Perhaps it’d make sense that the warm reception of this album was what finally compelled me to break down and listening to Ariana Grande, after mostly feeling indifferent about her. But, that’s not quite the case. I listened to Grande’s 2018 album Sweetener, and liked it just fine, but it didn’t really stand out that much from your typical Top 40 stuff. Not that there’s much that stands out from most Top 40-oriented music enough for me to want to listen to 40 minutes worth of it from one artist.
So then why am I enjoying thank u, next so much more than Sweetener, when it seems like a year is a very short time in which one singer could go through that much artistic growth? Am I just buying into the hype that the recent romantic travails of losing an ex and calling off a marriage have somehow made Ariana Grande’s music more compelling? That, I can’t say for sure. But I can say she sounds a little more confident, a little more wild, and a little bit more somber throughout the course of the thank u, next. Which makes for some thoroughly satisfying pop music.
Clearly, Ariana Grande owes a bit to modern hip-hop/trap here, seeing as there’s a kind of repetitive minimalism to the production, yet because Grande is such a versatile singer, these songs always feel very full. And that’s not to say that there’s anything repetitive about the songwriting here. There’s a wide breadth of emotions on thank u, next, but all of them seem to share the overarching characteristic of being very catchy. Then on top of that, you have Grande writing from personal experience in a way that lots of pop artists try, but often feels weirdly affected.
So instead, Ariana Grande seems both genuinely shaken by the trappings of love, fame, and tragedy, yet also seems to possess a disarming amount of poise. Which gives her the innate ability to shake everything off and keep moving forward, while still being a little bit bruised inside, which is perhaps embodied best by the album’s smash title track. It’s a little weird that the other smash single on the album, “7 Rings”, is probably my least favorite song on the album. But hey, that’s because I don’t generally understand pop music, and I’ll just try to enjoy the fact that this shining example of the genre managed to resonate with me.