Behind the Intros On 'Thank U, Next': How Ariana Grande Featured Her Nonna, Her Best Friend and a 'Drag Race' Star
Arianators are having a heyday with Ariana Grande's new album, Thank U, Next, which arrived promptly at midnight Feb. 8. But while many are diving into her super-personal lyrics, other fans are wondering, who are these people that aren't Ari?
Three tracks have intros that feature voices who are uncredited on the album track list: "NASA," "Bloodline" and "In My Head." Below, let Billboard help solve a few Thank U, Next mysteries.
"NASA" -- Shangela, RuPaul's Drag Race star
Line: "This is one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind."
Shangela leads into Ariana's space-themed breakup song with a twist on Neil Armstrong's iconic phrase, which came to the Drag Race queen upon hearing "NASA." "After it was over she was like, 'How do you like it?'" Shangela recalled to Billboard. "I was like, 'Oh, girl, I love it, and I'm already thinking of what I'm gonna do for my version.' She looked at me like, 'Your version?' I was like, 'Oh, I mean a version when I perform in drag. I wanna come out with a moonsuit with some space titties. I wanna come out like I'm walking on the moon. I'm gonna lift up that fake moon mask, and I'm gonna say: ‘This is one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind.' She said, 'Oh my God, I love it so much,' in her classic, beautiful Ariana Grande voice.”
Grande promptly requested Shangela record the phrase into the singer's phone. A couple months later, Ari called to confirm "NASA" would include Shangela's voice on the intro. "I was like, 'You gotta be kidding,'" Shangela added. "I'm just so thrilled that she liked it."
"Bloodline" -- Marjorie Grande, Ariana's grandmother ("Nonna")
Line: "Because I'm trying to do the best I can, and they can't find something to satisfy me."
Whether she's Ariana's award show date or the star of Ari's social media, Nonna has become a beloved part of Grande's career. Yet, Ariana's grandma had never made an appearance on one of her albums -- until now.
Nonna kicks off the sassy, brass-tinged track with a statement as bold as the song's lyrics that declare the Grande bloodline is a tough one for suitors to crack. Though Ariana has yet to comment on Nonna's cameo herself, Marjorie is officially credited for providing background vocals as Marjorie "Nonna" Grande.
"In My Head" -- Doug Middlebrook, Ariana's best friend
Line: "Here's the thing: you’re in love with a version of a person that you've created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix. Uh, the only person you can fix is yourself. I love you, this has gone on way too long. Enough is enough. I'm two blocks away. I’m coming over."
As the song's title hints, "In My Head" sees Ariana addressing a relationship where she had convinced herself the person was someone he was not. But before Grande delivers lyrics that tell that tale perfectly ("Painted a picture, I thought I knew you well/ I got a habit of seeing what isn't there," she sings in the opening verse), a voicemail from her best friend makes it clear that she didn't reach that conclusion on her own.
Grande explained Middlebrook's appearance on Twitter a couple days before the release of Thank U, Next: "He was a major help to me thru some v difficult moments so i wanted to capture that a lil," she wrote to a fan, "give him a musical hug. it’s also his favorite song so it fits."