True Ariana Grande stans—as in those who have been following her since her musical mimicry days on YouTube, well before the release of her certified bop “The Way,” featuring ex-boyfriend Mac Miller—have understood deep down that she would one day become a pop diva worth obsessing over. But the staunchest among us probably did not predict this.
This summer, Grande gave us the most riveting celebrity romance in recent history, a triumphant musical return and chart-topping album, and one of the best VMAs performances of the last decade. In a summer that also saw Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin and Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra get engaged at the drop of a hat, Grande’s whirlwind engagement with Pete Davidson was the one that truly entranced us. And while summer technically isn’t over just yet, it’s safe to say Ariana Grande had a better summer than anyone else. To understand how it all happened, let’s first take a step back.
After the Manchester bombing on May 22, 2017, where Grande’s concert was a site of attack, the singer took herself out of the public eye. It wasn’t until nearly a year later, on April 20, 2018, that Grande teased her return to the spotlight when she released “No Tears Left to Cry,” an up-tempo song about moving past the tragedy and trauma of the terrorist attack, and dropped hints about the release of her highly anticipated fourth studio album, Sweetener. Spring was ending, and Grande’s summer was off to a promising start. But then the singer broke up with her boyfriend, Mac Miller, a few weeks after the release of her first Sweetener single. Only days later, the pop star performed on Saturday Night Live, and a few days after that, Pete Davidson, one of SNL’s main cast members, announced his breakup from longtime girlfriend Cazzie David.
At first, the two newly single pals teased their relationship without giving too much detail, but it soon became clear that the seemingly odd couple had more in common than just their love for Harry Potter. The only way to truly gauge what in the world was going on was to look at Instagram, where Davidson first posted a (now-deleted) photo of his middle finger tattooed with a cloud, one of Grande’s signature symbols. Within a matter of days, these two were straight-up publicly flirting in the comments, getting more tattoos inspired by one another (Davidson got “A.G.” inked on him, as well as the bunny ears from Grande’s Dangerous Woman album). Suddenly, by mid-June, they were announcing they were engaged to be married, and moving in together into a multimillion-dollar New York City apartment.
What at first felt like a flagrant troll (I mean, just look at the photos of those two gallivanting around town, with Grande licking a lollipop while batting her eyelashes up toward Davidson hunched over in his hoodie) was suddenly very real. Between the trips to Davidson’s hometown in Staten Island and walking around town with their faces on each other’s shirts, the kind of obsessive love these two have for one another just cannot be faked. Finally, following celebrity culture has become fun again, and we have Grande to thank for that.
On August 17, the release of Sweetener was initially met with a few raised eyebrows (to be fair, it sounds like the two key producers on the album, Pharrell Williams and Max Martin, don’t necessarily mesh well into one project), but stans will be stans, and her album sales are projected to bring her to the top of the Billboard charts any day now. With Sweetener, the previously released singles became radio-friendly hits, Grande named a track “Pete Davidson” (which will be interesting should their relationship fall apart), and her reckoning with the Manchester bombing was translated into a twinkling pop song that closes her album. Even those fans with reservations have now curbed their doubts.
But that’s not all! She gave her stans one more treat before they head back to school for the fall with her iconic (in the art history sense) performance of “God Is a Woman” at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards. For the live debut of the Sweetener single, Grande staged a version of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and turned a ho-hum awards ceremony into a visually stunning and pitch-perfect Ariana Grande concert. She’s just generous like that.
It’s been a trying year for everyone, but for Ariana Grande this summer is a crowning moment after clawing her way out of quietude. And she’s really enjoying it. As she sings on “Successful,” a Pharrell Sweetener production: “It feels so good to be so young and have this fun and be successful.”