Thank u, Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, for sharing.
It’s been a year since the singer and the Saturday Night Live star got engaged, the diamond- and tattoo-studded promise to take the plunge coming barely a month after they started dating.
However, it’s also been eight months since they proved the skeptics right and broke up. But pop culture as we know it now wouldn’t be the same if these two hadn’t thought for a brief, shining moment that they had long-term potential—just like any other couple who have the highest of hopes early on, minus the $100,000 ring and a $16 million condo.
Love, and the loss of it, has been inspiring art since the dawn of civilization. Yet even more so than happiness and heartbreak, it’s chaos—internal and external—and the roller-coaster trajectory of the human experience that has fueled some of our greatest literature, movies, TV and music, and Ariana and Pete’s whirlwind courtship was no exception.
For starters, Grande had a flood of feeling to process, having gotten so serious with Davidson so fast after running the gamut of emotions over the previous year, and she got herself to the studio to work it out.
The first result: Sweetener, including the track “Pete Davidson.”
“I thought you into my life, whoa / Look at my mind, yeah / No better place or a time / Look how they align,” the song goes.
“Life’s too short,” she said forthrightly on The Zach Sang Show in August when asked what her big takeaway from 2018 had been so far. “Just… that. Life’s too short. Be grateful and be happy, and follow happy impulses, and the rest will sort itself out later. Have pure intentions, want good for other people—that’s it.”
“Like, my mom cries when we FaceTime because I’m so happy and OK,” she shared.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV
Sweetener‘s first single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” was released in April 2018, when, as the world was quick to find out, Grande was really struggling in her relationship with Mac Miller and still understandably carrying pain from the terrorist bombing that killed 22 people after her concert at Manchester Arena the previous June.
By the end of May 2018, Davidson was going ring shopping.
Falling head over heels for the then 24-year-old comedian within a few weeks of breaking up with Miller seemed suspect at the time, but Grande was simply open to letting the light back in after a traumatic year. The music about bouncing back soon followed in the form of the empowerment singles “God Is a Woman” and “Breathin’.”
“I think it’s personal growth, spent a s–t ton of time in therapy last year—which is great, I so, so recommend it if you need it,” she told Sang. “And music and working on yourself, dedicating yourself to your craft, just making healthy choices.”
Pete brought his own issues to the relationship (which he had already been candidly talking about before his name recognition beyond SNL multiplied a hundred-fold), but their connection seemed fairly effortless on the surface.
“Timing, I feel like, is everything,” Davidson told Howard Stern in September. “We both were in a similar situation at the same time.” He was as freshly single as Grande, just out of his own two-year relationship with Cassie David.
“I’m a very, very lucky guy,” he said, cracking, “Yeah, I don’t know what happened.”
He proposed, they moved in together and, sure enough, Davidson—already a rising star on SNL—became the most talked-about regular on the show, his appearances on “Weekend Update” and wherever else they could add a nod and a wink to update people on his love life, however subtly, making for appointment TV (or at least a must-watch online clip the next morning).
“I gotta tell you, up until about two months ago, if someone wrote about me, I saw it,” Davidson told GQ last summer. “Nobody gave a s–t two months ago, so anytime there was an article, I would obviously see it, because my mom would send it to me and be like, ‘Yaaay!'”
On the season premiere of SNL he called his fiancée “the number-one pop star in the world” and himself “that guy from SNL that everyone thinks is in desperate need of more blood.”
Sweetener debuted at No. 1 and eventually went platinum, moving over a 1 million “units” when you factor in physical sales, downloads and streaming. Everyone, from her mom to Jimmy Fallon, were telling Grande that she had never looked happier.
And though Pete, who shut down his Instagram then revived it then shut it down again, said that plenty of online trolls were still committed to telling him that he sucked (most of them just seemed ragingly jealous that he was with Ariana Grande and they weren’t), most people were really rooting for him. And for her.
If not necessarily rooting for them as a couple, together.
Their relationship was ultimately so short that they never moved past the oddity stage, the state of being an object of romantic curiosity as Davidson—part shtick, part serious—marveled over his unbelievable good fortune and Grande appeared to take it all in matter-of-fact stride.
“I’m not like a very traditional person, so the fact that I’m even getting married is something I never even saw coming,” Grande told Zach Sang. “I never saw that coming, like, I never wanted that, like, I was, ‘F–k that, there’s no point.’ I was like, ‘What’s the point?’ And then I kinda understood it when it was like, with the right person.”
Asked by Troye Sivan for Paper magazine what she envisioned her wedding being like, she replied, “All I know is that I’m happy with Pete, that’s all I really care about.”
Of course, we’ll never know what exact course that Ariana and Pete could have taken on their own if tragedy, in all its heartbreaking unfairness and messiness, hadn’t interrupted.
