In the eyes of the public, Ariana Grande may seem like she has a lot to answer for. Over the past year, as the pop star took a concerted step back from the spotlight to focus on filming the upcoming theatrical adaptation of Wicked, her personal life took a step forward. In April 2023, a wave of speculation about her body and weight forced her to briefly emerge to address the comments. Later in the year, news that she’d separated with ex-husband Dalton Gomez and started dating her Wicked co-star Ethan Slater (who had a fresh baby and wife) turned the tabloids into a frenzy. She was accused of being a homewrecker, and people began scrutinizing her past relationships. For the large part, Grande kept quiet — until now.
Today, Jan. 12, pop star Ari has returned with an apparent agenda: to address all the drama with “yes, and?,” her first release since 2020’s positions that marks the start of her highly anticipated next era. Early fan predictions claimed it would be her “homewrecker anthem” when she recently trotted out the house with a custom sweatshirt bearing the song title — but it’s not exactly that. After a few listens (and viewings of its choreo-heavy music video), it’s apparent that “Yes, and?” side-steps any confessions to focus on touting self-preservation and minding your own business, an opportunity to teach her critics rather than owning up to any of her own wrong-doing.
The first thing to get out of the way? “Yes, and?” is a banger. Produced and written by Grande herself alongside pop titans Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh, it heavily interpolates the sparkling deep-house beat of Madonna’s “Vogue” and is clearly meant to channel the classic hit’s rousing, celebratory atmosphere — and the lyrics reflect that.
The song opens by laying out the scene: “Everybody’s tired/ And healin’ from somebody,” Grande sings, referring, perhaps, to her own long history of trauma, or the fact that the world is generally a mess right now. But she doesn’t dwell on any of that. Instead, the tone immediately pivots into one of encouragement: “Boy, come one, put your lipstick on/ Come on and walk this way through the fire/ And if you find yourself in a dark situation/ Just turn on your light and be like.” (Her choice of the word “boy” could be interpreted as a nod back to “Vogue” and its lyric, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or girl.”)
The chorus hammers in the core message of the song: to protect your peace and prioritize self preservation: “Yes, and?/ Say that shit with your chest, and/ Be your own f*ckin’ best friend/ Say that shit with your chest/ Keep moving like, “What’s next?”/ Yes, and?”
It’s in the second half of the track where it really starts to get juicy, as Grande begins singing in the first person. “I’m so done with caring/ What you think, no, I won’t hide/ Underneath your own projections/ Or change my most authentic life.” These lyrics are vague and a little cookie-cutter but it’s the first moment she turns her attention to her own public narrative. She finally lets it all fly on the bridge as she delivers her most explicit lyrics on the song, seemingly addressing the public body-shaming from the past year — “Don’t comment on my body, do not reply” — and her relationship affairs: “Why do you care so much whose **** I ride?”
This latter lyric is what’s incited the most attention across social media, with users interpreting it at best as a flagrant middle-finger to her haters, and at worst, a justification of messing with a married man. But ultimately, it doesn’t really accomplish either. (For what it’s worth, sources claimed to People that Grande and Slater only got together romantically after they’d both separated from their spouses, but who’s to say.) Realistically, we’ll probably never find out what actually happened, and if we do, it certainly won’t come from the mouths of Grande or Slater. Instead, Grande’s taken the opportunity leave us all with a nugget of wisdom: “Your business is yours and mine is mine,” a message that at this point should be evergreen.
At the end of the day, the most interesting part of “yes, and?” has nothing to do with the drama, or whether or not she “homewrecked” a marriage. It’s when you start looking at it as a marketing tactic or shrewd business decision — a way for a pop star to have last laugh — that the gears finally click into place. This ethos is perhaps, what “yes, and?” shares with its widely-considered sister song “thank u, next,” another release that proves just how skilled Grande has become at spinning negative press into her own moment of triumph.