A toxic relationship and toxic publicity: Mac Miller’s death and Ariana Grande’s demonization

by Sarah Sherard

A toxic relationship and toxic publicity: Mac Miller’s death and Ariana Grande’s demonization

The ‘Yoko Effect’ returns to plague Ariana Grande in the wake of Mac Miller’s death.

What do you do when someone leaves this world too early? What do you say when the reason is from a lost battle, a battle written about, talked about for years? How is the world supposed to react when such a soul like Mac Miller is suddenly no longer here? On September 7th, 2018, legendary rapper Mac Miller was reported dead from a drug overdose. Shocking, tragic, and devastating, people scattered to search for an answer, to place blame. It’s unfortunate that his death so quickly turned into a witch hunt where ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande is the target. The implication that she has anything to do with his death revolves around a misogynistic outlook on a woman’s role in a relationship. Ariana doesn’t deserve it, and neither does Mac Miller.

A toxic relationship and toxic publicity: Mac Miller’s death and Ariana Grande’s demonization

Mac Miller. Photo by Elizabeth Brockway.

The timeline of Ariana Grande and Mac Miller starts out cozy in 2012 with a duet cover of the Christmas classic ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside.’ The two stayed friends for the next four years with dating rumors here and there until August 2016 when they went public with their relationship. The relationship flies under the radar for almost two years until May 2018 when Ariana announced her split with Mac Miller in the most amicable way possible and saying that they remain friends. It’s only after their relationship that things start getting messy. While several news outlets report on her budding relationship with Pete Davidson, other outlets report on Mac Miller’s drunk driving that caused him to demolish his Mercedes G-Wagon and get him arrested. This is where the Yoko Effect begins.

The “Yoko Effect” simply states that when a man begins a relationship with a woman, he allows the relationship to consume his life and it becomes the cause of all his future actions. Yoko Ono ransacked The Beatles, stealing John Lennon along the way, and inevitably breaking up the band. Courtney Love introduced Kurt Cobain to heroin (false) and then coerced his suicide (or even murdered him). Your friend Jake disappeared from the friend group because new and shiny girlfriend Melissa has him under Nazi lock and key and he’s slave to her every command. And Ariana Grande caused Mac Miller to slip back into his drug abuse.

When Mac Miller crashed his car, Twitter fans pinned it on Ariana. One user wrote, “Mac Miller [totaling] his G wagon and getting a DUI after Ariana Grande dumped him for another dude after he poured his heart out on a ten song album to her called the divine feminine is just the most heartbreaking thing happening in Hollywood.” The tweet, although not the only one, was the most popular because it was the only one Ariana chose to respond to.

In a Notes screenshot, she wrote back, “I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be.” She mentions that her relationship was “toxic” and that “Shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem.”

A toxic relationship and toxic publicity: Mac Miller’s death and Ariana Grande’s demonization

Ariana Grande in 2018.

Ariana’s words speak for a vast population of women who are expected to care for men, expected to act as their Mother Part 2, and expected to take the fall for their actions. Even though they had been separated for months, in the wake of his death, Ariana’s name came up trending on Twitter. Misogyny and racist slurs flooded her mentions, targeting both her and Pete Davidson. What further perpetuated this Yoko Effect of fallacious female responsibility is TMZ’s report of Mac Miller’s overdose. The article implies that she carries the blame for his relapse by stating a “Miller has battled substance abuse issues for years … something that came up again in the wake of his breakup with Ariana Grande.” Fans rebuked her for her fast relationship and engagement to Pete Davidson and accused her love as a sort of catalyst for Mac’s death.

Mac Miller had a well-documented history of depression and substance abuse. Back in 2014, he rapped on his independently released mixtape Faces about cocaine, codeine cough syrup, and PCP. In one interview with Billboard, he opens up about how he worried about dying because he was doing so many drugs. In another interview with Larry King, he talks about how mental illness played a role in his use by saying, “I had a drug problem for a long time. It wasn’t just in music, but I definitely was going through a drug problem and I think it was more my state of mind. I was just pretty depressed.” For years, Mac’s tumultuous battle with drugs and mental illness likely caused the downfall of his relationship with Ariana. In no way should anyone expect Ariana to carry this weight. She had every right to gracefully exit a relationship that she deems “toxic”, as she had done. Not once have the two of them expressed any resentment and they have both explicitly stated their support and love for one another.

Her relationship with Pete Davidson should not be considered a relevant cause of Mac Miller’s downward spiral. Her happiness is not a murder weapon. It’s not a woman-abandoning-man romantic tragedy that spiraled him into a substance relapse and overdose; it’s a battle with mental illness and a battle with addiction. Let it be known that Ariana did help him with his sobriety. She was as caring and supportive as any girlfriend can be, but there’s only so much one person can do. Because he relapsed after their breakup says more about his mental state than her as a girlfriend. Mac covered up a lot of what he was dealing with. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he lied about his sobriety, convincing the public that his drug use was behind him, only for a month later to admit that he used cocaine and promethazine for years after his debut album Blue Side Park. He may have used their relationship as a possible band-aid for his substance abuse. If he was lying to the public and lying to people around him, then he was most likely lying to himself, too. Their relationship could’ve been a form of denial for him and when they broke up, that denial was stripped from him, the security net fell away. That’s not on her. It’s not fair to Ariana to try and pin her as his savior that will stop him from ever doing drugs again because now he’s happy and that’s that and happily ever after, the princess rides off with the prince. That’s not real life, and band-aids can’t fix wounds like this. She is not accountable for his instability.

A toxic relationship and toxic publicity: Mac Miller’s death and Ariana Grande’s demonization

Mac Miller and Ariana Grande perform together during a concert special for his album ‘The Divine Feminine.’ Mac Miller/Youtube

Ariana Grande does not exist to keep Mac Miller’s sobriety in the same way that women do not exist to keep men happy. This entire situation is a reiteration of tired, old, sexist tropes of the expectation for women to please men. For women to wait for men to come home so they can care for them and keep them from falling apart. It’s projected in society as a beautiful dynamic between a broken man and his lovely angel, but society ignores the fact that these lovely angels don’t deserve to have this weight. We all felt Mac Miller’s death. We are all grieving. There’s no room in this tragedy to be hostile and accusatory towards someone whose heart broke just as ours did. Not only does the Yoko Effect demonize Ariana, but it’s depriving the importance of Mac Miller’s death. It’s wrong for us to perpetuate such an unnecessary witch hunt and instead appreciate Mac Miller has an artist, as a person, and as a reason to talk about the reality of substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is facing mental and/or substance use disorders, please call AMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).