God, I hate being sick. The show must go on nonetheless. Less than six months ago, pop superstar Ariana Grande dropped her best album to date. She also happened to pick up a Grammy for her efforts. In my review of Sweetener I praised Ari’s maturation as an artist. Her growth as an entertainer and collector of sounds is currently placing her at the top of her respective genres. Both electro-pop and vocal pop have few ambassadors as marketable and charming as Grande. Though she is no stranger to drama, her artistry as of late has been nothing short of authentic. Her fifth solo album, thank u, next, adds even more transparency to her catalog while contributing a signature song or two. Despite minimal time between albums, Ariana finds a way to keep things fresh. I must say, this run is impressive.
She immediately checks my most important boxes when listening through an album. The intro and closer songs are fantastic. “imagine” paints an almost somber picture of what could be sweet memories of Malcolm. This tune has Gogeta-level strength and sees Ari back on her epic vocal bullshit. I cannot express in words how here I am for her vocals. One aspect of Sweetener that somewhat let me down was the general lack of vocal acrobatics. Since her debut, she has had, without a doubt, popular music’s most powerful pipes. Although she stays in her comfort range for most of the album, she gives fans a little taste of what she’s working with. The aforementioned closer track grew on me a lot more than I thought it would initially. I love the frankness of the song. It embodies the essence of the record and ties everything up well.
Unapologetic blood pumps through thank u, next’s veins, serving as a stylized caricature of the pop princess. Cuts like “fake smile” and the title track (which boasts a seamless fit into the months-later tracklist) could only be performed by Grande. After bumping Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers in my car for the past few months, the nostalgic sample on “fake smile” brought a real smile to my face. Additionally, most of the themes present on the album are agreeable and (I assume) relatable to the general female audience. Yet her lyrics, despite being co-written by others, feature enough layers to correlate them to real-life experiences. My favorite of the bunch has to be “ghostin.” It showcases this record’s free-flowing and efficient production value. None of these beats do too much or jar the ear. Ari allows the instrumentals to breathe freely. Here they are a shoulder on which to lean.
Nevertheless, the timing of this album is less than ideal. A smash hit like “thank u, next” indeed has a healthy shelf life. However, I can see why Grande would want to drop an album like this around V-Day. Self-love (of the responsible kind) is the most important type of love. But in terms of the actual music, I needed at least one more hit song. Asking that from an artist less than six months after their best release to date is pretty unfair. However, I wish she would’ve waited just a bit longer to drop this. Due to the title track’s prior release, this album feels devoid of a centerpiece. “needy” is an excellent song, but fails to carry the weight of Grande’s stardom, while tracks like “God is a woman” and “breathin” flourish in that role. Like it or not, though, Ariana Grande is pumping out fire records.