It has been mere months since her last album Sweetener dropped, but Ariana Grande has just released her fifth album thank u, next and is in unapologetic, yet cognisant mode. Though Sweetener danced around issues of self-care and a toxic relationship, the main blueprint was syrupy, while thank u, next delves deeply into themes of trauma, grief and heartache with some savage swipes aimed at her worst critics, including herself.
imagine opens proceedings, a sad indictment of the fake and privacy-free world we all live in while bemoaning a love that is unthinkable. Comparisons with Mariah Carey are obvious here with the middle-eight whistles and lush self-harmonies: Carey’s fifth studio album was Butterfly, but it seems like Grande has skipped right to Mariah’s outstanding recent opus Caution for inspiration, especially since the album’s title track generated just as many memes as Carey’s GTFO. Grande is self-aware, honest about her own flaws. This is exemplified on the divine needy, where some of the narrative reads like unanswered messages from an admirer on a dating app, as well as on the bizarrely derided 7 rings, which features Grande playfully rapping and taking out her detractors one by one.
bloodline serves as the nefarious sister to last year’s celestial God is a woman, as Grande just wants to have some fun against a banging reggae-lite R&B backdrop. NASA is a cute and astute call for space while embarking on a mission of self-exploration. ghostin is a beautiful, floaty, ethereal soundscape dealing with the heartbreak of being unable to let go and move on, while the brilliant in my head begins with a friend bringing Grande back down to earth when she is unable to take off rose-tinted specs. There is also a very clever nod to Beyoncé‘s Run The World (Girls) in the middle-eight when our protagonist can finally see right through a bad boy.
fake smile is where Grande truly crackles. The honesty about the pressures and mud our society has slung at her while suffering her own recent blunt traumas, in tandem with a sample of Wendy Rene‘s After Laughter Comes Tears, is bittersweet pop perfection. Grande gets a lot of stick from bloated gammons, allegedly being a bad role model for young women for expressing her sexuality and femininity. But these bigots are no paragons of virtue, in fact preying on young women themselves with unwanted advances. The simple truth is that Grande is a real role model in a world where it’s so hard to find someone to admire. There are no beefy pathetic spats from her on the socials to help shift insipid albums, instead you get the sense that Grande has a pure truth and an undeniable talent within her. She may use a shedload of vernacular, but tracks like fake smile are important and powerful anthems of self-preservation that are so necessary for our fragile younger generation.
thank u, next is a very accomplished album which showcases Grande’s inner strength and emotional maturity in the face of the undeniably harrowing trauma she has suffered in the past couple of years. Forget Grande: This album is a Venti, with an extra shot.