Unpacking Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson's Public Breakup: Why Their Split Went Off the Rails

For some reason, we didn't expect an ode to heartbreak quite so fast...

By Natalie Finn Nov 05, 2018 9:25 PMTags
Watch: Ariana Grande Says Exes Heard "Thank U, Next" Before Its Release

If you were expecting Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson's breakup to fade gently into that good night, the past week has been a rude awakening.

The implosion of their whirlwind engagement last month made its expected share of headlines and, while it was sad, wasn't all that shocking. Then there's always a bit of time that goes into figuring out what went wrong and trying to pinpoint where the chips have fallen, in Friendship Land or Animosityville.

But the subsequent race to own the narrative did at first seem to come out of left field.

No matter how public the relationship was in the first place, celebrities do tend to speak out eventually ("break their silence" and whatnot) after a split, but the tradition of lining up a big magazine interview some months down the road à la Brad or Angelina isn't really what the kids are doing these days. Rather, the social media rulers of the world, such as Grande, prefer to use their personal platforms to share a few reflective thoughts—or at least sub-post about their feelings. 

Ariana Grande & Pete Davidson: Romance Rewind

"ok today was v special and i'm so grateful i was able to be there," Grande wrote two days after the split news broke, the breakup having fatefully coincided with her performance on NBC's A Very Wicked Halloween, hastening the need for a social presence when she otherwise might have been inclined to steer clear. 

But, she added, "time to say bye bye to the internet for just a lil bit. it's hard not to bump news n stuff that i'm not tryna to see rn. it's very sad and we're all tryin very hard to keep goin. love u. and thank u for bein here always."

It was a very little bit, barely two days, because, understandably, there were things in the near future to promote and they've gotta be posted to the Twitter and Instagram.

SKYLINE / SplashNews.com

On his end, Davidson continued to not be on social media, his account having been free of posts since September due to the overwhelming pile-on that came with dating and then getting engaged to one of the biggest pop stars in the world.

But the 24-year-old comedian did crack jokes about the split a week after becoming single again during a benefit performance for the get-out-the-vote organization Swing Left in L.A. on Oct. 20. Davidson characteristically directed his acerbic barbs at himself, with the theme being how unlucky in love he was: he was looking for a place to live (he had been vocal about how "their" place belonged to her); he was once again sporting a handful of useless tattoos; and his friends had gone from advising him to ignore the haters to agreeing that, yes, he had acted quite hastily.

Pete Davidson, Ariana Grande and the Ongoing Disaster That Is Celebrity Relationship Tattoos

"I feel like I am America," Davidson said, acknowledging the patriotic reason he had showed up at all. "I'm a good guy that just keeps getting kicked in the dick. You're like, 'Ah, that f--king poor kid. Hope he doesn't kill himself.' That's America."

There was no video of his performance at the intimate Largo at the Coronet theater, which seats a maximum of 130 people, so if Grande was avoiding the news for a few days, it could have never happened...

Because she didn't have anything to say about it. Sources had told E! News that she was spending a lot of time in the studio, her "happy place," and surrounding herself with family and friends to help work through the latest sad turn of events in what had already been a dreadful year even before she decided her relationship with Davidson couldn't actually go anywhere, much less to the altar.


"She has been struggling emotionally and is not in a situation where she should plan a wedding," another source said. "She had to take a step back and just breathe for a minute. She's been completely overwhelmed and wants to slow down."

Even after ending her engagement, Grande had work obligations and the ghost of her previous relationship with Mac Miller to confront, the quest for closure there having been forever left unsatisfied when he died suddenly on Sept. 7. 

"Ariana hasn't given herself enough time for the grieving and healing process, and feels like her emotions are out of control," a source explained, noting that the singer was "truly hurting from the death of Mac."

She wished Davidson the best, and vice versa. Meanwhile, she seemed determined to power through and just let the parade of breakup stories fall by the wayside. 

"it ain't work when u love it r u kiddin ! i'm the luckiest girl in the world to be able to do this s--t n express myself n heal this way .... my lifeline tbh thank U for listening n allowing this to be my life," Grande tweeted on Oct. 24. (More recently she candidly credited therapy for helping her put the pieces back together, writing that it "has saved [her] life so many times.")

But then last week it came time to promote the return of Saturday Night Live on Nov. 3 after a couple weeks off the air.


"Hey, Maggie, I'm Pete. You wanna get married?" Davidson said in a commercial for SNL that aired Thursday, mock-proposing to musical guest Maggie Rogers. She politely declined, to which he shrugged, "0 for 3." (If Grande was his second attempt, that implied his previous serious girlfriend of a couple years, Cazzie David, was the recipient of proposal No. 1.)

