Published Feb 08, 2019Less than a year after releasing Sweetener, Ariana Grande has delivered on her promise to release music like a rapper, with singles aplenty and now her latest album, thank u, next. And in this case, the quantity of output hasn't negatively impacted the quality.
Sweetener heard Grande rebounding from what most could have only imagined would be the tragedy of her lifetime — the Manchester Arena bombing, which killed 22 people at her concert in May of 2017. She triumphantly declared that she had "No Tears Left to Cry," and even snuck in a song dedicated to her new fiancée Pete Davidson just before the album's release in August.
Then, the 25-year-old's former boyfriend of two years, Mac Miller, died of an overdose in September. Grande and Davidson's highly publicized relationship ended, and the two young stars were left coping with heartbreak, as millions watched. It's a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone one of the most followed pop stars on the planet.
thank u, next's title track went instantly viral upon release, with Grande laying out her personal baggage by name, on mic. But beyond shouting out her well-known exes like Davidson, Miller, Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez, Grande also revealed a newfound relationship with herself.
That self-understanding re-emerges in different ways across this record — be it analyzing her role in relationships ("needy"), establishing boundaries ("NASA") or embracing her sexuality ("bloodline," "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored").
Yet, there's still a refreshing acknowledgement of less self-assured moments, and Grande refuses to ever paint these instances as weakness. "fake smile" hears her rejecting the flawless, happy image celebrities are expected to project despite inner turmoil, while "in my head" finds her coming to grips with the realities of a toxic relationship.
The album highlight, however, comes at what sounds like Grande's lowest. "ghostin" is a heartbreaking electro-tinged ballad that she's described as about "feeling badly for the person you're with bc you love somebody else" and "feeling badly bc he can tell he can't compare." It's impossible not to read into it as a track addressed to Davidson in the wake of Miller's death, but regardless of the characters involved, it's a gorgeous and incredibly intimate moment amongst otherwise mostly upbeat break-up bops.
Even amidst accusations of ripping off other artist's styles ("7 rings" does sound an awful lot like Princess Nokia's "Mine"), thank u, next is an undeniably personal offering from one of pop's biggest names.
It's been hard not to root for Grande over the past couple years, so it's especially rewarding to hear her coming out the other side of grief and trauma with her strongest body of work to date. (Universal Republic)