You ain’t my boyfriend/ I ain’t your girlfriend/ But you don’t want me to see nobody else/ And I don’t want you to see nobody
It’s start-stop and start again. The opening bars, with their distorted accordion, push and pull you. The lyrics are back and forth, brimming with tension and confusion. Even the chorus is contradictory; defining the relationship in the first part and then unpicking it the next.
‘Boyfriend’ opens in Paris with its distorted Bal-musette and Ariana evoking spoken word in the first four lines, before falling into her signature breathy vocals over the 90s trap beats and synths.
I’m a motherfuckin’ train wreck/ I don’t wanna be too much/ But I don’t wanna miss your touch/ And you don’t seem to give a fuck
Think ‘Needy’ and its “cards on the table” declaration to a faceless other, but ‘Boyfriend’ is so much better because there is someone there to catch her words as she drops them. Love has replaced loneliness in the form of Mikey, one half of Social House, who in the second verse proclaims he is just as fucked up as she is and just as smitten about her as she is about him.
Damn, baby, I’m a train wreck, too/ I lose my mind when it comes to you/ I take time with the ones I choose/ And I don’t want to smile if it ain’t from you
The whole song, words and music, is a conversation of layers and tension – the Bal-musette hidden under trap beats; boyfriend and girlfriend; are we or aren’t we; love and lust; vulnerability and bravado.
There is something timeless and old fashioned about the song. Maybe in part because of the subject matter, infatuation coupled with not wanting to call a relationship what it is.But also because of the music; the infusion of two cultures – Southern hip-hop and Bal-musette. Its contradiction means you can find yourself in the both the familiarity of the past, and excitement and newness of the present.
The second chorus with its layered vocals and the start-stop of the music, as if someone hitting stop on a tape and then rewinding, creates a definitive moment in the song. As if saying, so you are not my boyfriend and I am not your girlfriend, but you don’t want me to see nobody else and I don’t want you to nobody, so where do we go from here? But as some clarity feels within reach, feelings fall back into the push-pull and being scared of defining what it is they want.
The music video also evokes these qualities. Set in a mansion with chandeliers and winding staircases but filled with contemporary costumes and people. The roles being played – the girlfriend, boyfriend, therapist– again a staple of American culture, is timeless. The video is a dark comedy/romance filled with ridiculousness that, if you have been following Ariana Grande, will make perfect sense, and if you haven’t, will give you a pretty good idea of how her brain works.
The ridiculousness and the laugh out loud moments do not extinguish the brutal honesty of the song. Both are messes and playing with each other and others but still end up in a bathroom together but are still not wanting to be “seen” together.
If you were boyfriend/ And I were your girlfriend/ I probably wouldn’t see nobody else/ But I can’t guarantee that by myself
‘Boyfriend’ is dreamy and sublime. It feels familiar but at the same time brand new. It’s are we or aren’t we, on or off again, which is confusing and stressful, but also free and light-hearted and sexy. It’s a dance that goes on and on and on.