Six months after the release of her album “Sweetener,” Ariana Grande has hit the charts again with “thank u, next,” a breakup album for the ages. While “Sweetener” preached messages of positivity and joy, “thank u, next” pulls a 180 by spreading self-worth, self-care and a blasé attitude.
Grande’s Feb. 8 release consists of 12 tracks with a unique pop sound that combines a repertoire of styles including a nod to show tunes, funk, trap, R&B and rap.
The album has a vulnerable start with the songs “imagine” and “needy.” “imagine” is an R&B ballad that gives a powerful but emotional start to the album, portraying that imagining was a way that Grande has coped with the difficulties she has been through this past year. “needy,” a groovy bop, follows Grande’s theme of independence and self-care.
The album immediately turns around and breaks into a carefree attitude with “NASA.” This song picks up the mood and has an exciting feel to it. The track starts off with a recorded male voice saying, “One small step for woman, one giant step for woman-kind,” leading into her message of female empowerment and needing “space” from her man, a pun on the title “NASA.”
“bloodline” is an upbeat song that adds to her message of self-rule, repeatedly saying, “let this shit go.” The idea of not wanting to get serious with a partner is expressed as she sings, “don’t want you in my bloodline.” The song brings an energetic feel with a tasteful vibrancy and pulsing bass line that gives listeners something to sing and dance along to.
The next song, “fake smile,” proves that Grande wants to try different styles on this album. The song starts off with Wendy Rene’s Stax classic “After Laughter (Comes Tears),” an old recording used as a driving force behind the rest of the song. Grande uses her sweet and lively tone filled with riffs as a way to make her vulgar language sound empowering as she repeatedly sings the line “fuck a fake smile.”
“bad idea” has a gloomy, pop-princess feel to the song. Grande’s edgy song has a cool backbeat and the verses are upbeat with a heavy bass, keeping the song interesting even after multiple listens.
The next song, “make up,” has an underlying reggae tone that balances out the aggressive lyrics. The play on the phrase “make up” is clever and heart-wrenching at the same time. She says, “I love it when we make up, Go ‘head, ruin my makeup.” The song illustrates the conflicted feelings that come with being in “on-again, off-again” relationships.
The mood shifts back into a more vulnerable sound on this next track. The haunting tone and lyrics of “ghostin” are a reminder of Grande’s previous works, such as “Break Free,” “Moonlight” and “Love Me Harder.” The lyrics are moving, tragic and relatable all at the same time.
“in my head” is the next song on the album that keeps the drama given in “ghostin” in a more confident way. The song’s lyrics express Grande’s ability to accept that her imagination, a nod to the song “imagine,” may be playing with her emotions. This song’s rhythm is bluesy and gives Grande the opportunity to show off her vocal range more than some of the other tracks on the album.
“7 rings” is a girl power anthem that starts with a creepy instrumental introduction, but also features a mix of singing and rapping. The song is raunchy and cold-hearted, with Grande preaching that the best therapy is retail therapy while celebrating her close friends and wealth. The song then leads into a spoof on “The Sound of Music” classic “My Favorite Things,” listing all of Grande’s favorite things that if she wants, she gets.
Her title track “thank u, next”, which spent weeks at No. 1, has a catchy chorus, dynamic beat and verses that are savage and intriguing. This song perfectly exemplifies her crazy year and how she is ready to move on to bigger and better things. She also released a music video this past November, referencing classic romantic comedies from the early 2000s and preaching feminism and self-love.
The final song on the album is “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” which also has a music video, released when the album dropped at midnight. The song has lyrics that are bold and follow the theme of the album perfectly. The overall sound of the tune is boring for a final track, especially in comparison to the twin hits played right before. This song was added last minute and has an eye-catching title but vocally does not show Grande’s strengths.
“thank u, next” is not afraid to push boundaries and take risks. The album is full of symbolism that demand attention, new styles and sounds and a new image for Grande. While her message is unconventional, clearly she is doing something right as the number-one-selling pop artist.