Ariana Grande's Year of Highs and Lows: 'One of the Best' of Her Career and the 'Worst' of Her Life

She's loved and she's lost, but that's not what she sees

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2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Red Carpet
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2018 was a tumultuous year for the pop goddess, and it's perhaps best summed up in the star's own lyrics: "I've loved and I've lost, but that's not what I see."

Looking back at Grande’s year of personal and professional highs and lows — from a whirlwind romance and subsequent broken engagement with Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson and a chart-topping album that earned her Billboard's 2018 Woman of the Year award to the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller — it’s more evident than ever how the "Thank U, Next" singer has managed to sweeten even the most bitter experiences: through her music. And for that we’ll say: thank you, and we can’t wait to see what you do next year.

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The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 4
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On April 20, Grande, 25, released her first single since the Manchester bombing attack that killed 22 people and injured more than 500 at one of the U.K. stops on her Dangerous Woman tour in May of 2017.

Her highly anticipated return did not disappoint fans, who were thrilled by the upbeat pop song and the positive mentality it pointed to. ("Right now, I'm in a state of mind/I wanna be in, like, all the time," Grande sings on the track.)

Grande also released the Dave Meyers-directed music video to accompany the single’s debut, which fittingly addressed her seemingly endless ability to turn pain into art.

"The concept we wanted to explore was the disorientation that you go through in life, and the quest that we all go through to kind of find the ground again," the director said. "We sort of flirt with the ambiguity of whether you need to find the ground or whether the ground is what you make of it — sort of the optimism of the song and her," he continued.

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Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The singer stunned in a strapless Vera Wang ballgown featuring a painting of Michelangelo’s "The Last Judgment" at the "Heavenly Bodies" Met Gala on May 7.

"I am so excited about my dress. I just love it!" Grande said in an interview with E! of her look, which was styled by Law Roach. "I am honored to be here."

After making her grand entrance, the pop star snapped selfies inside with celebs including Kim Kardashian West and Kylie Jenner.

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Ariana Grande and Mac Miller
Ariana Grande Instagram

On May 9, PEOPLE confirmed that Grande and rapper Mac Miller (real name: Malcolm McCormick) had amicably split the month before after nearly two years together.

In a throwback photo Grande posted of the pair cuddling, she wrote, "This is one of my best friends in the whole world and favorite people on the planet. I respect and adore him endlessly and am grateful to have him in my life in any form, at all times regardless of how our relationship changes or what the universe holds for each of us!"

She added, "Unconditional love is not selfish. It is wanting the best for that person even if at the moment, it’s not you," and, "I can’t wait to know and support you forever and i’m so proud of you!"

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One Love Manchester Benefit Concert
Kevin Mazur/One Love Manchester/Getty

Barely a week after news of their split, Miller — who had long been open about his struggles with sobriety — was arrested for a DUI on May 17.

Trolls were quick to blame Grande for the rapper's relapse, to which she defended herself on Twitter, opening up about previously hidden struggles in their relationship.

"How absurd that you minimize female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship," she clapped back. "I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be … I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety & prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his s— together is a very major problem."

She concluded, "Let’s please stop doing that. of course i didn’t share about how hard or scary it was while it was happening but it was. i will continue to pray from the bottom of my heart that he figures it all out and that any other woman in this position does as well."

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Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson
Pete Davidson/Instagram

Just a few weeks after news of her split from Miller, a source told PEOPLE on May 21 that Grande had begun seeing Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson, and that things between the two had "just started" and were "very casual."

Davidson had also gotten out of his long-term relationship with Cazzie David earlier that month.

The pair had known each other since at least 2016, when the singer hosted SNL, but they were first spotted together backstage at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards, where Grande performed. An onlooker told PEOPLE that backstage, "They seemed very lovey-dovey. He was hanging out with her and her friends with his arm around her. She seemed quite smitten."

On May 30, the comedian made their relationship Instagram official by posting a new photo of him and Grande posing in Harry Potter wizard robes. Grande returned the favor the following day, sharing a cuddly photo captioned, "I thought u into my life."

