Ariana Grande’s 2018 release, sweetener, had only been on store shelves for two months before the pop star began recording its follow up, thank u, next. Prior to this, Grande had officially declared a hiatus from her music career following both the passing of ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller and split from fiance, Pete Davidson.
sweetener stood as Grande’s statement following 2017’s Manchester bombing and her newfound relationship with Davidson. Riddled with songs dealing with crippling anxiety and odes to newfound love, sweetener inched Grande’s image one-step closer to the sense of female empowerment that simmered under fan favorites such as “Dangerous Woman,” and “Bang Bang.” Obviously wounded, Grande would nevertheless assure interviewers and fans alike that she was in an optimistic place following a self-professed love of therapy and studio sessions.
thank u, next rewrites that story. For her fifth album, Grande ditches her pop roots for Beyonce-style R&B and a controversial trap sound that sent Twitter into a frenzy for weeks. With it’s vulnerable lyrics and upbeat sound, the album’s title track earned Grande her first #1 on the Billboard 100. Save for the risque “7 Rings,” (Grande’s 2nd #1, might we add) such confidence proves an exception on the 12-track collection; Grande herself described thank u, next in an interview with Billboard as ” [sounding] really upbeat, [although] it’s actually a super-sad chapter. [The album’s] not particularly uplifting.”
Songs like the bouncy highlight, “NASA” and the quirky “make up” are prime examples. Playful rhythms and quirky synths try their best to sugarcoat the underlying themes of distancing and shortcomings within relationships. Sonically, the blaring synth horns and percussive groove of “bloodline” are reminiscent of 2016’s “Side to Side.” The first half of “bad idea” comes closest to Grande’s “Into You” days before seguing into a trap-lite instrumental. Throughout the record, buoyant arrangements and sanguine melodies repeatedly distract from Grande’s melancholic views; most fans probably found themselves listening to tracks on repeat just to understand the full gist of the album’s heavy mood.
Other cuts, such as the stripped-down “needy” and the eerie “ghostin’,” face her anguish head-on. It’s on these tracks that producers Tommy Brown and the duo, ILYA and Max Martin allow for Grande’s much needed vulnerability. While the aforementioned “7 Rings” tries to smother her disappointment under thick sub-bass and heavy braggadocio, the straight-forward heartache and disappointment heard on “in my head” and “fake smile” offer an honest view fans are sure to appreciate.
thank u, next has become Ariana Grande’s 4th chart-topping album on the Billboard 200 with a debut week of 360,000 total units. After five years since Grande’s debut album, thank u, next has finally scored Grande not one, but two #1 debuts on the Hot 100 (with “break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored” set to become her third). Still, thank u, next’s biggest achievement isn’t its commercial success; rather, its an unabashed embracing of the personal that allows the record to stand on its own two feet. On her latest release, Grande favors keyed-down production and vulnerability over the high-profile promotional schedules and controversies that have marked her career thus far.