Album Review: thank u, next by Ariana Grande

The pop singer reclaims herself and demonstrates vulnerablity on her latest record.

Just over six months ago, Ariana Grande released her fourth LP Sweetener, an exuberant and warm album created in the aftermath of the tragic and deadly Manchester attacks that occurred during her Dangerous Woman Tour.

As its name suggests, Sweetener served to bring joy and comfort to both Grande and her fans, suggesting that perhaps the worst was over–– as she herself put it, she had “no tears left to cry”. Since the release of that album, Grande has had to deal with the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, as well as with the dissolution of her engagement to Pete Davison. Given that her personal life is highly publicized, it’s needless to say that the last few months have been incredibly difficult for the 25-year-old singer. Recorded over the span of 2 weeks, her latest record, thank u, next, addresses these events, and in doing so, Ariana manages to create what is arguably her most mature, compelling, and personal record thus far. It’s interesting to listen to Sweetener and thank u, next back-to-back, knowing how Grande’s personal life unfolded in between the release of these 2 records. Whereas Sweetener feels like a hazy dream, thank u, next feels like a wake-up call. Gone are the peculiar, quirky beats (courtesy of Pharrell Williams), instead replaced by icy trap beats and synths.

Album opener “imagine,” a trap-infused pop ballad, finds Grande in a state of denial in regard to her failed relationships. “Can you imagine it?” she implores her lover, urging them to just try and visualize a world where everything is perfect once again. It only gets more introspective from there: she discusses feeling insecure and craving emotional support on the lowkey R&B of “needy,” only to sing about needing space on the next track, “NASA”. Elsewhere, she sings about being in love with a version of a person she constructed in her head (“in my head”), refuses to pretend like everything is okay (the Wendy Rene-sampling “fake smile”), and throws herself into a relationship in order to forget about her exes (“bad idea”). Eight songs into the twelve-track record lies “ghostin”, one of the most vulnerable and heart wrenching songs Grande has ever released, and arguably the best song on the record. Here, she addresses her current lover and expresses how badly she feels that she is heartbroken over someone else. The track samples Mac Miller’s “2009,” making it all the more tragic, and allowing for it to serve as the emotional centrepiece of the record.

While thank u, next is a record centred on themes of the struggles that come with growth and hardship, it also has its lighter moments. The tropical pop of “make up” equates a relationship to beauty products (the lyric ‘highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit’ is a standout), title track “thank u, next” is a joyous breakup anthem that celebrates love in all forms, and “7 rings” finds Grande flaunting her wealth over a beat that samples “My Favourite Things” and a flow that may or may not have been ripped from Soulja Boy.

With thank u, next, Ariana Grande comes into her own as one of the leading pop stars of the decade. Turning her personal pain and anguish into ear candy is a true talent, and one that she’s mastered.

Zain Ahmad