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Let’s Talk About Ariana Grande’s Bad Girl Anthem 'The Boy Is Mine'

The album cover for Ariana Grande's album <em>Eternal Sunshine</em> Credit - Photo-Illustration by TIME; Republic Records

Ariana Grande has described her seventh studio album, Eternal Sunshine, as “kind of a concept record” inspired by her own life but also the events of the Michel Gondry film it’s named after.

In 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel (played by Jim Carrey, Grande’s favorite actor) chooses to erase his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) from his memory, only to find himself still drawn to her. Grande’s introspective new record, like the film, which turns 20 later this month, asks how we know if we’re with the right person. By the final track, “Ordinary Things,” Grande comes close to answering that complicated question—with help from her Nonna.

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Grande’s long-awaited follow-up to 2020’s Positions is a vulnerable reflection on a love lost that comes after the singer’s own 2023 divorce from her husband of nearly two years, Dalton Gomez. But if you’re looking for the tea on her breakup, Grande isn’t spilling it here. Last month, the 30-year-old singer explained on The Zach Sang Show that she combed through the lyrics of each song to make sure there was nothing that could be sensationalized by her fans or the media. “I say everything and nothing at the same time,” she said. “It’s very vague and very specific all at once.”

Grande’s commitment to plausible deniability makes it hard for fans to know what or even who she is referring to on these 13 tracks—and that was the point. As Eternal Sunshine’s lead single “Yes, And?” made clear, Grande is not interested in hearing your opinion on her life. And specifically her love life, which has been garnering headlines as of late. (ICYMI, she’s dating her Wicked costar Ethan Slater, who was still married when they reportedly first started seeing each other. Sources close to both Grande and Slater have claimed that they didn’t get together until after they were both single.)

But Grande’s evasiveness is no match for her fans' curiosity; they already have theories about this album, which Grande says is her favorite one she’s ever made. The Arianators are particularly interested in getting to the bottom of Eternal Sunshine’s bad girl anthem, “The Boy Is Mine.”

Here’s everything to know about the breakout hit of Grande’s new album.

The Brandy & Monica connection

Grande used Brandy and Monica’s 1998 duet “The Boy Is Mine” as a starting point for her track of the same name that derives inspiration from both house music and ‘90s R&B. The original hit has the two singers fighting over the same man, but Grande’s version alters the conceit to be about a messy love triangle in which she plays the other woman who will do whatever it takes to have this boy all to herself.

In an interview with Apple Music DJ Zane Lowe, Grande revealed that the provocative track was one of the first she worked on with her longtime producer Max Martin. She admitted that she was worried about how people would interpret this song, which is by far the spiciest on her new album. “This is a very bad idea, I think, but … there is a large group of my fans that really do love a bad girl anthem,” she said. “And this is kind of an elevated version of that.”

The leaked track that inspired it

Brandy and Monica may have been the starting point for “The Boy Is Mine,” but it was a leaked track of Grande’s own that inspired this Eternal Sunshine bop. In 2023, a song by Grande that fans nicknamed “Fantasize” went viral on TikTok. But, as she revealed to podcaster Zach Sang last month, the slinky track “wasn’t my song, it wasn’t for me.” She said she had written that track and others that would later leak for an unnamed TV show as “a parody of this girl group vibe,” but fans liked “Fantasize” so much, she decided to revisit it here.

“I kind of gave them Ariana’s version of that on the album,” she said. “They’re completely different now. So although you’ve heard [those leaked tracks]—because you stole them—they’re very different now.” The energy, which is very Jessica Rabbit coded, is the same though.

Ariana (kind of) plays the villain

“The Boy is Mine” allows Grande to play with the public perception of her as being boy crazy. More recently, she’s had to contend with critics accusing her of being a so-called homewrecker after it was reported that her newest relationship came at the expense of a marriage. (It didn’t help that others pointed out this wasn’t the first time she got involved with someone who may have still been in a relationship with someone else. Meanwhile, many of those critics were relatively mum on the men’s part in all of this.)

While Grande has chosen not to speak directly to those comments (as she sings on “Yes, And,” “Your business is yours and mine is mine”), she leans into playing the provocateur on this track. “I can't wait to try him/ Let's get intertwined,” she sings on the song’s chorus, before nodding to Eternal Sunshine’s astrological ties: “The stars, they aligned.” (Track four, “Saturn Returns (Interlude)” features audio, as Rolling Stone noted in their review, of an astrologer named Diana Garland explaining the horoscopic phenomenon of the planet Saturn returning to the same place it was at the time of someone’s birth.)

“The Boy Is Mine” ends with Grande admitting her wrongdoing: “I take full accountability for all these tears,” but the song isn’t an apology. On the final line of the song’s bridge, she sings, “I can’t ignore my heart, boy,” implying their love affair was destined from the start. As The Guardian points out, this line is emphasized by six exclamation points in the official lyrics.

That may seem like overkill, but Grande has always been one of the most intuitive pop stars—sometimes to her own detriment. “I wear my heart outside of my body and I love what I do so much,” she told Sang. “I don’t have that robotic tough cookie exterior … I am a Cancer, and a person who is very sensitive.” Making this album, she continued, was “the most emotional writing process, for sure. Even some of the bops I cried writing.”

Is this about her new relationship?

It’s the question everyone is asking, especially knowing that her current boyfriend Ethan Slater’s ex-wife Lilly Jay referred to Grande as “not a girl’s girl” last year in an interview with Page Six. (Jay reportedly regrets the statement.) Still, knowing all of this, it’s hard not to see parallels between Grande’s own life and this song. On “The Boy Is Mine,” Grande even shouts out her “girls” who “always come through in a sticky situation/ Say, ‘It's fine’ (It's fine)/ Happens all the time.”

Yet Grande has asked fans not to read too closely into any possible connections to her life. When Lowe asked her for the story behind the track “True Story,” which segues into “The Boy Is Mine,” she was quick to say that it was “an untrue story based on untrue events” much like the rest of Eternal Sunshine. This was basically her very nice way of saying, “Mind your business.”

What do fans think of “The Boy Is Mine”?

They’re here for the song and whatever drama it may bring. Many fans, including Megan Thee Stallion, took to X (formerly Twitter) to acknowledge how fire the track was. “Ariana Grande leaving the studio after recording ‘The Boy Is Mine,’” one fan tweeted alongside an image of a person strutting in stiletto boots that are on fire. Others used it to soundtrack clips of choreographed dance numbers by the Bratz or the chicks from the 2004 comedy White Chicks.

For many, “The Boy Is Mine” is a small part of a bigger whole. One excited fan went so far as to call Eternal Sunshine Grande’s “magnum opus.” Another made an early prediction for the heights this album might hit: “Eternal Sunshine by Ariana Grande is currently being engraved onto a Grammy rn.”

Grande has had her fair share of issues with the Recording Academy in the past, but if this fan is right, she might want to keep her calendar open for the biggest night in music.

Contact us at letters@time.com.