Having already transcended the status of a humble musician to become a veritable cultural phenomenon, Ariana Grande finally released her highly anticipated album “thank u, next” after the release of the titular single last November.
Grande wastes no time setting a striking tone for the 12-track album. The first few songs beg to be listened to in a dimly lit room with a glass of wine in hand. One can almost picture Grande recording vocals in this exact setting, the low light allowing her to shed her inhibitions and speak from the heart. By the third song, “NASA,” it’s clear that Grande’s new lyrics are brutally reflective, contrasting distinctly with the silky R&B melodies.
That initial sense of reflection unfortunately begins to fade by the middle of the album, as it transitions to a more generic pop sound. Apart from the breezy “fake smile,” there’s nothing too notable here. The songs are all fairly catchy, but they lack the unique identity of the first few. Despite having similar DNA in terms of genre and subject matter, these songs don’t reach the same heights as “thank u, next” or “7 rings,” the album’s previously released singles.
The back end of “thank u, next” houses these two singles, as well as the equally catchy “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” but the real standout here is “ghostin.” Arguably the best song on the entire album, “ghostin” is a quiet, contemplative piece that puts Grande’s breathy vocals front and center. The artist explained on Twitter that the song is about “feeling badly for the person you’re with [because] you love somebody else.” Fans have theorized that the song was written on the recent passing of hip-hop artist and ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, and the toll it took on her relationship with comedian and ex-boyfriend Pete Davidson. With lyrics like “Though I wish he were here instead / Don’t want that living in your head,” this song is obviously extremely personal to Grande, and it stands as the prime example of the album’s biggest success: artistic ownership.
“thank u, next” is a rare example of a big studio album that feels truly personal to the artist. Though her lyrics are intended to be relatable, the experiences and feelings described here are unequivocally Grande’s. The effect of this is somewhat boosted by her fame — details of the singer’s personal life have been made widely known via news outlets and social media in recent months. That transparency pays off, as the ability of the listener to trace connections from the songs to Grande’s life makes the album feel that much more genuine and relatable. Though she is one of the most popular musicians of the modern age, Grande is just as human as the rest of us.
Ailed by several forgettable tracks, “thank u, next” isn’t perfect. However, by her own lyrical admission, neither is Ariana Grande. The singer’s willingness to confront her vices and create a self-reflective album that runs deep effectively cements her as the modern definition of personal empowerment. “thank u, next” is a product not just of Ariana Grande, the musician, but of Ariana Grande, the person.
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