Ariana Grande first met music video director Hannah Lux Davis in 2014 on the set for the “Bang Bang” music video. Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Jessie J, who all collaborated on the smash, had decided to hire a female director, and Minaj (who’d worked with Davis before) knew Davis was the exact woman for the job.
Grande has collaborated with Davis ever since—partnering with her on such iconic works of art as the visuals for her Dangerous Woman tour and her most recent internet-breaking, instant-hit video, “Thank U, Next.”
In that time, Davis has watched Grande grow into a fearless performer, but she still remembers her at the start of her career, when she was greener, but full of potential.
“She was kind of shy,” Davis tells Glamour, recalling the “Bang Bang” set. “Her eye contact to camera wasn’t as fierce as it is today, but I remember being like, ‘Gosh. She’s so good when she connects to camera.’ She’s just gotten so much more confident over the years, and it’s been so fun to watch.”
Davis hasn’t just been with Grande for her professional achievements—she’s seen her deal with personal highs and lows. Over time, the women have built up a trust and a bond that’s obvious in their collaborations. Take this latest video, for example. “With ‘Thank U, Next,’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve known you with all of these guys!'” Davis exclaims. “I never met Pete, but I knew her then, and I remember the Ricky phase, the Sean phase, and Mac. I was there with her for all of them! It’s cool to be somebody who’s been with her on the journey of growing up and learning and finding herself, and that’s what the song is about.”
Less than 24 hours after its premiere, “Thank U, Next” already has 47 million views. Glamour spoke with Davis about the viral response to the video, her creative process with Grande, and of course, the Burn Book.
GLAMOUR: You’ve worked on a lot of huge music videos with artists like Nicki Minaj, Demi Lovato, and of course, Ariana, but what is it about “Thank U, Next” that is resonating with viewers in a way we’ve never seen before?
HANNAH LUX DAVIS: Well I think all eyes are on Ariana right now, and it’s such a personal and relatable song. In terms of the video, it hits a lot of notes of nostalgia, which brings in different audiences. It’s not just her younger fans, but also people who love the movies [we recreated], who might not at first be Ariana fans, but still want to tune in. But [the reaction] definitely feels really different and exciting. Ariana and I have been FaceTiming all day—she loves to FaceTime, she’ll never do a phone call or a voicemail, just a FaceTime—and she was just like, “oh my god.” We’ve been sitting on the phone just staring at each other going, “Oh my god, oh my god,” a million times back and forth, because that’s how it feels.
GLAMOUR: I read an interview you did with Billboard about your creative process with Ariana. Like how when you were working on the “Side to Side” video she came to you and said, “Let’s do something with spin bikes,” and you just took it from there. What vision did she come to you with, this time?
HLD: We were working on “Breathin” in New York, and I came over to her place and we were sitting on the floor in the living room with dogs and animals everywhere, even Piggy Smalls, who’s so cute. He’s like an old man girl, because she smells and feels like an old man, but is a lady. So we’re sitting on the floor and she was like I want to play you my new song, which was “Thank U, Next.” I was in total shock because I was like, “Oh my god she’s listing names.”
We narrowed it down to films that had the same common thread of a strong female lead, who went through a breakup, and came out on the other side a more empowered, strong, version of themselves.
Then we were talking about a video and she was like, “What about Mean Girls and a Burn Book? But instead of a Burn Book it’s a “Thank U, Next” book and I write all these things I’m thankful for in the Burn Book about the guys?” So right away you’re like, “Yeah, that’s it.” Then we went down a rabbit hole of that genre and that time and era and then we were like what if we did Legally Blonde? We just started listing movies and we were like, “We have to do Bring It On and 13 Going on 30.” Then we had to cool it and were like ok, four movies. Let’s do four.
We narrowed it down really organically to films that had the same common thread of a strong female lead, who went through a breakup, and came out on the other side a more empowered, strong, version of themselves—which is very much true to what the song was about. Like with Elle Woods, her ex-boyfriend lead her to Harvard, where she found her passion. She’s obviously grateful for her ex! So we focused on these situations that push characters into positions that are uncomfortable, but they realize they can do it and that’s a great message for young girls.
GLAMOUR: Another fun thing about this video is that it was an epic reunion. You and Ariana got to work together again, Jennifer Coolidge was able to reprise her iconic role as Paulette in Legally Blonde, and the cast of Victorious to came together for the first time in years. It just seemed like the best time. But what was it actually like on set?
HLD: She had a lot of her friends and former cast mates from other shows and any time somebody got to set and were in wardrobe they were just like, “Oh my god can you believe we’re doing it?” Ariana was like, “This is a coolest thing being a pop star has ever allowed me to do. To bring all these people together, all of these ideas together and to actually pull it off and do it justice.” [My favorite] behind the scenes moments were when Ariana would take a moment and just geek out over reenacting these scenes and getting to put a 2018 spin on it.
GLAMOUR: Speaking of cameos, the internet’s favorite one is far and away Kris Jenner. How did you get her to play the most epic amateur momager of all time?
HLD: So good, right? If you don’t use Amy Poehler, or Joan Grande herself, it’s gotta be Kris Jenner. It was Ariana’s idea to include her. They’re friends, so Ariana reached out and Kris was interested. It was a fast process to get her on board. On set she didn’t take herself too seriously and just got right in there and got into character so effortlessly. It was so funny because we’re doing all these ad libs with her and I was like, “No this is actually you! You are this person.” We had a few different Juicy sweatsuit options and we wanted to make sure it was just right. We had more than five so we could find the perfect one for her, and we found the right vibe.
GLAMOUR: So the Burn Book was the initial conceit of the video. How much of it did you have planned out? Did you and Ariana talk about what she’d write about each guy ahead of time?
HLD: She knew that she wanted to keep it positive, fun, and tongue-in-cheek. She was like, “Oh my god I should totally be like, ‘could still get it’ for Sean.” She kind of had some of these premeditated; like for Pete, writing, “huuuuuuge.” The one that came out as we were filming was the “sorry I dipped.” We were rolling and she was writing in the book, and we had to have her write multiple pages because we had to do multiple takes, but on that last take, she wrote “sry I dipped.” It was just like, gold. It was so real! She was so honest and that’s what makes it so fun.
GLAMOUR: Speaking of “huuuuuge” there were a lot of awesome Easter eggs in the video, including the references to “BDE” (Big Dick Energy) like on the logo of the UPS guy’s uniform, in the Legally Blonde homage! How did you decide to reference Pete’s uh, “size,” in this video?
HLD: I love that you saw that! I don’t want to tell people the Easter eggs, I want them to find them. But as for the uniform, [the actor] was actually wearing a UPS logo on the uniform, and we had to change it in post. Which is so fun because we get to go back and change things and that idea was all her, [to write BDE as the logo instead of UPS on the uniform]. We didn’t want [the guys] to be mad about anything so we were like let’s keep it fun, so if they see it they’d be like, yeah, that’s cool.
GLAMOUR: Pete certainly can’t get mad about this one!