Image via Wikimedia Commons
Ariana Grande’s fifth studio album “thank u, next” is arguably the most anticipated one of her career. Coming just six months after the release of her last album, “Sweetener,” “thank u, next” addresses changes and complications in Grande’s life, taking her fans on a tour of her innermost thoughts.
Where the careless optimism of “Sweetener” proclaims Grande has “no tears left to cry,” “thank u, next” tells the tale of a woman who has gone through a lot in her life and is still working on recovering. Some of the songs are tinged with sadness, but the core of the album is a personal one about healing and being able to move on from trauma.
Grande’s past few years have been, by any standards, rough. She was a victim of a terrorist bombing at her concert in Manchester, United Kingdom, on May 22, 2017, which resulted in the deaths of 22 of her fans. Grande’s ex and Pittsburgh native Mac Miller died of an accidental fentanyl overdose on Sep. 7, 2018, just four months after their breakup. Her engagement to comedian Pete Davidson ended just a month later.
Grande’s “thank u, next” is a triumph over tragedy, and she has chops in more areas than one. She is a masterful writer, often collaborating with friend and songwriter Victoria Monet, and the impressive vocal range that made Grande a star shines throughout the record. The album doesn’t shy away from the sadness but also doesn’t shy away from the fun.
“7 rings,” one of the singles off the album, was inspired by a night when Grande says she had a little too much champagne at Tiffany & Co. and bought matching diamond rings for herself and six closest friends. She lauds the way she spends her money on her friends and on herself.
The song sparked controversy in more ways than one. Grande was accused of stealing the hook from rapper Soulja Boy’s song “Pretty Boy Swag” off his album “Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em.” Soulja Boy responded to the critiques, saying he wants to collaborate with Grande, who has already collaborated with rapper 2 Chainz on a remix of “7 rings,” after she was accused of stealing his famed pink Atlanta aesthetic for the music video of the song.
Some of the best parts of the album come in snippets of a few lines that hit a sweet spot between Grande’s powerful voice and lyricism. “Look at you / boy, I invented you / Gucci tennis shoes / running from your issues,” she croons moodily over a hypnotic bass and drum-heavy, hip-hop-inspired beat in “in my head.”
On the track “ghostin”, inspired by dealing with the death of Miller, her voice nearly cracks as she sings, “you’ve been so understanding / you’ve been so good” as she commends a current lover for being supportive while she tries to come to terms with the death of Miller. The song is sad — Grande doesn’t want to burden her new love with her mourning of an old one — but also beautiful and emotional.
Small moments make “thank u, next” personal. The music is not just about a famous pop star you don’t know, but about a person you truly love and care for. Some of the songs begin with voicemails or samples of Grande’s friends and family talking.
“Because I’m trying to do the best I can, and they can’t find something to satisfy me. Ugh!” an older woman, presumably Grande’s grandmother, explains as Grande laughs at the beginning of the single “bloodline.” The brass-band music-filled track is about not needing a man in her life and just wanting to have a good time.
At the beginning of “in my head,” a voicemail from Grande’s friend, Doug, proclaims, “this has been going on for way too long,” he is two blocks away and he’s coming over. Grande and her fans have shared many laughs about the song, with Grande tweeting “y’all never letting this go huh” in response to a fan, @letarianalive, telling her “Doug is 2 blocks away hold on.”
While Grande and her fan base laugh about the voicemails, the personal touch makes the listener feel like a confidant of Grande’s. In a way, we are all Doug, who is two blocks away and about to come help her feel better. Everyone is invited to get a little drunk and buy jewelry at Tiffany & Co. The album “thank u, next” is an intimate portrait of a phenomenal artist who has been through a lot but is only getting better from here.