thank u, next coherently details a journey that we, as a society, have been waiting to hear about
In 2018 we saw Ariana Grande transition from being a mere pop princess into the world’s favourite heroine. Her personal life constantly in the spotlight more than other stars, we witnessed her almost-marriage to Pete Davidson, the release of sweetener – an album that would detail her recovery from the Manchester Arena bombing – and the death of her ex long-term boyfriend, famous rapper Mac Miller. It goes without saying that the release of thank u, next was a symbolic and necessary step for Grande, hyped to be her opus. Arguably, it is her best album yet.
thank u, next coherently details a journey that we, as a society, have been waiting to hear about. The album starts with ‘imagine’, a song that details the unattainability of a perfect relationship before moving into ‘needy’ and ‘NASA’ – a gloriously contradictory moment that highlights the difference between wanting endless reassurance and needing space, and a moment of pure honesty and vulnerability on the album. ‘bloodline’ discusses how necessary a marriage is in comparison to a more casual relationship. The core of the album is filled with hedonistic disillusionment; ‘bad idea’ focuses on escapism to numb the pain. In ‘7 rings’, Grande vaingloriously details how she spends copious amounts of money on herself and her friends in hopes of self-fulfilment. From this point, ‘thank u, next’ and ‘break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’ essentially highlight a new-found confidence. It becomes clear that the end of thank u, next signifies a new beginning for Grande.
Grande chooses to remain trendy and draw from hip-hop
thank u, next is Ariana Grande’s first album where she truly sounds herself. Being her first album with no features, its lyrics are more reflective; gone are the Harry Styles-penned ballads and monotonous Pharrell beats, for better or worse. The album continues the R&B-pop of sweetener, and feels more consistent both in quality and sound, yet it’s the poppier songs that shine; ‘NASA’ is the standout of the album, and the horns on ‘bloodline’ are another highlight. Yet songs like ‘needy’ that lack an explosive hook fall short.
The song ‘thank u, next’ was a fantastic lead single for the album, wrapping up two incredibly difficult years for Grande. But most of the album doesn’t reach the same level of quality, let alone the heights of Dangerous Woman and sweetener. Instead, Grande chooses to remain trendy and draw from hip-hop, using heavy sampling and interpolation of songs by NSYNC, Gotye, and at the album’s lowest point, The Sound of Music on ‘My Favourite Things’ on ‘7 rings’. Her biggest offence, though, is either the “yuh”s and “skrrt”s that pervade many of the songs, or the screams of “Ari-chan!” in ‘bad idea’, sounding awkward and forced rather than cultural and trendy.
Grande has found herself unsure of who she wants to present herself as: does she want to be the bad girl of ‘break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’, or the flawed, vulnerable woman of ‘ghostin’? Yet, this crisis is what makes ‘thank u, next’ quintessentially her, making it her best album so far, even though it’s not necessarily her most enjoyable.
only ‘imagine’ properly teased some of the lively and daring soundscapes which thank u, next presents
Though it doesn’t quite hit the highs of sweetener, Ariana’s latest album never hits its lows either. What we’ve been treated to with thank u, next is a well-crafted, consistent album that cohesively portrays the emotions and situations which the singer has experienced over the last six months.
What’s perhaps most surprising is the sheer quality of the album cuts, especially compared to the singles, which are inexplicably packed into the album’s final act. ‘thank u, next’ was lyrically sharp but let’s be honest, the hype kept it afloat. ‘7 rings’ sounds better in context but still feels clunky and forced, whilst ‘break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’ is a decent tune but offers one of the limpest beats present on the album. I feel only ‘imagine’ properly teased some of the lively and daring soundscapes which thank u, next presents, with its gorgeous whistle notes and relatively sparse instrumentation. From the triumphant horns in ‘bloodline’ to the dark and brooding trap beat of ‘bad idea’, the record experiments confidently with different areas of Ariana’s sound whilst still maintaining a consistent sense of identity. Naturally, the lyrics are a key focus, considering everything that’s happened to the singer recently. The songs expertly navigate different emotional states, jumping from the assured desire for space on ‘NASA’ to ‘ghostin’, a truly heartbreaking narrative about bad decisions. I can only hope one of these bangers is promoted as a single soon, to properly highlight the gems produced here.
In her darkest moments, Grande gathered her closest musical friends and set out to make a personal, honest and cohesive body of work
I’ve been an Ariana Grande fan since her first foray into pop music in 2013. Each album release has been highly anticipated and made its way into my heavy rotation very quickly. It’s been captivating to track the evolution of her musical sound, as well as lyrical maturity from the bubbly twee-ness of Yours Truly to the experimental depths of Sweetener. And so, the monumental mainstream success of thank u, next has been extremely gratifying as a long-time fan due to its universal acclaim as well as its quality. thank u, next is the culmination of Grande’s consistent use of R&B influences, ability to make pop hits and supreme vocal talent.
