The lasting effects of early American literature can be seen throughout contemporary pieces in various medias. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance has set an example of the importance of self and finding one’s identity for generations to come. One way the themes from Emerson’s piece have reoccurred is through Ariana Grande’s 2018 single, “Thank u, next.” Grande’s song reshapes Emerson’s themes to be about relying on yourself for love, rather than for survival in society. While the context and setting are different than Self-Reliance, this song builds off the essential themes of Emerson’s text. Grande also reshapes Emerson’s piece by making it a song instead of a printed text. The themes from early American literature are transformed and reintroduced in a new technological format with new context.
One of the most prevalent themes and claims that Emerson makes is the idea of trusting yourself and believing in yourself truly. Emerson introduces this idea as a way of survival in society, explaining that it is divine and the correct way of living. Emerson urges to “trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found you” (Emerson). To trust oneself is a given right and the most important thing to do. This piece was written during the period when Americans were seeking a national identity. Grande’s song reflects this idea of forming an identity and trusting oneself. She sings, “I ain’t worried ’bout nothin’/ Plus, I met someone else/ We havin’ better discussions/ I know they say I move on too fast/ But this one gon’ last/ ‘Cause her name is Ari” (Grande). In this part of the song she is explaining how she’s moved on from her exes to herself. Now, by reflecting and relying on herself for love, in a sense, she is happy and “havin’ better discussions.” Grande reinvents Emerson’s idea of self-reliance by applying it to love and relationships.
Another theme present in both pieces of work is the idea of how divine and excellent self-help is. Emerson further develops the idea of self-reliance and explains that it not only includes self-trust, but also self-help. Emerson’s text declares “the secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man” (Emerson). He states that self-helping yourself is essential to success and god-like. Grande follows Emerson’s ideas by helping herself, revealing in third person that, “she [Grande] taught me love (Love)/ She taught me patience (Patience)/ And she handles pain (Pain)” (Grande). Grande reflects on herself and explains how her own experiences have taught her how to love, how to be patience, and how to handle emotional pain. Grande reinterprets themes seen in Emerson’s text and introduces them to us in the form of song.
Aside from self, the theme of history is used as a way to establish identity. Emerson explains that “he cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time” (Emerson). Emerson urges this idea of parting with the past and living in the present. Similarly, Grande writes, “So, look what I got/ Look what you taught me/ And for that, I say/ Thank you, next” (Grande). Grande is saying “thank u” to the past and looks at what she has now, in the present.
The second half of her chorus is “next,” meaning she is also focusing on the future and accepting her past. Emerson mentions future when he explains that “Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future” (Emerson). Although almost contradictory, readers can see how the idea of building an identity is highly reflective of one’s past. Both artist and writer encourage the acceptance of past and focus on the present and future. While Emerson has the aspect of nature in his writings, Grande looks at love. Again, readers and listeners can see how Grande’s piece of work reshapes Emerson’s beliefs and presents it in a new way.
The original format for Emerson’s Self-Reliance was printed and shared through bookstores and stands, whereas Grande’s form of American literature is electronic and in the form of a song. Grande’s song has electronic beats and claps with a repetitive chorus of “thank u, next.” These aspects create a catchy rhythm and song that is able to make its way into everyone’s mind. In fact, Grande sings the phrase, “thank u, next,” 27 times, making sure it’ll get stuck in the listener’s head. By repeating this single phrase so many times, Grande does a similar thing that Emerson did in his writing. In Self-Reliance, Emerson constantly repeats the idea of being true to yourself and that you are all that you need. Grande’s repeated phrase focuses more on reflecting, being true to yourself in love, and looking onto the future. Although they both have a similar tactic, hearing the phrase sung aloud, along with a beat, is more memorable than reading it from a long document. Grande’s song is, therefore, more effective at creating a lasting mark on listeners without them having to analysis lengthy sentences. She can deliver to the audience the importance of self, as Emerson did, but in an easy-to-understand and retainable way. Grande’s piece of work has pulled from Emerson’s early American text and reshaped it into a catchy song about relationships.
Although songs have been around far longer than early America, Grande’s text is special because its online. Being an electronic song enables it to travel anywhere there is a computer. While Emerson’s Self-Reliance reached a lot of readers, it didn’t do it in a day. Grande’s song was so influential, it broke Spotify’s global single-day streaming record for female artists (forbes.com). As America’s people and technologies changed to become seekers of instant-gratification, literature changed as well to become more instantaneous. One technological platform that helped promote Grande’s song was Instagram. As with the case of most things online, even if an Instagram user didn’t listen to the song themselves, they easily may have heard about it within the same day that it was released. “Thank u, Next” was able to bring Emerson’s ideas to a wider and instant audience.
Ariana Grande’s single reshapes ideas and themes from Emerson’s Self-Reliance and presents them in a new way that keeps up with societal changes. Early American literature lives on through pieces like Grande’s song about self-reliant love. Apart from applying Emerson’s ideas to relationships and love, the song uses technology that wasn’t available at the time of early America. American literature, then, is presented through new technologies that represent the current times. In a classroom setting, technology can instantly provide literature and has thus shaped the study of American literature to be more instant. Students are able to access texts easily and quickly, enabling them to analyze and learn no matter where they are, as long as they have internet. Technology is able to influence the way we consume and study American literature to make it more accessible and shareable. Just as Grande says thank you to the past, one can say “next” to what’s becoming of American literature with future technology.
Grande, Ariana. “Thank U, Next.” Republic Records, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OeR5XBEahU
Rolli, Bryan. “Ariana Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’ Breaks Single-Day Spotify Record For A Female Artist – Twice.” Forbes, 7 Nov. 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrolli/2018/11/07/ariana-grande-thank-u-next-spotify-record/#3013cf016b92.
Claire-Helps. Ariana Grande Gif. Tumbler.com, https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjfnOzAiIzfAhXjRt8KHaFEBrUQjhx6BAgBEAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fclaire-helps.tumblr.com%2Fpost%2F88565117624%2Fariana-grande-gif-hunt&psig=AOvVaw2DHvnF2GjkzyjXOq9j5cve&ust=1544215311921555