Ariana Grande ended 2018 as the most relevant pop star and for good reason. Grande released her fifth studio album, thank u, next, just over five months after the well-received Sweetener. She experienced astounding commercial success, all while crafting her unique brand and reviving pop through heavy EDM, R&B and hip-hop influence.
Following an aggressive year of personal relationships in the spotlight, Grande hinted she’d been healing in the studio. She released three singles — one, of course, the infamous title track “thank u, next” and its iconic accompanying video — in anticipation of the album.
She opens with “imagine” — one of the pre-released singles. Grande shows off her four-octave vocal range (including whistles) over a heavy and slow beat. Starkly contrasting with the persona we heard on “thank u, next,” she reminisces of a love that can only be recreated in her imagination. Following this is “needy,” another sweet and vulnerable track about craving companionship, ultimately, too much for her own good.
Her velvety, layered vocals add emotional depth and warmth to the tender tracks. Despite the few love songs, most of the following songs emphasize Grande’s new independence and single status with a striking, less reserved tone.
Grande immediately contradicts herself on “NASA,” a song where she begs for a break from her lover, lightheartedly singing, “It’s like I’m the universe and you’ll be N-A-S-A.” The track effectively shifts the mood for the rest of the album, not shying away from talking about her flaws or relationship issues while also not making us all listen to a dreary breakup album. She capitalizes on this directness by building up her feminine, glam persona.
In the upbeat flirtatious pop track “makeup,” Grande comes clean regarding some of her problematic proclivities in relationships. She does this in “in my head” and “bad idea” as well, juxtaposing these personal tendencies with upbeat pop and R&B as though she’s telling her listeners that it’s not all that deep.
She switches back to her delicate side with the sentimental track “ghostin” to avoid satirizing herself or the album too much. While I don’t want to assume any specificities about the subjects of the song, Grande sings of dreaming about an impossible love while with someone else, “I know it breaks your heart when I cry again, ‘stead of ghostin’ him.” Featuring a Mac Miller instrumental, the song is brutally sad when taken into context. This dreamy hushed track is beautiful and is an example of Grande at her best.
Grande takes on the braggadocious, cocky persona that is loved by many hip-hop and rock artists on her trap-inspired track “7 rings.” Not often heard in pop or by women artists in general, Grande boasts about buying her way through a breakup. In the final two tracks, “thank u, next” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” Grande sings about starting a relationship with herself. As the perfect culmination of self-love and empowerment, Grande signs off with an unabashed love for herself, promising that she’ll be taking more of what she wants in the days to come.
With no features and co-writing all the songs herself, this album feels like the purest version of Grande; she’s lost the middleman and gone straight to her fans. A lot of the songs feel underwhelming when compared to the grandiose stand-alone singles off of Sweetener like “no tears left to cry” or “God is a woman," but Grande is at the point where several aspects of her personal life have been under public scrutiny. She could have shied away from or exploited her personal struggles, but she used her work as a way to heal and connect with fans.
thank u, next is a deeply personal album teetering between quiet sentimentality and humorously ostentatious lyrics. While less musically innovative than Sweetener, this album truly embodies Ariana Grande as a loved pop icon and personality. She reminds us all to love ourselves.
Besides, who’s a better artist to jam out to before Valentine’s Day?
Final Grade: B+
Molly Carmichael is a music columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.