On Sept. 7, Mac Miller died of an accidental overdose, and soon Grande realized that, while life is indeed short, it was time for her to reassess rather than plunge uninhibitedly forward.
A month later, she and Davidson ended their engagement and split up.
“Their relationship was complicated and while they made each other happy, the passing of her ex-boyfriend weighed heavily on the two of them,” a source told E! News at the time.
Both creative people, they sought to deal with their respective trauma the best way they knew how—through their craft. Grande was busy taping NBC’s A Very Wicked Halloween special days later, and then hightailed it to the studio. Davidson went out to L.A. to do stand-up at a charity event, where he acknowledged not wanting to be there but cracked up the audience with self-deprecating breakup jokes anyway. And he didn’t miss a beat on SNL, automatically turning heartbreak into comedy fodder with a knowing, vulnerable gleam in his eye before saying on his first post-split episode that what happened was nobody’s business and sometimes things just don’t work out.
SNL remained a place for him to check in most weeks, never more memorably than in January when, joined by good off-camera friend John Mulaney, he joked his way past the suicidal thoughts he had been expressing just a few weeks prior, which at the time prompted an outpouring of worry and support, including from Grande.
His way of defusing the situation while simultaneously thanking people for their support wasn’t for everybody, with some critics thinking he sounded a little too flippant. But Davidson had made a name for himself in comedy with his blunt treatment of tragic events, be it his father’s death on 9/11 or his own struggle with his mental health, so most people realized that joking his way through the pain is what he does. And he was still doing it very effectively, only this time—for better or worse—with countless more people hanging on his every word than there had been a year ago.
Beyond his brief serious comment about the breakup and then one-liners on SNL and in comedy clubs, Davidson hasn’t talked publicly about what happened with Grande. Earlier this year he randomly hit it off with Kate Beckinsaleanother unexpected coupling that had people asking the Underworld star how, exactly, that came about.
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“I’m surprised by the interest,” Beckinsale told the Los Angeles Times in March. “I’ve never been in this position before—never dated anybody who comes with their own bag of mischief. It’s all quite shocking, and something to get used to. I think if you liked the person less, you would bow out of it. If that were the main thrust of the relationship, there would be a problem. But it’s not.”
Asked if the scrutiny bothered her much, the British actress replied, “I’d rather not have people hiding outside my house. It’s a little old fashioned to have a woman’s personal life [looked at like that]. It’s a little bit tired.”
They amicably fizzled out last month before anything got too complicated. Overall, we heard that he never failed to make her laugh, and who doesn’t like that?
His most eventful season ever on SNL now over and the show on break until September, Davidson is busy doing the usual, such as stand-up, and the unusual, such as making his runway debut at an Alexander Wang show last month. He also co-wrote and is starring in Judd Apatow‘s latest movie, which, barely four years after he played “Dr. Conner’s patient” in Trainwreck, is listed on IMDb as “Untitled Judd Apatow/Pete Davidson Project.”
With that sort of success, his go-to joke about having to live with his mom might start wearing a little thin.
Meanwhile, in addition to earning a Grammy nomination for Sweetener (and winning for Best Pop Vocal Album, her first Grammy win), Grande was busy working on what’s been hailed as the best album of her career to date.
The November release of the single “Thank U, Next,” in which she name-checked several former boyfriends, including Davidson, and the reference-packed music video that went with it made for a true pop culture Moment of 2018, one that wouldn’t have unfolded in quite the same way without all that had come before.
The meaningful track was also the title of her fifth studio album, which came out in February and already has Grammy prognosticators buzzing about 2020 nominations. She’s currently on tour and headlined Coachella for the first time in April.
While several years’ worth of life experience inspired the album, what happened with Davidson couldn’t help but influence what turned out to be the near-flawless finished product—though it was going to include him in some way no matter what.
Grande said last year that Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez heard the verses that referenced them before the song came out, but she had wavered between name-checking anybody at all, especially since her breakup with Davidson was still so fresh, and recorded two versions of the tune.
“I was also trying to be protective,” she explained on The Zach Sang Show in February. “In my relationship at the time, things were like up and down and on and off, and so I didn’t know what was going to happen and then we got back together, so I had to make a different version of it, and then we broke up again, so we ended up going with that verse.”
“There’s a version where I was getting married, there’s a version where I’m not getting married, there’s a version with nothing—we’re not talking about anything,” she continued. “But we all knew that the first version was gonna be the version we ultimately went with.”
Overall, the whole album is stuffed with clever anecdotes brought to you straight from the process of falling in love, getting your heart broken, doing your best to get over it and falling back in love with yourself.
Some relationships are fleeting, but the art is forever.
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