There are two types of people in this world: those who take their coffee with sweetener, and those who have it straight up. Ariana Grande has released two albums in the span of six months and proved that she is a little bit of both.
When Ariana Grande first tweeted “thank u, next,” it seemed to merely be a sassy subtweet to her ex-fiancee Pete Davidson. Little did the world know that those three words would become a mantra, an anthem, and the title of her latest album. While Sweetener sugarcoated her problems by portraying a head-in-the-clouds utopia in which love cures all, thank u, next gets real and honest, almost like the wake up call of an espresso shot when nothing else can revive you.
Kicking off with the delicate, Mariah-esque opener, “Imagine,” Ariana envisions an idealistic love which she has said is “now and forever unattainable.” Her next track, “needy” is a high point of the album both musically and lyrically, as she redefines the broad spectrum of emotions women feel as human nature rather than moodiness. With lines like “I’m obsessive and I love too hard/ good at overthinking with my heart” she relates to her fans by authentically admitting that it’s okay to be all over the place sometimes. This theme is carried throughout the rest of the album as she juxtaposes being “needy” on one track, with needing space on the clever, outer-space-inspired, “NASA,” the track that immediately follows.
As the album continues, Grande confronts the pain of grief and heartbreak while adding the feminine-flare that makes her music undeniably attractive. “Fake Smile” is a standout moment on the album where she gets more vulnerable and rawer than ever: “I won’t say I’m feeling fine/ After what I’ve been through I can’t lie” she confesses. After losing twenty-two of her fans in a terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester, England, losing her talented ex-love Mac Miller, and calling off her engagement with comedian Pete Davidson all in the span of 18 months, anyone would understand how it would be impossible for Grande to put on a smile and get on with her life. Instead, she went straight to the studio, coping with pain the best way she knows how.
On the blissful yet melancholy “ghostin”, heart-wrenchingly beautiful strings swell into the music to evoke the pain Grande feels from grieving the heartbreak of loss while she is with someone else. The album ties together almost seamlessly with the exception of “7 rings”. The Sound Of Music inspo has been done before, lines like “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems/ Must not have had enough money to solve ’em” seem antithetical to the rest of the album’s empowering tracks, and the gaudy materialistic sentiments flaunt an expensive lifestyle, which ironically cheapens the depth of the rest of the project. A similar inconsistency can be found when comparing the self-reflective sentiment “I admit that I’m a lil’ messed up/ But I can hide it when I’m all dressed up” on “needy” with the acquisitive outlook on “7 rings” where she says “Happiness is the same price as red-bottoms.”
Despite the moments of slight contradiction, thank u, next reveals all of the emotions that Grande was brushing under the rug in her Sweetener chapter. Her latest album proves her ability to ditch what she thinks people will want to hear, and use music as an outlet to get honest with herself. While Grande is dealing with her issues in public eye now more than ever, she is not letting the tabloids twist the narrative. Instead, she is taking back her power to tell her own story with her usual extraordinary vocals, but this time with no sugarcoating.