Ariana Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’ Is the Perfect, Surprising Companion to ‘Sweetener’

Ariana Grande has had a helluva time of it. When she sings “I’m a woman with an entire lot of bags” on the emotional climax of her new album, Thank U, Next, you’d be forgiven for considering: 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 positively not the case. (Or as she put it in a tweet: “The universe was like HAAAAAAAAA bitch u thought.”) Whereas final yr’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 energy, humor and, as a rule, pop perfection. Thank U, Next is an entire new coda to the Ariana Grande Experience.

It’s virtually unimaginable to think about that anybody listening to this report won't know Grande’s latest historical past: that 22 of her followers have 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 laborious 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 together with her viewers has given Grande’s songs a sort of emotional shortcut: we will establish immediately, as a result of as an alternative of bringing our personal experiences to the songs, we will draw from what we’ve seen within the headlines and on social media. So even when we haven’t needed to wrestle with the advanced feelings of shedding an ex whereas being in a brand new relationship (“Ghostin”) or soothed interior 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 provides an modification, a actuality verify. The bulk of the album got here collectively in a matter of weeks final yr, 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 associates. Trap beats, finger snaps and ghostly, off-kilter sounds -- the majority of which have 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 recent 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 nicely. “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” completely lives as much as its title and even provides a Shyamalanian twist in its video. (Spoiler alert: It seems that each the “girlfriend” and the “I” of the title have been Grande all alongside). “Needy” unfolds like a one-way textual content dialog (“Sorry if I'm up and down so much/ Sorry that I believe I'm not sufficient/ And sorry if I make an apology means an excessive amount of”) and leads proper into “NASA,” a music 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 attractive! -- which feels virtually rebellious contemplating how typically popular culture and pop music deal with girls’s feelings as fickle and contradictory, like obstacles that want to be deciphered and labored round. In taking this strategy, Grande provides a brand new mannequin for what pop empowerment anthems can appear like, skipping gang-vocal choruses and cliches about triumph and as an alternative 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 mild 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 sort of music. And whether or not via a pure coincidence of sequencing or one other sly wink, “Ghostin” precedes one other sucker punch, “In My Head,” through which Grande sings a couple of accomplice who doesn’t reside as much as the idealized projection in her head in a means that, if not inviting it immediately, definitely doesn’t shrink back from the scrutiny and hypothesis that may inevitably accompany these songs. (If you occur to be Davidson, you may not be notably thrilled with a line like, “Look at you, boy, I invented you.”)

As with Sweetener, it’s virtually unimaginable to detach Grande’s personal circumstances from these songs, however the alternative 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 substitute its predecessor, however it does re-contextualize it, reframing it as only one chapter of a narrative that's nonetheless being instructed. The albums are linked by extra than simply Thank U, Next’s brief 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 elements Sweetener much more nice to inhabit. You can submit your self to its cheer utterly, understanding 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 should be a standalone undertaking with its personal narrative that neatly ends the place the subsequent 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 should 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 provides greater than only a better volumes of fabric -- it will possibly 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 ebook on Sweetener, Grande reveals she has a richer story to inform.

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