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2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Red Carpet
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

On June 11, PEOPLE confirmed that the two were engaged after just a few weeks of dating. The pair seemed inseparable in the weeks leading up to the announcement, during which they frequently shared their affection for each other on social media. Grande revealed over Father's Day weekend that the two had also moved in together.

The singer has said she knew she was going to marry Davidson after seeing him for the first time, when they instantly connected on the set of SNL.

"He just ticks every box, and it gets better every day," she said of her man in an interview with Michael Strahan for Good Morning America in August. "I’m very grateful for him. Life is beautiful."

"It’s just like a feeling, you know?" Grande added. "That’s so cheesy. People are always like, 'When you know you know,' and you’re like, 'Yeah, okay, whatever.' "

The comedian proposed with a dazzling 3-carat engagement ring from Manhattan-based jeweler Greg Yuna, whom he paid a jaw-dropping $93,000. Grande was first spotted wearing the pear-shaped diamond sparkler at iHeartRadio’s Wango Tango concert on June 2 in Los Angeles.

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2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Noam Galai/WireImage

After Grande and Davidson's PDA-packed red carpet debut at the MTV Video Music Awards, the singer delivered a musical performance worthy of the gods.

After accepting the award for best pop video, Grande hit the stage to perform "God Is a Woman" — the empowering second single off of her Sweetener album — alongside a group of more than 50 diverse dancers, emulating Leonardo da Vinci’s "The Last Supper."

In honor of her own strong female role models, Grande ended the striking, sensual performance by bringing her grandmother, mother and her cousin onstage.

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Ariana Grande/Instagram

How sweet it is! Grande released her fourth full-length studio album, Sweetener, on Aug. 17. Her most honest work to date, the album revealed new depths to the pop star's talent, with lyrics that candidly explored grief, mental health and the intoxication of new love, all set to bouncy, dream-like beats.

The album shot to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart just one week after its release, and was streamed over 125 million times — the largest streaming week ever for a female pop album, according to Billboard.

Included in the album was the controversial track "Pete Davidson," which fans judged as a rash inclusion after the pair's whirlwind romance began. Grande defended her decision, writing to one fan, "He’s my fiancé. This is my album. I’m an honest and emotional artist and human being and if my openness in my work isn’t for you, that’s OK." She added, "I won’t be offended. Still wishing y’all all the love in the world."

The lyrics gave insight into their honeymoon phase: "And I know you know that you're my soulmate and all that/ I'm like ooh, ooh/ My whole life got me ready for you, ooh/ Got me happy, happy/ I'ma be happy, happy, yeah."

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Fool's Gold Presents Day Off, Los Angeles, USA - 25 Sep 2016
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On Sept. 7, PEOPLE confirmed that Miller died of a drug overdose at his Studio City, California, home. He was 26.

Miller and Grande had split just a few months earlier, and a source told PEOPLE that the singer "completely broke down after she found out about Mac." The source added, "She can’t believe he isn’t here anymore. He was such a special person to her. She is very, very sad … This is a nightmare for her."

Grande shared a black-and-white photograph of her former boyfriend to Instagram one day after the rapper was pronounced dead. Nearly one week later, she spoke out about it for the first time, posting an emotional tribute.

"i adored you from the day i met you when i was nineteen and i always will," she wrote on Instagram, alongside a throwback video of the pair laughing together.

"i can’t believe you aren’t here anymore," she added in the emotional post. "I really can’t wrap my head around it. We talked about this. so many times. i’m so mad, i’m so sad i don’t know what to do."

Continuing, she wrote, "you were my dearest friend. for so long. above anything else. i’m so sorry i couldn’t fix or take your pain away. i really wanted to. the kindest, sweetest soul with demons he never deserved. i hope you’re okay now. Rest."

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Ariana Grande Pete Davidson pet pigCredit: Ariana Grande/Instagram

In mid-September, the pop star and comedian expanded their family ... with a pet pig!

