A comprehensive guide to all the references in Ariana Grande's 'thank u, next' music video
After nearly two weeks of teasing her gargantuan fan base with behind-the-scenes snaps and snippets, Ariana Grande has finally dropped her “thank u, next” music video. With references from Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring it On, and 13 Going on 30, the five-and-a-half minute video is a delightful romp through early-2000’s cinematic iconography, and with its overtones of pink, sparkles, and retro fashion, it’s as gorgeous for the eyes as it is for the ears. And with so much fetch content to see, we created the comprehensive reference guide to the video.
The video opens with a Mean Girls-style intro that the “Dangerous Woman” singer released on Tuesday, bringing comedian Colleen Ballinger (a.k.a. YouTube personality Miranda Sings), singer Troye Sivan, YouTuber Gabi DeMartino, Mean Girls actress Stefani Drummond, and more on screen to rave about their Ariana obsessions.
Continuing to pay homage to the 2004 Tina Fey comedy, “thank u, next”‘s first verse is played over shots of Grande flipping through her version of the Burn Book, titled “thank u, next” which is half-cute and half-serial-killer scary, with cutout letters, pasting in photos of the exes she mentions in the song’s first few lines (notice on Big Sean’s page she wrote, “So cute. So sweet. (Can still get it).” We see you, Ari!) Ex-fiancé Pete Davidson’s Burn Book page has a few telling notes scribbled down: “Pete” is written inside a heart; “I love you always” is jotted down the right side; and “HUUUGE” runs across the bottom, recalling a running joke about Davidson being well-endowed.
As the 25-year-old croons “Even almost got married, and for Pete I’m so thankful,” Grande croons, she also writes “sry I dipped.”
Then, Grande struts through the halls of a recreated North Shore High with her Mean Girls lookalikes. Grande is the Queen Bee of the pop music scene at the moment, so she fit right into her role as Regina George, the onscreen HBIC, originally played by Rachel McAdams. Jonathan Bennett reprises his role from the film as dreamy Aaron Samuels, and Grande’s longtime friend and collaborator Elizabeth Gillies (Dynasty) — who Grande has previously worked with on the Nickelodeon series Victorious and the 2008 Broadway play 13 — portrays “homeschooled jungle freak” Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan). Grande’s close friends Courtney Chipolone and Alexa Luria (who’s holding her chest in a nod to her character’s ability to predict the weather with her breasts) rounded out the Plastics, standing in for Lacey Chabert’s constantly overlooked Gretchen Wieners and Amanda Seyfried’s lovably dull Karen Smith, respectively.
All of the actors in the video wear clothes similar to those from the Mean Girls scene from the North Shore jungle, ahem, mall, but Grande’s outfit made one important deviation: Regina George’s tank top originally reads “A little bit DRAMATIC,” but Grande’s swapped “DRAMATIC” for “NEEDY,” and the word on the Twitter-street is that “Needy” will be a track on Grande’s next album and possibly even her next single.
To truly do Mean Girls justice, the “thank u, next” Plastics had to do the iconic “Jingle Bell Rock” dance from the winter talent show, and Grande and her crew did not disappoint. Kris Jenner made an appearance as Mrs. George (Amy Poehler), donning a baby pink tracksuit and frantically videotaping her daughter as she dances along to the too-risqué-for-high-school performance.
Keeping with the early millennium vibe, Grande then jumps to Bring It On, where, along with her Victorious co-star Matt Bennett, she recreates the teeth brushing scene from the cheerleading classic. Next up, Grande is on a bed, shaking red and black pom poms á la Kirsten Dunst — with a poster on her wall of an ice skater who, judging by the autograph jotted across the page, is her real-life brother Frankie Grande — before leading a cheerleading squad at a high school football game. Victorious co-star Daniella Monet pops up for a moment as a member of the red-outfitted Toros (although their outfits say “TUN” here in a reference to the track’s title), and Grande’s back-up singers Victoria Monét and Tayla Parx, who accompanied Grande on Ellen for currently her only live performance of “thank u, next,” make cameos as members of the East Compton Clovers.
Then, Grande transforms into Jennifer Garner’s Jenna Rink from 13 Going on 30. As she sings the bridge (“One day I’ll walk down the aisle, holdin’ hands with my mama / I’ll be thankin’ my dad, ’cause she grew from the drama”), she carries a version of the 2004 rom-com’s Barbie Dream House with tiny cutouts of a photo of the singer with shoulder-length hair she teased on Instagram on Nov. 15. And she’s already scored the approval of 13 star Mark Ruffalo.
Finally, Grande sneaks into one last movie from the early-aughts: Legally Blonde. She hops out of a black Porsche with her beagle-chihuahua mix Toulouse as the pair cosplays fiercely feminine law student Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) and her loyal pup Bruiser. One important note for serious Ariana fans: the car has a vanity plate reading “7 RINGS,” which is allegedly another track from a forthcoming album. A fan account posted this shot of a possible track list from Grande’s “Breathin'” music video on Nov. 8.
Before the final chorus, the video cuts to a scene of Grande and Jennifer Coolidge inside “Neptune’s Beauty Nook,” the nail salon from Legally Blonde where a distressed Elle first meets her partner-in-justice and fellow dog lover, Paulette Bonafonté. Just like in the film, the two chat about their exes, with Grande once again making a “Pete has an above-average penis” joke. “He was really cute,” she tells Coolidge, dressed in Paulette’s all-denim ensemble. “And it was, it was really big.” The bit goes on to reveal that the conversation is a bit cleaner than we expected: the women are talking about big teeth, not other oversized body parts.
Next come shots of classic Legally Blonde recreated scenes: Elle doing the “bend and snap,” on the treadmill in front of her retro orange MacBook, and studying law — notably, Grande is flipping through a textbook titled “Immigration and Refugee Law and Politics,” perhaps in a subtle nod to the current immigration crisis in the U.S. — in a bikini while football-playing grad students look on. During the “bend and snap” portion, a mail delivery man shows up to dance with Coolidge, but instead of UPS, the patch sewn onto his uniform says “BDE,” yet another Penis Davidson joke (BDE stands for big d— energy, and it originally came from a Twitter thread describing Davidson’s confident demeanor).
As the video then intersperses shots from the Mean Girls scenes, audiences can also see Bennett holding his Burn Cookbook, which he released on Oct. 3, a.k.a. the unofficial Mean Girls day.
Now we can confidently say the song and the long-awaited video are both smashes, but with all the hints at Grande’s next projects sprinkled throughout the entertaining short, we’ll be saying “thank you, next” until the next track drops.