Ariana Grande confronts her painful past on ‘thank u, next’

Ariana Grande
thank u, next

Republic Records · February 8, 2019

thank u, next is everything that sweetener was and more.

Ariana Grande has had a rough couple of years. Beginning with a terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester in May 2017, it’s been a bumpy ride for her ever since. After taking some time away to deal with the aftermath of such a traumatic event, Grande returned to the spotlight in April 2018 with the release of her single “no tears left to cry.” This seemed to mark the beginning of a new era for Ariana, but unfortunately, her bad luck didn’t stop there. The death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller put a major strain on her relationship with comedian Pete Davidson, and the couple ultimately decided to end their engagement. It hasn’t all been bad for her, though. In August, she released her fourth album, sweetener, which received overwhelmingly positive reviews and even helped her secure her first Grammy award.

While Grande has typically waited a year or two in between album releases, she’s already back only 6 months later with another album. Titled thank u, next, this album makes Sweetener seem like it was the appetizer and this is the main course. Ariana released the lead single “thank u, next” last November amidst speculation surrounding the details of her failed engagement, and the song was an instant hit. “thank u, next” earned Ariana her first #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and definitely set the tone for how the rest of this album would do.

thank u, next is everything that sweetener was and more. Everything from Grande’s vocals to infectious beats is more polished on thank u, next, and the emotional depth of the lyrics reaches levels of honesty and vulnerability that artists often don’t share with the public. Undoubtedly the song that showcases this best is “ghostin.” The heartbreaking track gives us a look inside Ariana’s mind during one of the hardest times in her life. Detailing the strain put on her relationship with Davidson after the death of Miller, Grande expresses sentiments like, “Though I wish he were here instead / Don’t want that living in your head / He just comes to visit me / When I’m dreaming every now and then.” She also shows the appreciation she felt at the way Pete handled the situation, singing “You been so understanding, you been so good / And I’m puttin’ you through more than one ever should / And I’m hating myself ‘cause you don’t want to / Admit that it hurts you.” Additionally, tracks like “fake smile” and “in my head” explore other struggles Ariana has recently had to face, like trying to put on a brave face for the public when, in reality, she felt like her whole world was falling apart.

The aural consistency across thank u, next is yet another component that makes it some of Grande’s best work. Regardless of the mood or tone of each song, they flow into each other effortlessly without all sounding like the same track. To combat the downcast vibe of the aforementioned songs, Ariana shows that she’s still finding ways to have fun on tracks like “NASA” and “7 rings.” The latter song was released as the third single from the album, and following the hype of “thank u, next,” it earned Ariana another #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. “7 rings” is a trap-infused banger that blends pop with R&B over a bass-heavy beat while Grande boasts about her fame and wealth. While she received some criticism for her bragging, Ariana revealed on Twitter that writing this song along with the rest of thank u, next was a coping mechanism for her during everything she’s been going through. Something else to take into account is that after Ariana released “thank u, next” with only a few days’ warning she said she wanted to release music in a similar fashion to the way rappers do. She makes fair points about female pop artists being held to certain standards and being expected to handle their career in a “professional” manner, while these same expectations don’t seem to apply to rappers. Rappers also constantly get away with making songs bragging about money and status, and “7 rings” seems more like Ariana trying to mimic that trend rather than actually flaunt her money.

Putting out two albums in the span of six months is a big risk to take, but luckily for Ariana, she couldn’t have made a better decision. She’s obviously been feeling a lot of strong emotions lately, and with this album, she was able to masterfully channel those emotions into some of the most powerful music she’s ever made.

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