Piggy Smallz, whom Grande dubbed "the absolute love of my life," quickly won the Internet's heart (and later, Paper Magazine's Celebrity Pet of the Year Award). Davidson even got a tattoo of the couple's porcine pal on his side.

Soon after, Piggy Smallz starred in his very own music video for the track "Breathin." The adorable clip consisted solely of what appeared to be home movies of the piglet’s first days at the couple’s N.Y.C. apartment, filmed by Grande herself.

The singer explained to fans that the track's real music video was in the works. "Don’t kill me i took some time off bc i was real sad and we didn’t expect the record to pop off like this," she wrote.

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2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

On Oct. 14, PEOPLE confirmed that couple had called it quits and ended their engagement over the weekend.

"It was way too much too soon," a Grande source told PEOPLE. "It’s not shocking to anyone."

Later, Grande revealed that Davidson had blocked her on social media after their split. "He blocked her and said, 'Stop reaching out. You’re not good for my health. I can’t have this in my life,' " a source told PEOPLE.

The couple’s split came after the singer had endured a difficult few weeks as she came to terms with the loss of Miller. After venting about her emotional exhaustion to her Twitter followers — tweeting, "Can i pls have one okay day. just one. pls ... i’m so f—ing tired pls" — the star took some much-needed time off, skipping the Emmys.

"Given the events of the past couple of years, Ariana is going to take some much needed time to heal and mend," her team told PEOPLE in September. "She will be staying close to home and using this period to spend time with her loved ones and work on new music without deadline. She thanks her fans for their understanding."

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Ariana Grande/Instagram

On Nov. 3 — less than three months after dropping Sweetener — the pop star released the immediately iconic breakup anthem "Thank U, Next," which marked her first single to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (where it stayed for four weeks).

The empowering song — which was written "mostly" in a week — is Grande’s favorite track to ever be released, she told Billboard in her December cover story. In the tune, she thinks back on her past romances with dancer Ricky Alvarez, rapper Big Sean, Davidson and Miller, thanking them for what she's learned from their time together and how they've ultimately led her to a greater sense of self-love.

"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 so thankful / Wish I could say ‘Thank you’ to Malcolm / ‘Cause he was an angel," she sings.

After weeks of teasing a music video for the song, Grande thrilled fans on Nov. 30 when she released the star-studded visuals. The Hannah Lux Davis-directed video sees Grande recreating iconic scenes from Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, 13 Going on 30 and Bring It On.

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Billboard Women In Music 2018 - Inside
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Billboard

On Dec. 6, the "Dangerous Woman" singer was honored at Billboard’s Women in Music event, where she was presented with the prestigious Woman of the Year award.

During her acceptance speech, Grande struggled to hold back tears as she reflected on her roller coaster of a year.

"I want to say that I find it interesting that this has been one of the best years of my career and the worst of my life," she said. "I’m not saying that for sympathy, I’m just saying that because I think a lot of people would look at someone in my position right now … and think, 'She’s really got her s— together,' Ya know? Like, 'She’s really on it.' Like, 'She’s got it all.' "

Grande continued: "I do, but as far as my personal life goes, I really have no idea what the f— I’m doing so yeah, it’s been a very conflicting one."

"I just want to say if you’re someone out there who has no idea what this next chapter’s gonna bring, you’re not alone in that," Grande continued, fighting back tears. "Ew, I’m not gonna cry that’s really stupid… You’re not alone in that. I’m really looking forward to embracing whatever happens; whatever comes my way."

Finishing her speech, Grande opened up about her plans for 2019 and revealed what she’s has learned throughout her difficult year — including a new approach to love and relationships.

"I look forward to hopefully learning to give some of the love and forgiveness that I’ve given away so frivolously and easily to men in the past to myself hopefully this year,” she said. "I have everything I’ve ever dreamt of having and as of late I’ve discovered that it’s the things I’ve always had and the people I’ve always had that still make me the happiest."

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