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

Ariana Grande has had a helluva time it. When she sings “I’m a lady with a complete lot baggage” on the emotional climax her new album, Thank U, Next, you’d be forgiven for pondering: Yeah, no shit.

There are few individuals poised to dissect the trauma 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 nearly relentless in its positivity, Thank U, Next — arriving not even six months later — finds her leaning into the emotional wreckage and drawing out power, humor and, extra ten than not, pop perfection. Thank U, Next is a complete new coda to the Ariana Grande Experience.

It’s nearly unattainable to think about that anybody listening to this document is not going to know Grande’s latest historical past: that 22 her followers had been killed in a terrorist assault at her Manchester live performance in 2017; that she left a relationship with Mac Miller within the spring 2018 due at least in part to his struggles with substance abuse; that she fell arduous and quick (and really publicly) in love with Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson a couple of weeks later; that Miller handed away final fall; that her relationship with Davidson ended one month later. To have shared a lot along with her viewers has given Grande’s songs a form emotional shortcut: we will establish immediately, as a result of as an alternative 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 shedding an ex whereas being in a brand new relationship (“Ghostin”) or soothed internal 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 fers an modification, a actuality verify. The bulk the album got here collectively in a matter weeks final yr, fueled by “female power 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 document as each life-saving work and deeply collaborative efforts created throughout post-Davidson nights within the studio with buddies. Trap beats, finger snaps and ghostly, f-kilter sounds — the majority which had 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 slipping into the pop-song Upside Down, which couldn’t be farther from the blush new love and the bounce 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 fers a Shyamalanian twist in its video. (Spoiler alert: It seems that each the “girlfriend” and the “I” the title had been Grande all alongside). “Needy” unfolds like a one-way textual content dialog (“Sorry if I'm up and down rather a lot/ Sorry that I believe I'm not sufficient/ And sorry if I make an apology approach an excessive amount of”) and leads proper into “NASA,” a music about needing house to decompress and an opportunity to overlook the opposite individual.

Songs ricochet between moods — I’m needy! I would like house! I’m unhappy! I’m sexy! — which feels nearly rebellious contemplating how ten popular culture and pop music deal with ladies’s feelings as fickle and contradictory, like obstacles that want to be deciphered and labored round. In taking this strategy, Grande fers a brand new mannequin for what pop empowerment anthems can appear to be, 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 “Bloodline,” the propulsive bounce “NASA” and the title monitor that launched a thousand memes, nevertheless, there’s no scarcity bops.)

Still, none that fairly prepares you for the emotional blow that’s “Ghostin.” Over watery synths and a hard-not-to-read-into pattern 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 a fragile scenario, cushioned by swelling strings and heavenly harmonies that flip it into an actual lump-in-your-throat variety music. And whether or not via a pure coincidence sequencing or one other sly wink, “Ghostin” precedes one other sucker punch, “In My Head,” during which Grande sings a couple of companion who doesn’t stay as much as the idealized projection in her head in a approach 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 significantly thrilled with a line like, “Look at you, boy, I invented you.”)

As with Sweetener, it’s nearly unattainable 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 work a deeper expertise. Thank U, Next doesn’t negate or change its predecessor, however it does re-contextualize it, reframing it as only one chapter a narrative that’s nonetheless being informed. The albums are linked by extra than simply Thank U, Next’s quick gestation time: The polish Sweetener makes the sweat and dirt Thank U, Next really feel extra visceral, and the storm clouds Thank U, Next make the extra fantastical components Sweetener much more nice to inhabit. You can submit your self to its cheer fully, realizing the opposite shoe will drop later.

In latest months, Grande has talked about her dislike the concept the pop-star “eras” — that every studio album should be a standalone mission 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 in opposition to antiquated notions about how a pop star should be packaged and commodified: if rappers can drop albums and mixtapes freely within the span a couple of months, why can’t she? But as Sweetener and Thank U, Next present, this strategy fers greater than only a larger volumes materials — 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 guide on Sweetener, Grande reveals she has a richer story to inform.