Grande has achieved the near-impossible with her fifth album, in that her least commercial sounding album has become her most commercially successful. Taken out of context, hit singles such as ‘7 rings’ and the smash title track do not have the instant radio appeal as previous releases such as ‘no tears left to cry’ and ‘Side to Side’ but that’s what makes thank u, next special. In her darkest moments, Grande gathered her closest musical friends and set out to make a personal, honest and cohesive body of work. It’s as if by abandoning the mission to make hits, we got the biggest hits of her career thus far. Songs like ‘bloodline’ and ‘bad idea’ could easily transition into mainstream radio and yet no song feels forced to do such. Even the title track is given a new life in the context of the album after its success and overplay.
Ariana Grande has already proven her talents, but now she has proved that upon retreat, and when left alone by her label, she can thrive musically and excel commercially.
Listening to thank u, next is to hear a woman come to terms with tragedy while refusing to let sorrow determine her future
Midway through Ariana Grande’s fifth studio album, there’s a song called ‘Fake Smile’. Over a bed of freeze-dried reggae, the most indispensable pop voice of 2019 confides “if I’m being honest, I done been through way too much”. Listening to thank u, next is to hear a woman come to terms with tragedy while refusing to let sorrow determine her future. In the process, she has delivered her most riveting album yet. While My Everything and Dangerous Woman erratically swung between sugary electro and lachrymose R&B balladry, her musical palette here is laser-focused, drawing on the vampish pop wit of Madonna and Max Martin.
Its finest songs refuse to aestheticise loss but look to grow beyond it. Take ‘ghostin’, a midnight reverie that swaddles Grande’s tender soprano in shimmering blankets of dream-pop synth. It might be about Mac Miller’s premature loss; the details are left hazy, like sketches from a dream diary. The influence of inward shoegaze iconoclasts My Bloody Valentine is clear, yet the lyrics are hopeful: ‘and after all that we been through/ There’s so much to look forward to’. These lines touch the heart of Grande’s phoenix-like legend. When our best-made plans fall apart, there are still reasons to love. Sometimes, thank u, next betrays its fleet production period with an under-baked chorus, and there is a vertiginous quality drop after the opening eight-song gambit. But here is a record that imagines something altogether lovelier than anything found in Drake’s tropical harrumphing or Miley Cyrus’ sexless heartbreaks.
Grande refuses to pretend everything is ok. But she won’t permit trauma to become her everything, either. Her desire, her life, her art, will prevail.
Nothing perhaps defines this album better than the immortal words of Carrie Fisher: ‘take your broken heart, make it into art’
It goes without saying that thank u, next defines the cultural moment, and Ariana’s career.
Having been produced in such a small amount of, time it is emotionally raw and not overthought, yet still beautifully produced. Grande makes it clear that she can’t, and won’t, contain or hide all these emotions in ‘fake smile’.
Perhaps not every song is a hit, although the three single releases being UK #1s may suggest otherwise, but each song is vital to the grander narrative this album creates. It’s impossible not to map such a personal project against Grande’s life and tragic few years, and the album can certainly be listened as a chronical account to her mental state from the end of her relationship to Mac Miller, the start of her relationship with Pete Davidson, the sudden death of Miller, and subsequent end to her engagement with Davidson.
thank u, next has a bit of everything, and each listen brings you something new and heart-breaking. Lyrics are explicitly harrowing and personal when it comes to ‘ghostin’ or ‘in my head’, whilst more traditional upbeat pop hits such as ‘bad idea’ are tinged with a self-destructive recklessness. She admirably takes on themes rarely heard in pop music such as the vitalness of having healthy space in relationships, found in ‘NASA’, contrasted with her tendency for co-dependency in ‘needy’.
Nothing perhaps defines this album better than the immortal words of Carrie Fisher: ‘take your broken heart, make it into art’ and we should be grateful that Ariana Grande has chosen to share such a personal collection with us.
Grande doesn’t care what most people think, and this is very evident in her new album
Ariana Grande first popped up on my radar during her stint as Cat on the Nickelodeon Fame-style teen drama Victorious. She was the epitome of a Disney Channel stereotype, with bright red hair, a clueless and vapid personality, and surprisingly, an amazing voice.
Undoubtedly Grande has come far from this childish caricature which only hid her talent from an audience that was clearly waiting for her. This past year might not seem to many like much character development from her days at Nickelodeon, but Grande doesn’t care what most people think, and this is very evident in her new album.
Written in only two weeks, I think this album is far from the genius of spontaneity that came from artists like Prince, but it certainly shows us that Grande isn’t your regular doe-eyed pop star. thank u, next’s cult cameos and references weren’t just a happy coincidence, and Grande crafts her music with the commercial savviness of Kris Jenner.
That being said, her album didn’t surprise me in the way it should have. ‘Needy’ stands out as a real winner, her voice is at the forefront and she manages to be vulnerable in the strongest sense. ‘7 rings’, despite being disgustingly catchy, is undoubtedly lazy and has ruined what was meant to be a pure Julie Andrews musical banger. Despite this clear inconsistency in a work that I won’t be raving about soon, Ariana Grande represents a new generation of the ideal woman: both careless and strong, independent and dependable, I am sure this isn’t the last surprise that Grande has in store for us.