Ariana Grande has had a helluva time of it. When she sings “I’m a lady with a complete lot of bags” on the emotional climax of her new album, Thank U, Next, you’d be forgiven for pondering: Yeah, no shit.
There are few individuals poised to dissect the trauma of being alive fairly like the lady who as soon as proclaimed that she had no tears left to cry, solely to study that was undoubtedly not the case. (Or as she put it in a tweet: “The universe was like HAAAAAAAAA bitch u thought.”) Whereas final 12 months’s Sweetener was virtually relentless in its positivity, Thank U, Next — arriving not even six months later — finds her leaning into the emotional wreckage and drawing out power, humor and, as a rule, pop perfection. Thank U, Next is a complete new coda to the Ariana Grande Experience.
It’s virtually inconceivable to think about that anybody listening to this report won’t know Grande’s latest historical past: that 22 of her followers had been killed in a terrorist assault at her Manchester live performance in 2017; that she left a relationship with Mac Miller within the spring of 2018 due at least in part to his struggles with substance abuse; that she fell exhausting and quick (and really publicly) in love with Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson just a few weeks later; that Miller handed away final fall; that her relationship with Davidson ended one month later. To have shared a lot along with her viewers has given Grande’s songs a form of emotional shortcut: we are able to establish immediately, as a result of as a substitute of bringing our personal experiences to the songs, we are able to draw from what we’ve seen within the headlines and on social media. So even when we haven’t needed to battle with the advanced feelings of dropping an ex whereas being in a brand new relationship (“Ghostin”) or soothed internal turmoil with the purchasing spree to finish all purchasing sprees (“7 rings”), there’s already a perverse intimacy to those songs.
While Sweetener insists that there was nothing that couldn’t be endured, Thank U, Next affords an modification, a actuality test. The bulk of the album got here collectively in a matter of weeks final 12 months, fueled by “female vitality and champagne and music and laughter and crying,” as Grande defined in a latest Billboard cowl story. She described the 12 songs that make up the report as each life-saving work and deeply collaborative efforts created throughout post-Davidson nights within the studio with buddies. Trap beats, finger snaps and ghostly, off-kilter sounds — the majority of which had been produced by longtime collaborators Tommy Brown and Max Martin — wobble beneath Grande’s newly exact enunciation. Often, it feels as if she’s on the verge of slipping into the pop-song Upside Down, which couldn’t be farther from the blush of latest love and the bounce of Pharrell Williams’s Bop-It! manufacturing that permeates Sweetener. It’s a pure match for each Grande’s voice, which has by no means sounded extra pure or easy as she drops one Instagram-caption-worthy lyric after one other, in addition to her material.
Yet whereas there’s a darkness dogging Thank U, Next, it’s by no means overwhelming or oppressive, partly because of the humor that Grande winds into songs so effectively. “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” completely lives as much as its title and even affords a Shyamalanian twist in its video. (Spoiler alert: It seems that each the “girlfriend” and the “I” of the title had been Grande all alongside). “Needy” unfolds like a one-way textual content dialog (“Sorry if I'm up and down quite a bit/ Sorry that I believe I'm not sufficient/ And sorry if I ask for forgiveness method an excessive amount of”) and leads proper into “NASA,” a tune about needing area to decompress and an opportunity to overlook the opposite particular person.
Songs ricochet between moods — I’m needy! I would like area! I’m unhappy! I’m sexy! — which feels virtually rebellious contemplating how typically popular culture and pop music deal with ladies’s feelings as fickle and contradictory, like obstacles that want to be deciphered and labored round. In taking this strategy, Grande affords a brand new mannequin for what pop empowerment anthems can appear like, skipping gang-vocal choruses and cliches about triumph and as a substitute making her vulnerabilities naked with little adornment and disarming candor. (Between the unrelenting strut of “Bloodline,” the propulsive bounce of “NASA” and the title observe that launched a thousand memes, nevertheless, there’s no scarcity of bops.)
Still, none of that fairly prepares you for the emotional blow that’s “Ghostin.” Over watery synths and a hard-not-to-read-into pattern of Mac Miller’s “2009,” Grande’s phrases paint a devastating scene about, in her phrases, “feeling badly for the person you're with bc you love somebody else” — and the blanks fill in themselves. It’s a delicate dealing with of a fragile state of affairs, cushioned by swelling strings and heavenly harmonies that flip it into an actual lump-in-your-throat form of tune. And whether or not by means of a pure coincidence of sequencing or one other sly wink, “Ghostin” precedes one other sucker punch, “In My Head,” by which Grande sings a couple of companion who doesn’t reside as much as the idealized projection in her head in a method that, if not inviting it immediately, definitely doesn’t shrink back from the scrutiny and hypothesis that can inevitably accompany these songs. (If you occur to be Davidson, you won’t be notably thrilled with a line like, “Look at you, boy, I invented you.”)
As with Sweetener, it’s virtually inconceivable to detach Grande’s personal circumstances from these songs, however the other ways she conforms to these expectations solely makes listening to each our bodies of labor a deeper expertise. Thank U, Next doesn’t negate or change its predecessor, however it does re-contextualize it, reframing it as only one chapter of a narrative that’s nonetheless being advised. The albums are linked by extra than simply Thank U, Next’s quick gestation time: The polish of Sweetener makes the sweat and dirt of Thank U, Next really feel extra visceral, and the storm clouds of Thank U, Next make the extra fantastical components Sweetener much more nice to inhabit. You can submit your self to its cheer fully, figuring out the opposite shoe will drop later.
In latest months, Grande has talked about her dislike of the concept of the pop-star “eras” — that every studio album have to be a standalone venture with its personal narrative that neatly ends the place the following one begins. A extra fluid launch mannequin is a greater outlet for her prolific creativity, she’s defined, and it pushes again towards antiquated notions about how a pop star have to be packaged and commodified: if rappers can drop albums and mixtapes freely within the span of some months, why can’t she? But as Sweetener and Thank U, Next present, this strategy affords greater than only a better volumes of fabric — it may improve the very artwork she’s making by placing the songs in dialogue with one another and the meta conversations round them. By not closing the e book on Sweetener, Grande reveals she has a richer story to inform.