In what was undoubtedly her most anticipated album to date, Ariana Grande reminded both fans and haters of her genuine talent. Released exactly a month ago, “Sweetener” immediately broke the U.S. Spotify record for biggest opening day by a female artist, racking up 15.1 million streams within 24 hours.
In case anyone questioned Grande’s ability to sing, the first track off “Sweetener,” “raindrops (an angel cried)” highlights the singer’s sweeping range perhaps more than any of her prior work. The interlude is a heavenly start to a gorgeous album.
On lead single “no tears left to cry,” released April 20, Grande referred back to her age-old combination of infectious beats and gossamer vocals — peppering the radio hit with stellar high notes with bouts of witty lyricism.
Expectations for the album were set incredibly high once the chart-topping “God is a woman” hit airwaves and streaming platforms. The single’s music video — focusing on the female body and featuring a Madonna monologue — set the tone for the rest of the album.
Despite the high standard set by the two singles, Grande faced the challenge of writing songs to live up to such a powerful anthem, and honestly, not many other tracks off “Sweetener” do. “God is a woman” proves to be the most epic and influential song off of the album, earning its single status.
While challenging herself musically, Grande also opened up herself to tackling more adult themes on the record as she moves further away from her Nickelodeon past. Not only is she more upfront about her sexuality — “put them topics to bed, let’s go f-ck on the roof” — but Grande also ushers more attention to worldly problems.
Take the track “breathin,” which is rumored to be about Grande’s history of panic attacks. The repetition of the line “just keep breathin’” in the chorus gives the song a calming quality, as if Grande wrote this reminder for herself as well as her fans. “get well soon” ends with silence to make the track exactly five minutes and 22 seconds, honoring the date of the bombing at the Manchester Arena in England after her live performance. In “successful,” she addresses the illusory fantasies and harsh realities of becoming famous at such a young age.
Throughout the chorus, Grande writes that “it feels so good to be so young and have this fun” and “you are so young and beautiful and so successful.” This could be Grande’s way of criticizing those who admonish her for her age or her gender in relation to her successful career, while also acknowledging her luck.
“Sweetener” challenges pop music structures and norms. While certain songs do not clearly distinguish between chorus and verses, the tracks instead blend together into a single wall of saccharine sound.
A perfect example of this is the titular track, “sweetener,” which is catchy, rhythmic and embodies the sweet imagery Grande creates with the album. Grande alludes to her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, who recently passed, in singles like “better off” but would not dare forget her new fiance with his own interlude “pete davidson.” Listening to the album now after the news of Miller’s passing adds a grim tone to certain tracks, but overall, “Sweetener” exudes a subdued, sophisticated and empowering tone.
No one is surprised about the success of “Sweetner” considering the reception of past projects, yet this addition to her acclaimed discography is wholly deserving of all of its praise. Grande steps outside of her comfort zone and produces tracks that are equally meaningful and wholeheartedly fun. It is an album of reminders: of her incredible talent and her unflinching ability to make unique and timely music.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 17 print edition. Email Julia Fields at [email protected]