It's hard to follow-up "Thank U, Next," but Ariana Grande had no trouble making a big splash with her new single "Imagine." It's already number one on the iTunes sales chart, and while it's not as direct as "Thank U, Next," which called out her exes by name, fans are pretty sure this song is another type of tribute, this time to the late Mac Miller.
Grande and Miller dated for two years before breaking up in May. In September, it was revealed that Miller had died from an apparent overdose. The news hit Grande hard, prompting her to take time off social media, and while the singer gave him a nod in "Thank U, Next" ("Wish I could say thank you to Malcolm, because he was an angel") it sounds like "Imagine" could be a full dedication to the late rapper, and there are some pretty big clues why.
First and foremost, Grande told a fan last month that the song was about "a simple, beautiful love that is now (and forever) unattainable."
But now that the song is finally here, there seem to be some direct references to Miller, specifically to music he'd written about Grande. For instance, in "Cinderella," Miller sang, "And when you hungry I can shut you up with stir-fry." In "Imagine," Grande sings "staying up all night, order me Pad Thai."
In "Cinderella," Mac also says "you used to tell me all the time I ain't your type," and Grande's "Imagine" echoes, "Baby, I never thought that it would be you."
At the very end of the song, the whistle tones are reminding fans of Grande and Miller's 2013 song "The Way," but the biggest clue was literally written on Miller's arm. The title of the song, "Imagine," is also a tattoo Miller had.
The only explanation Grande has given for the song appeared on her Instagram story earlier this week. She wrote: "A lot of this album mourns failed yet important beautiful relationships in my life (as well as celebrates growth / exploring new independence). But for those of you asking about imagine: i would say if ‘thank u, next’ = acceptance… ‘imagine’ = denial. hope that makes sense."
Denial is famously a stage of grief and it is likely Grande spent much of the aftermath of Miller's death wondering what could have been. The song is heartbreaking and powerful, regardless of its subject. Watch the lyric video for "Imagine" below.