Ariana Grande- thank u, next Album Review
(By: Thomas Rodriguez)
Despite being made in a mere 6 months, thank u, next delivers a capable collection of pristine pop sounds and reflective lyricism.
Ariana Grande’s smash single, “thank u, next”, has been stuck in my head for weeks. In the gym? It’s in my head. In the car? It’s in my ears. On Twitter? It’s on my timeline. The Nickelodeon child actor-turned-pop icon is everywhere right now. The pure firestorm that was Ariana Grande’s rise to pop superstardom over the past few years has led to some great singles (“God is a Woman”, “Side to Side”) and heated controversy as Ariana stans and haters go to war over social media. Grande’s life has been just as turbulent as it has been successful, however: her recent engagement with SNL comedian Pete Davidson had been broken off, her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died of a drug overdose, and her concert in Manchester was hijacked by a terrorist attack. To have so many disastrous events happen in quick succession is awful for anyone to face, but instead of staying quiet, Grande decided to hit the studio. Following last year’s well-received Sweetener, thank u, next was created less than a year after, and is a confirmation that Ariana is here to stay, in both her career and social life.
Something that did worry me about the release of thank u, next was its…well, its release itself. I understand striking the iron while it’s hot, but to release a fully fledged follow up less than a year after what many call your best work is tough to do; what’s (arguably) worse is that Grande didn’t spend any time with Pharrell Williams in the studio. The acclaimed producer has a knack for crafting pop sounds that have an energetic bounce and long shelf life, so moving on from that sound could be an Achilles heel. The single “7 Rings” is a perfect encapsulation of what I feared for the project: stale trap aesthetics, overly-indulgent structuring, and a somewhat laughable attempt at flexing over a melody eerily similar to Soulja Boy’s “Pretty Boy Swag”.
Thankfully, the soundscape of thank u, next has much more finesse. The pop production is a bit more traditional, leaning on pristine electronics and vocals, pianos, and lush strings, but it matches Ariana’s excellent vocal chops and hook writing. The chorus on “imagine” is downright beautiful over its wave of synths and sensual finger snaps; the vocal climax over the whimsical piano and strings at its tail end is immaculate pop. “bad idea” takes the more menacing edge of Grande’s personality in strides over its skittering 808s and dramatic orchestral breakdowns, helping paint Ariana’s devilish desire in the lyrics as what is best described as a beautiful maelstrom. Sometimes the production may sound a bit dated because of the swiftly moving nature of music today, as in “bloodline”, which has cheap sounding horn samples and a beat breakdown straight out of 2014. Despite these few dips in quality, the instrumentals here are great overall. Dreamlike, quiet, and very much reflective of Grande’s great songwriting and themes.
The bouncy “NASA” and somber “needy” are excellent bases for the album to build its themes upon, their lyrics dealing with Grande’s outlooks on love and constant need for happiness. thank u, next is extremely ambitious in this regard, attempting to take these themes to their fullest extent over its 12 tracks in both melancholic and upbeat ways. “Fake Smile” is a definite contender for Grande’s next smash hit, what with it’s pretty keys, clicking percussion, restrained delivery, and relatable lyrics on hiding pain from others. “make up” is probably the most lively moment on the record, with its driving bass, wavy electronics, and cute lyrics about always returning to the love of your life. The following track, “ghostin”, displays that the album isn’t scared to truly reach into the darkest trenches of Grande’s mind. A track about the crushing circumstances of Grande’s mental health, including the death of Mac Miller and her worries about her unsure future, its skeletal synth patches and mellow vocal performance combine with the stellar lyrics to make for one of Grande’s best songs period. True, the album may bounce around from happiness to sadness to make for some tonal whiplash, but I feel like that’s simply reflective of the chaos that took place during this album’s creation. For all we know, Grande may already be moving on: “break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored” is a surprisingly sexual and cocky closer for the emotional album. It threw me off at first, but I’ve grown to respect it much more as a mission statement of Grande’s impressive power!
thank u, next (the album) is very much similar to “thank u, next” (the single). It’s pristine, dreamy, catchy, and has more genuine humanity and directness in its writing than most pop albums; there are a few bumps in the road, but if Ariana has taught us anything about potholes, we can get through them to enjoy anything in life. Including this album as a whole!
Tracks to Save: “imagine”, “NASA”, “fake smile”, “bad idea”, “ghostin”, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”
Tracks to Skip: “bloodline”, “7 rings”