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Album Review: Ariana Grande ‘thank u, next’

What a Grande year it’s been for Ariana!

It hasn’t been exactly the most easier years for Ariana Grande emotionally. Following a traumatic series of events, including breakups and deaths, pop’s leading princess has remained a constant favorite on radios, streaming services, and download platforms. Seven months ago, her latest offering was the lukewarm Sweetner, which similar to 2016’s Dangerous Woman, felt like a forced record and received little critical recognition.

After failing to garner a largely successful tune from the album, Grande released “thank u, next” which would debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single would become her first #1 single of her career, and was soon followed by the also debuting #1, “7 rings”, the current #1 song in America. With having two #1 debuts, Grande becomes only the third female artist to do so, behind Mariah Carey (3) and Britney Spears (2). The two #1 singles also give her a nod that only Carey and Drake have; two singles debuting at #1 from the same album.

The album itself has been making history. It has become Grande’s fifth #1 album since her 2013 debut. Furthermore, she has become the female artist with the most singles in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 with 11 of her 12 tracks all gaining traction in the top tier of the chart. If that wasn’t an accomplishment enough, a week after Sweetner won her her first Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album, she became the first female artist and only the second artist in history to occupy the top 3 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 as “7 rings”, “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored”, and “thank u, next” were the top ranked singles of the week.

Numbers aside, the album feels as it is her strongest set to date. While she isn’t glossing her effective range over dynamic pianos and chords, or dancing over pop beats, she feels comfortable flirting with the type of beats that urban heavyweights would delicately body in 2019. That doesn’t mean, however, that the ballads don’t exist; the opener, “imagine”, finds Grande telling a story of love and using her whistle register for the first time in years. Standout ballads “ghostin” and “fake smile” find her battling past relationships and public drama into some of her strongest emotional offerings to date, with the latter likely an early candidate for future single.

Grande also finds a fine balance in her pop roots and love for trap in the clingy-esque “needy”, radio-friendly “NASA”, and messy “bad idea”. But when she goes “black”, it’s evident she has no plans on going back anytime soon. Her cockiness exudes on the sultry “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”, an obvious choice for next single. Also carefully crafted, are three different flavors of bass.

The short but sensual “make up” is an ode to all the reasons to end your love life just to get back in them with your significant other. In “bloodline”, Ariana makes it perfectly clear she has no desires for love, but simply for intimacy over a boombastic beat. And in arguably the album’s strongest tune, “in my head” floats over an infectious mid-trap beat, a simple three word hook, and sentiments that everyone who’s been in a relationship can equate to.

Whether or not this album is the 26 year old’s musical peak remains to be seen. What is obvious, however, is that there is a new comfort in her that hasn’t been as pleasing to our ears as it may have been to hers. Arguably, the strongest pop offering of the year thus far…and it’s not even a pop album. In the words of the album’s title, “thank u, next” as we await for the follow-up probably coming by the summer.

March 1, 2019

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