Album Review: Ariana Grande - 'thank u, next'

Just 6 months after ‘Sweetener’, Ariana Grande follows it up with an effortless blend of pop and R&B, proving she has every right to be the biggest female artist in the world in 2019.

The announcement of a new full-length Ariana Grande album so soon after the triumphant and incredibly charming ‘Sweetener’ seemed to many to be a quick cash-grab, capitalising on the monumental success of her recent singles. This may be true, but if so, it’s stacked way too high with bangers to ignore.

The conversation about this album’s immense star-power has to begin with the title track. Releasing ‘thank u, next’ as a single alone could have built enough hype for this album cycle and then some. Sassy yet emotionally sensitive and in-touch, the lead single is a masterclass in writing a timeless pop hit. The R&B-style verses give Drake’s recent material a run for its money, yet the lyrics feel personal and insightful to the performer herself. The icing on the cake is the touching tribute to the late Mac Miller, Grande’s former boyfriend who passed two months before the song’s release – “Wish I could say ‘thank you’ to Malcolm/’cause he was an angel.”

In many ways the title track encapsulates the dichotomy of moods which weave their way across this album’s concise 12 tracks. On the opening two tracks “imagine” and “needy,” Ariana puts the sweeter, more vulnerable aspects of her character we’ve come to be more accustomed to into the spotlight.

Despite starting the album off on a less pronounced emotional wavelength, the theatrical opener is captivating from the get-go. Ariana’s breath-taking vocal performance takes charge of this one and the track plays out like the title sequence of a Disney film, setting up a fairy-tale narrative soon to be tested in the tracks to follow.

The aforementioned “needy” almost teases the bangers to come, yet proves catchy doesn’t necessarily have to mean brash. The tasteful and melodic hook sees Ariana confessing and apologising for personality flaws with quick lyricism – “I can be needy/tell me how good it feels to be needed.” On “ghostin,” the tension in the instrumental builds as she reveals the effects of a tumultuous couple of years on trying to build loyalty in future relationships.

Welcomingly, this album doesn’t shy away from topics of imperfection, even when its subject is placed on a pop culture pedestal. The songs on the record that really have staying power however are of course the bangers. For me, “bad idea” takes the cake. A late-night R&B cut through-and-through, veteran producer Max Martin knew exactly what he was doing with this one. The bass is as slick as it is thick and the orchestral interpolations just add to the hyper-drama and edginess of the track. Coming a close second and highlighting the versatility of this album is “bloodline,” a one-night stand anthem with a horn section that sticks the middle finger to the age of minimalism and subtlety in pop music.

Not that it’s going to change the world, but there would have been almost nothing bad to say about this album if it weren’t for “7 rings”. The bafflingly poor and unoriginal second single deserves to go directly to Strasbourg for crimes against humanity. Upon listening to it, an explanation shouldn’t be necessary, but the bragging comes across sickly and disingenuous and feels completely out-of-tune with the emotional layers of the rest of the album. Even if the lyrics are a bit funny, the incorporation of “My Favourite Things” from ‘The Sound of Music’ is a huge musical misfire – but with so many bullseyes on ‘thank u, next’, perhaps we can let this one slide.

By the time the closer rolls around ‘thank u, next’ has already blessed listeners with enough bangers that the sure-hit “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored” feels almost unwarranted.  “7 rings” aside, Ariana Grande’s latest album is more consistent and concise than its predecessor, and remarkably manages to portray one of the most successful artists of our time as likable and relatable. ‘thank u, next’ is a victory lap for a woman firmly at the top of the pop music podium.

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