By MADDIE TOPLIFF
Last week was absolutely huge – or some might say grande – for pop angel/God/star Ariana Grande. Not only did she receive her first-ever Grammy Award (about time) in the category of Best Pop Vocal Album for her August 2018 release “Sweetener,” but she also released her fifth album, “thank u, next,” which is also her second album in six months.
Six months is an incredibly quick break in the pop music industry, with most stars waiting around an average of two years before putting out another record. But if you’re Justin Bieber, you’ve had fans wait four years come this November. Who’s counting, though, right? I’m fine. It’s fine.
Two years also allows time for those creative juices to start flowing again. I would compare it to running a marathon; you’re not going to want to exert that kind of effort again for at least a bit. Maybe that is just me.
Unfortunately for Ari – but fortunately for the music industry – she had plenty of material to work with when crafting “thank u, next.” First, her ex-boyfriend and beloved rapper Mac Miller passed away in September, not even a month after “Sweetener” was released. Then, in November, Grande broke off her engagement to Saturday Night Live favorite Pete Davidson.
And Ari had no intention to hide her sadness or bitterness from the fans, addressing very early on that this album would be a melancholy one, though masked with the pulsating R&B backbeats we have come to expect from her.
“A lot of it sounds really upbeat, but it’s actually a super-sad chapter,” she said to Billboard.
In addition to the quick turnaround between records, “thank u, next” became incredibly hyped up with the release of the single with the same name mostly due to the name-dropping of her four most recent ex-boyfriends and the instant classic of a music video, filled with homages to some of the best girl-power films of the 2000s. Seeing Ariana do the bend-and-snap as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and shove Troye Sivan into a locker as Regina George from Mean Girls lengthened my life expectancy. Also, who shows gratitude toward ex-boyfriends like she does? The video broke the VEVO record on YouTube for most views in 24 hours, a record held previously by popstar peer Taylor Swift and her song “Look What You Made Me Do.”
The other two singles “imagine” and “7 rings” didn’t receive quite as much initial promo as “thank u, next,” but they definitely earned their place on the album as necessities.
“imagine,” for instance, is track one of the album, which is the perfect position for it. The most successful of Ariana’s past albums – see: “My Everything” and “Sweetener” – have featured a dreamy introduction track, and this was “thank u, next”’s version, though full-length. It casts a wistful precedent over the rest of the album and paints an ideal picture of what could have been/what she wished could be of her past relationships if they had not gone south.
“Me with no makeup, you in the bathtub
Bubbles and bubbly, ooh
This is a pleasure, feel like we never
Act this regular”
The failure seems partly accredited to the microscope she lives under as one of if not the biggest pop star in the world currently. The quick pre-chorus “click, click, click and post / drip, drip, dripped in gold / quick, quick, quick let’s go” comes across as reality while the chorus features Ariana protesting into silence, almost with a slight echo, for the former significant other to “imagine a world like that” to which there is obviously no reply. It is the most hopeful song on the record, which becomes an especially interesting concept when put into context with the rest of the tunes.
“7 rings” is track ten on the album and was the final single released before the entirety of the album. The concept was based on real life events, with Ariana splurging to buy her and six of her friends matching diamonds at Tiffany’s to commemorate their friendship. The track is quite strange for a couple of reasons. She not only borrows the melody line from “Favorite Things” of The Sound of Music variety, but she sandwiches those verses … by rapping about how rich she is? Ariana has featured many rappers over the course of her discography, namely Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliot most recently, but not a single track on “thank u, next” hosted a featured artist. It was all Ari this time. However out-of-the-ordinary the song is, it slaps in the car, in the club, wherever. It can be a self-confidence anthem even if you’re a broke college student, if you just believe hard enough. And don’t worry; it features many Ariana yuh’s.
“Ain’t no budget when I’m on the set / if I like it, then that’s what I get (yuh)”
The rest of the album alternates between sassy and transparent R&B-heavy commentaries like “fake smile” and the newest single “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” which is a song that details exactly what it suggests. Additionally, there are plenty of pop production masterpieces and self-aware bops like “NASA” where she compares herself to the universe (same), “in my head,” one of the most vocally impressive tracks and my favorite, “bad idea”: the song that the Fast and Furious franchise could ask to use in a high-stakes car chase scene if they wanted to.
All bops aside, it wouldn’t be an AG record without an unforgettable ballad or two.
“needy” was a very highly-anticipated track because it was going to be a single after Ariana released multiple snippets of it not long after the premiere of the song “thank u, next.” But alas. We had to wait. The whole song is built on top of this hauntingly constant, almost poisonous piano line that hints at just how toxic being needy can be, both for one’s self and the one being depended on. The backing vocals in the pre-chorus and chorus along with the inclusion of violins at the end add an angelic, classic presence that showcases Ariana’s good intentions despite the more negative consequences of her behavior. It definitely lived up to the hype.
“ghostin” is debatably the saddest song that Ariana has ever released, perhaps in competition with the title track from her sophomore album, “My Everything,” which was written after the passing of her grandfather. The sour-sounding strings before the first verse are almost sickening, especially after the storyline is revealed. The song is over four minutes long, and throughout the entirety of that duration, Ariana keeps her voice barely above a whisper as she summarizes in great detail the unmatched grief she felt after the passing of her ex-boyfriend of two years Mac Miller. What makes the song even more excruciating is that it is an apologetic address to Pete Davidson, who undoubtedly watched his fianceé mourn and weep over her ex many times before and during the eventual demise of their relationship. It is something that neither party should have to deal with, but it’s how it happened. This will go down as one of her most infamous records.
There are two tracks I find myself skipping repeatedly, and they are “bloodline” and “make up.” I love the lyrics and concept of “bloodline” a lot; it’s a very sex positive song. But it has a trumpet line that reminds me too much of Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes,” which I cannot stand to hear one more time. “make up” is, as Ariana has owned up to in a radio interview, very masochistic with lyrics like, “Promise me that when you kiss my lips, you’ll make it stick / That’s the way to shut me up after an argument,” which I don’t really vibe with. The bridge, however, is very catchy with a “7 rings”-esque line: “It’s a mood / it’s a vibe / it’s a look / it’s a match.”
We as pop culture enthusiasts have never been more intimate with Ariana Grande than right now. True, she has been releasing music for the better part of a decade. Yet, right now she is at the pinnacle of her career thus far as perhaps the most famous pop star in the world, which means her name rarely ever stops trending on Twitter. But we are able to best understand her through the music, the space where she chooses to be the most authentic. “thank u, next” is unmistakably a passion project from beginning to end and allows the listener, like never before, to understand the star behind the high notes and under the ponytail as she chooses to bear it all and inspire, despite the hurt and heartache.