There was nothing at all surprising about that promo spot, especially since SNL's season premiere last month contained numerous references to Grande and Davidson's engagement, starting with host Adam Driver complaining about being bombarded with tales of what people did over the summer, but then telling Davidson that his summer was the one he wanted to hear about.

So consider us a little surprised when Grande seemed to take it really hard, tweeting, "For somebody who claims to hate relevancy [you] sure love clinging to it huh. Thank [you], next."

Not that she was the first (more like the thousandth) famous person to fire back at an ex on social media, but publicly taking a jab at Davidson right where it's likely to hurt seemed a little out of character for Grande, who's no stranger to having her private life dissected out in the open and tries to not fire back unless it's absolutely necessary—such as when some folks were pinning the blame for Miller's DUI on her back in May.

Davidson's SNL bit seemed a little...small potatoes for that. 

But potato, potahto.


"She wasn't amused by Pete's jokes at all," a source told E! News afterward. "They made an agreement that they would not address their relationship or discuss it after they split up. He violated that agreement and it really hurt her. She knew he would see her tweet."

Another source denied that he violated any "agreement," and pointed out that he didn't even say her name.

The murky picture came into better focus in the hours leading up to SNL on Saturday, however, when it turned out that "thank u next" referred to the title of her next single—a piece of fruit borne from all that time spent in the studio in recent weeks. And it turned out to be one big cleansing blast of an exorcism.

"Thought I'd end up with Sean, but he wasn't a match / Wrote some songs about Ricky, now I listen and laugh / Even almost got married, and for Pete I'm thankful / Wish I could say thank you to Malcolm, 'cause he was an angel," she sings in the track, which landed barely an hour before showtime.


In this age of day-of diss tracks and instant turnaround, of course there was going to be a musical reaction. After all, the song "Pete Davidson" came together relatively quickly, in time to be on Grande's album Sweetener, which dropped in August, barely three months into their relationship.

However, Grande doesn't see it as a diss track. And in fact, "Thank U, Next" is upbeat and empowering—and cheeky, the "I'm so f--kin' grateful for my ex" line in the chorus striking the right tone of poison-laced optimism. Regardless, her fans, including many celebs, are obsessed. Grande's Instagram Story is currently packed full of the most creative reactions to the tune.

But at the same time, it makes her tweet about relevancy, if it really was as aggrieved as it came off, sound a little unfair. (The key word being "if" now.) On Friday she followed up with what turned out to be lyrics from "thank u, next": "got so much love..... got so much patience..... i've learnt from the pain .... and turnt out amazin.... say i've loved and i've lost..... but that's not what i see cause look what i got.... look what u taught me...and for that i say ....... thank u, next."

2018 Celebrity Breakups

After the song dropped, Davidson continued to give the people more of what they so obviously wanted on SNL

When he appeared on "Weekend Update," ostensibly to give his impression of some midterm election candidates, he started by saying he finally started paying attention to the election "after I had to move back in with my mom."

Funny, because it may very well be true. A source told E! News after the split that he was "staying with family in New York" rather than in the $16 million love nest he and Grande lived in together for several months. She returned the $100,000 engagement ring Davidson bought her, but has retained custody of their potbellied pig, Piggy Smallz.

"the absolute love of my life ............. i have no idea what i did ...... to deserve her," Grande replied on Twitter when a fan asked how her pet was doing.

Anyway, Davidson concluded his "Weekend Update" bit by, without naming names, saying that his ex was great, full stop.

"I know some of you are curious about the breakup, but the truth is, it's nobody's business and sometimes things just don't work out, and that's OK," he said. "She's a wonderful, strong person and I genuinely wish her all the happiness in the world. Now please, go vote on Tuesday, alright?"

As the audience erupted with applause, he added, referring to the ode to him on Sweetener, "I'm still a great song, though!"

No additional controversy there. Yet critics seized on one of his candidate jokes, so... the Ariana Grande conversation on SNL ultimately may have ended with a wimper.


And the twitterverse remained abuzz about "thank u, next," as well as full of questions.

For instance, did her Swiftian take on breakups irk her other famous exes, such as Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez, who were name-checked right out of the gate?

"They heard it before it came out," Grande tweeted last night.

Alvarez, for his part, put up an amiable Instagram Story response, a video of him listening to the song that zooms in humorously when she sings "now I listen and laugh." The next slide reads: "nothing but gratitude [heart] thank u, next [prayer hands]."

Meanwhile, tickets to Grande's Sweetener World Tour are also on sale now.

The relationships didn't last, but the breakups are hitting the road.