Grande finally posted about Miller’s death it was a simple Instagram photo with no commentary from Grande, the comments still disabled. That’s for the best, I thought. There wasn’t much else Grande could do. Nothing could satisfy those who believe that women hold the nurturing key to men’s mental health.