thank u, next
Planning for the music video began long before the song was released. During work on Ariana Grande's music video for her song "breathin", director Hannah Lux Davis listened to a demo for "thank u, next", in which she praised the song. Because of this, both Davis and Grande started coming up with concepts for the video, bringing up their love for films such as Mean Girls and Bring It On. Production began immediately from the release of the "Breathin" video. Ariana Grande announced that the video would reference four of the most successful teen movies of the 2000s: Mean Girls, Bring It On, Legally Blonde, and 13 Going on 30.
Grande also considered adding other memorable 2000's teen movies, such as A Cinderella Story and She's the Man, but declined. She began teasing the music video on her Instagram account on November 20. Later that day, she shared more images including one with actress Jennifer Coolidge, who starred in the Legally Blonde. On November 22, 2018, Grande posted a photo of herself in a cheerleader's outfit, alongside a quote from the movie Bring It On. On November 27, Grande released a teaser video featuring cameos from singer-songwriter Troye Sivan, YouTube stars Colleen Ballinger and Gabriella DeMartino, Mean Girls actors Jonathan Bennett and Stefanie Drummond, and Grande's former Victorious co-stars Elizabeth Gillies, Daniella Monet and Matt Bennett.
The video made its official premiere on YouTube on November 30, 2018, through a new feature called "YouTube Premiere".
During the premiere of the music video on YouTube, it was reported that a total of 829,000 viewers were watching and participating in the live stream, making it the largest viewership that YouTube Premiere has received since its launch. Following its release, the video broke the record for most-watched music video in YouTube within 24 hours, officially achieving 55.4 million views on the platform in its first day, surpassing the 45.9 million YouTube views of BTS's "Idol" video, the previous record-holder. The record was later overtaken by Blackpink with their song "Kill This Love" in April 2019, with 56.7 million views.
The "thank u, next" music video was praised by critics. Esther Zuckerman of Thrillist stated in her review, "what Grande is doing -- as she has done with her conversational Twitter account -- is inviting her fans into sisterhood where everyone knows what it means to be flirty, and thirty, and thriving and where the limit does not exist. Just like a good rom-com, it's impossible to resist". Matt Gallatin of The Michigan Daily praised the music video's pop culture references, stating that "Ariana literally becomes pop culture, and pop culture becomes her." Stars from the referenced films praised Grande along with the music video; Reese Witherspoon, the lead actress from Legally Blonde praised the video, particularly the iconic "bend and snap" scene that was reenacted in the video. Jennifer Garner of 13 Going on 30 stated in her Instagram page, "every now and then something comes along and just brightens your day. Ariana Grande you're adorable. Thank you, pretty girl."
The video begins with an intro featuring different singers, actors and YouTube personalities including American YouTuber Colleen Ballinger, American actors Jonathan Bennett and Stefanie Drummond, Ariana Grande's backup dancer Scott Nicholson, Australian singer Troye Sivan and American YouTuber Gabi DeMartino, parodying the montage in Mean Girls where many high school students are talking about Regina George, the leader of school clique, "The Plastics". Some of the actors from the original movie even appear in this scene. In the first few seconds of the video, the instrumental for what would be Grande's next single, "7 rings", can be heard in the background. The words "THANK U, NEXT" are then shown on the screen in the same font as the title card of Mean Girls (2004). It then features a close-up of a book, similar to the "Burn Book" (also from Mean Girls), containing images and writing showing and talking about Grande's past relationships with images of American rapper Big Sean, the singer's former backup dancer Ricky Alvarez and American comedian Pete Davidson, all in the book; only Mac Miller, despite being quoted in the song, is not shown in a photo, respecting his death. The video then follows Ariana Grande as Regina George among The Plastics (formed by Elizabeth Gillies as Cady, Alexa Luria as Karen, and Courtney Chipolone as Gretchen, as well as Jonathan Bennett in his original role as Aaron) walking down the hall, another reference to Mean Girls. The next clip shows Grande dancing with Gilles, Luria and Chipolone in Mrs. Claus-inspired dresses, with an appearance by Grande's mother (portrayed by Kris Jenner in reference to the role of Amy Poehler), filming the dance on her home video camera, except mirroring Poehler's original dance moves.
The next clip is set in a bathroom and shows Ariana Grande, as Torrance, and her love interest Cliff (portrayed by Matt Bennett) brushing their teeth, similar to a scene from the movie Bring It On (2000), which then transitions to Grande cheerleading among others including Daniella Monet versing against the other team, including singer-songwriters Victoria Monét and Tayla Parx, who are contributing the background vocals in the track. The scene then moves to Grande helping out with a wedding, where she appears as Jenna playing with a dollhouse reminiscent to a scene in 13 Going on 30 (2004). A magic-like transition moves into the following scene where Grande drives a convertible with the license plate which reads "7 RINGS", foreshadowing the next single from her Thank U, Next album. In the next scene, Grande hops out of the vehicle with her dog, Toulouse Grande, in a pink leather jacket, referencing Elle Woods from Legally Blonde (2001). The camera spans to multiple shots of Grande walking down a path with a shot of her at a swimming pool, another reference to the film. Another reference to the movie follows as the music pauses to show a scene of Grande at the beauty salon with the manicurist Paulette (portrayed by Jennifer Coolidge in her original role) talking about past relationships of how "big front teeth" can affect someone's look; the whole scene involves many re-enactments of other Legally Blonde scenes including the "Bend and Snap". Several shots of Ariana Grande are shown running on the treadmill, with all scenes previously in the video then completed into one involving some behind-the-scene shots and a scene with Coolidge and the UPS delivery man meeting (the role was originally portrayed by Bruce Thomas) referencing another scene which is from the original film. The video then concludes with Grande and the cheerleaders dancing, the singer leaving a red lipstick trace by kissing Colleen Ballinger's pregnant stomach and Kris Jenner, whilst holding the camera, saying "Thank you, next, bitch!" in the ultimate shot.