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A mere five months after the release of “Sweetener,” Ariana Grande rides on the pop album’s success with her new album “thank u, next,” sharing the same name as the quietly dropped breakup anthem. Relying more heavily on beats than vocal riffs, “thank u, next” is the darker, more experienced older sister of “Sweetener,” both aesthetically and musically.
The more minimal production of the more emotional tracks draws attention to the lyrics and vocals, namely in the standout song, “ghostin.” People widely speculate that it tells the story of Grande mourning the loss of her former boyfriend, Mac Miller, and its impact on her relationship with ex-fiance Pete Davidson. “Ghostin” has an atmospheric sound, which builds with quiet strings to supplement Grande’s pensive lyrics. It is arguably the most emotionally raw song on the album, and draws you in to listen to candid lines like “though I wish that he were here instead / don’t want that living in your head.” In the song “in my head,” Grande samples a recording of a man saying “you are in love with a person that you’ve created in your head … that you cannot fix. The only thing you can fix is yourself.” It is almost as though she wrote the album as a catharsis to accept her circumstances in love and loss.
In addition to exposing her relationships, Grande sings about her own faults and painful experiences. In “needy,” Grande admits that she has baggage and can “love too hard.” She owns up to her faults and codependence rather than blaming someone else for her own issues, which adds to her vulnerability. “Fake smile” emphasizes how she will be true to herself and not fake a smile following the hardships she has endured.
At her core, however, Grande is a pop artist, and cranks out some earworms that will be on repeat. My favorite track is “NASA,” which draws the analogy that her significant other needs to give her some “space.” While she still loves them, she just wants to have some time alone. I think the idea of boundaries isn’t heavily touched in pop music, teaching a solid lesson while still being catchy and addictive. “Bloodline” cuts through the album with trumpets and a bubbly chorus, reminiscent of a low-key version of her 2014 single “Problem.” And, of course, the single “thank u, next” ties the album together with an understanding of both self-love and gratitude for the lessons she has learned from her exes.
While Grande is often compared to female powerhouses like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, the album’s writing is comparable to the bare-bones reflective nature of Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak,” which was written following the death of his mother and ended engagement. It is remarkable that Grande was compelled to compose and record this album within five months of the release of “Sweetener,” much in the same vein that West funneled his grief into an experimental album. The two elaborate albums support the effectiveness of artistry as a coping mechanism following traumatic events.
“Thank u, next” reflects emotional intelligence, composed of songs that read like lessons that she was learning throughout the release of “Sweetener,” emphasizing lessons of vulnerability and self-love. Overall, the album functions beautifully as a unit played start-to-finish rather than a collection of singles played on shuffle. “NASA,” “ghostin,” “imagine” and “needy” are some highlights from the album. Most prominently, Grande demonstrates an understanding of dynamic relationships and the human experience of self-discovery.