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Album Review: “thank u, next” sets the tone for Ariana Grande’s success in 2019

Ariana Grande’s new album, “thank u, next” dropped last week. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Ariana Grande released her highly anticipated fifth studio album “thank u, next” on Feb. 8.

The album presents itself as an update on the topics discussed on her previous album “Sweetener” with a taste of confidence that was established in 2016’s “Dangerous Woman.” Grande worked closely with her songwriters — with whom she is friends — Victoria Monet, Tayla Parx and Njomza for majority of the songs on her album.

The album also features collaborations with hit-making producers Tommy Brown and duo Social House. Following her exclusive collaboration with industry veteran Pharrell Williams on “Sweetener,” it is clear that she is refining her certified pop sound to mesh with her increasingly explicit lyrics on this 40-minute album.

Although this is Grande’s first album that doesn’t feature another artist on any song, there are a handful of cameos from friends, family and inspirations. “NASA” gives us an intro from RuPaul’s Drag Race star Shangela, exclaiming, “This is one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind.” The following track, “bloodline,” includes a brief recording of her grandmother before it dives into its high pop tune backed by trumpets and auto-tuned vocals.

The fifth track on the album, “fake smile,” borrows its vintage-sounding intro from the 1964 song, “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” by Wendy Rene, which was also recently sampled by popular producer Metro Boomin on his album “NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES.” The song is an introspection on her relationship with the media and fame — an understandable explanation as to why she might seem more private in the future following her recently publicized personal life and career.

“in my head” starts with a voicemail from friend Doug Middlebrook giving Grande relationship advice, saying “You’re in love with a version of a person that you’ve created in your head.” The song goes on to detail how she deluded herself into only seeing the good and fun things in her ex-fiance Pete Davidson, while simultaneously ignoring his scrutiny from the media and her fans. This song has powerful vocals and accompanying beats that reminds me of one of her hits, “God is a woman.”

The beat production on “bad idea” creates imagery of Grande as a spy on a mission, zooming through tunnels at supersonic speed, while the lyrics portray her calling for a lover to distract her from the current nuisances in her life. With its orchestral transition halfway through the song and a minute-long layered instrumental outro, this track is bound to be a fan favorite.

“make up” has a bubbly sound that could have fit perfectly on “Sweetener,” although its theme is sultrier. The song also includes a quick one-line shout out to fellow pop star Rihanna’s cosmetic line with the lyric “highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit.”

“ghostin” is the heartbreaking look into Grande’s past relationship with Davidson that fans, pop culture enthusiasts and spectators have been waiting for — a dreamy, ethereal vibe with breathy yet controlled vocals. The chorus sings, “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again over him.” It isn’t explicitly clear, but it is likely that this song chronicles carrying broken feelings into a new relationship and the strain of grieving for Mac Miller — her ex-boyfriend who died in September 2017 — put on her relationship with Davidson.

Since her debut in 2011, Grande’s musical styling has evolved in a complex pathway.

To an occasional listener, it may seem as if she’s diluting her pop persona and getting lost in an experimental wave of what’s current in the world of production. But this project truly encapsulates some of the retro and R&B styles that fans will know she’s used throughout her career.

On the songwriting side, “thank u, next” tackles topics that are much more personal than those on her earlier works, rather than creating a collection of pop singles with a few intimate lyrics sprinkled into the other songs. Although co-written with friends, many of these lyrics seem to be pulled straight from Grande’s thoughts or private diary entries. This transparency creates a more genuine side to Ariana that’s been lost in the spotlight and fame over recent months.

While the creative imagery ties all of her albums together, the increase in sentiment also pleases the fans who are eager to keep updated with her story. This act of delivering her private introspection for the public’s consumption is unexpectedly honest, as the singer accepts her role as a refined international pop phenomenon and attempts to stay true to a more mature version of herself in this new ‘era’ she’s entering.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

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