Six months after dropping her Grammy-winning album “Sweetener,” Ariana Grande is back with her fifth album titled “thank u, next.” It’s also her first album since breaking off her engagement with comedian Pete Davidson, and the passing of her ex-boyfriend: the late Mac Miller. So, coming off a very successful 2018 with “Sweetener,” how did “thank u, next” turn out?
The album begins strongly with the promotional single “imagine.” Here, Ariana sings about a love that is “now and forever unattainable.” The trap-influenced production in the background blends in nicely as Ariana pleads with her partner to imagine a perfect world. Believed to be about Mac Miller, Ariana tests her vocal range hitting unfathomable notes towards the end of the track.
While “Sweetener” offered more experimental production from Pharrell Williams, “thank u, next” finds its inspiration from bass-heavy beats and trap production. Production primarily comes from the Swedish hitmakers Max Martin and ILYA, responsible for hits from Taylor Swift and The Weeknd. Not everything on the album is influenced heavily by hip hop though, with cuts like “ghostin” and “needy” offering somber, stripped-back moments for Grande to reflect.
With no guest features on the album, Grande does all the work with her voice. While it was evident she had a powerful voice, to begin with, cuts like “bad idea” prove the fact once more with a soaring hook. I’ve already mentioned the ending notes in “imagine,” which have drawn a comparison to Mariah Carey. Not all her vocal work tests her range though. On “needy,” she provides vocals that sound almost like she’s tearing up while singing. Proving that even though she has a fantastic range, her softer vocals are just as beautiful.
The majority of the album’s strongest moments are honest or extremely catchy. On one of the more honest moments, “fake smile,” we learn that Grande is tired of faking being okay. Here she sings, “I can’t fake another smile. I can’t fake like I’m alright. And I won’t say I’m feeling fine. After what I’ve been through, I can’t lie.” Giving us an idea that maybe after “Sweetener” things really were not that sweet after all.
Cuts like “bad idea” and “bloodline” even though they are not necessarily the deepest are most certainly catchy. The running guitar throughout “bad idea” makes it sound like the perfect song for driving at the beach. Making it even more deserving of being released as a single for Spring Break or summer. Four months after its release, I still find the title track in my head constantly.
For all the great songs on this album, the best track on the record is one of the ballads. This would be “ghostin,” and Ariana herself described the track as, “Feeling bad for the person you’re in love with because you love someone else. Also, because you feel bad because he can tell he can’t compare… and how I should be ghosting him.” If what the song is about wasn’t heartbreaking enough, it’s even sadder when the listener realizes she is singing about Mac Miller and Pete Davidson. The raw honesty and emotion here make this one of Grande’s best songs to date.
Even as strong as “thank u, next” starts, it falters at the very end. Hit singles, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” and “7 rings,” offer two of the weakest moments on the album. While the songs themselves may be catchy, they greatly lack the quality of some of Ariana’s earlier hits. On “girlfriend,” Grande is wishing for someone that catches her eye to break up with his girlfriend so she can have him. This showcases Ariana Grande in not a very good light at all, regardless of any theories surrounding the song. The latter is not much better by any means. On “7 rings,” Ariana brag raps/sings about the success of her career. Controversy aside of the accusations of her stealing other artists flow, the song itself is not that great. Sure, her bragging is earned. However, the production sounds recycled, and Ariana’s rapping is not particularly good.
Overall, the album is quite enjoyable. Great production and excellent vocals from Ariana make this album an enjoyable listen throughout its short 41-minute runtime. Garnering two number-one singles already from it, Grande has further established herself one of the most successful pop-stars of the decade. Where Ariana Grande goes next in her career, who knows, but one can only suspect that she will not be going away anytime soon.