Ariana Grande
Thank U, Next


4.5
superb

Review

by Brendan Schroer USER (132 Reviews)
February 14th, 2019 | 20 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: TL;DR: don't fake smiles, own your demons

When you’ve listened to any artist’s work with critical faculties for a long while, you inevitably start to pay attention to little cues and minute details that begin to fit into the bigger picture like jigsaw pieces. For instance, celtic folk musician Loreena Mckennitt once stated that her discography functions as a travelogue of sorts, absorbing the cultures of different countries she’s visited into her own work. So in essence, you’re getting her tried-and-true signature sound with a few new elements added every time to continue her artistic development. The same can be said for Ariana Grande, but rather than “travel,” it’s “experience.” With the absolute plethora of negative happenings in her life recently, she certainly has every right to make so much music in such a short time to address all of her personal difficulties. But surely, I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that ever since Sweetener came out, there’s been one particular emotion and - by extension - theme that’s bubbled up to a dominant position in her music: anxiety.

Not only anxiety, but an overwhelming sense of anxiety laid out over overwhelmingly laid-back trap beats. By far, my favorite tracks on Sweetener were the ones that explored this contrast to its fullest extent. Why" Because it’s absolutely fascinating to hear the two extremes collide the way they do. Anxiety is a painful, draining thing to both experience and address; throw it on top of incredibly low-key beats and dreamlike synthesizers, and suddenly you’re being immersed in a spacious environment in which the rug could be pulled out from under you at any given moment. And - spoiler alert - Thank U, Next is absolutely rife with these contrasting emotions. Despite having the fingerprints of so many co-writers and co-producers all over it, this album easily has the most personal stamp from Ari herself. Practically every song addresses some hardship she’s experienced in the past few years, but it sounds like she’s using these moments as a means of delivering heartfelt statements rather than as a form of damage control for her image and career.

But let’s steer the discussion back to that central concept of stress and anxiety, because it really does color the record in some fascinating ways. The reason it’s important to discuss here is because Thank U, Next is a constant push-and-pull between relaxation and that little tick of urgency that’s always at the back of one’s head. “Imagine” is a strong enough opener that uses the subject of Mac Miller’s death - at least, allegedly - to expand to more existential questions and comments about the way Grande conducts herself day-to-day. But “Needy” is where things start to get really interesting. A plaintive little tune about the singer’s addiction to neediness and being emotionally “messed up” constantly finds itself mired in these weird jazz-laden piano chords that are… just haunting. It’s like the dreamy nature of music is trying to be relaxing, the lingering sadness and almost insomniac subject matter constantly interrupt the dream and ruin the peace. But it makes for incredibly relatable and compelling songwriting. Grande has effectively crafted the musical equivalent of being up at 2am with nowhere to go and yet no drowsiness whatsoever, something also highlighted by the likes of the high-tempo-meets-low-key R&B of “Bad Idea” and the strangely delirious and dizzying effects of “Make Up.”

When you go back to Ariana Grande’s very first studio album Yours Truly, it’s fascinating how many genres and aesthetics she’s been able to transcend with her voice and her songwriting. Because, after all is said and done, it’s still her. This is the same voice that serenaded us back when the singer debuted all those years ago. But the fact that she can use her Mariah Carey-esque high register and blend it with grittier trap stylings without coming off as too forced or cringy - after already exploring genres as wide-ranging as soul, dance-pop, R&B, jazz, and even rock - is a real testament to her talents. Obviously we get some songs that are of a more traditional style, such as the lushly orchestrated ballad “Ghostin’” or the aforementioned opening ballad “Lush,” which could both be slotted neatly into Dangerous Woman’s tracklist (the latter’s subject matter notwithstanding). But the moments in which her vocal/lyrical pain and the bass-boosted trap beats collide still seem to yield the best results on this album. They perfectly exhibit Grande’s increasingly nuanced lower register, as well as paradoxically humanizing her even more than the more organic moments. “NASA” is probably the best way to describe this approach, utilizing literal stellar imagery as a metaphor for self-discovery; the fat electronic beats beneath perfectly compliment the idea of space, while Grande sounds just reserved enough to keep things relatable and even reflective.

But that’s the thing: more than any other Ariana Grande album, Thank U, Next is a true reflection record. I don’t think she pumped out the album as a way to oversaturate the market with her work and presence (although that’s working pretty damn well!), but instead as an impromptu creative burst to respond to all the turmoil surrounding her life. Because, as I mentioned before, there’s been a lot of that. Grande deserves to put out such a sudden record after all she’s been through, and considering Thank U, Next came out a mere six months after Sweetener, it’s fucking astonishing how well-written and emotionally impacting it is. This is how you take something as serious and mentally damaging as anxiety and turn it into a positive release of emotion and energy; it may not always sound pretty, but it’s clearly stemming from a much more humble, heartfelt, and earnest place than where Grande started. She can’t fake her pain and her distress, so she’ll turn it into the act of bettering herself through her music… and that’s something I can’t help but admire.



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user ratings (239)
Chart.
3.2
good
other reviews of this album
Kirk Bowman CONTRIBUTOR (4)
music for who people are, not who people should be...

Channing Freeman STAFF (3.5)
Two tales of one Ari....



Comments:Add a Comment 
DivergentThinking
February 13th 2019


6226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I gushed way more than I thought I was going to, lol

StrikeOfTheBeast
February 13th 2019


5690 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Good review. I have some friends who can relate regarding anxiety, and that definitely feels like an ongoing theme here. This is perhaps Ari's most personal work to date and a great album for it.

Digging: Demigod - Slumber of Sullen Eyes

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
February 13th 2019


15107 Comments


I never heard this lady's music, no clue how I have managed to, but your write up definitely makes me want to give it a shot. Good stuff Brendan.

Digging: Deafkids - Metaprogramao

DivergentThinking
February 13th 2019


6226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Thanks guys! Yeah, I was definitely approaching this one from the angle of Ariana's personal life... then again, by this point I guess it's kinda impossible to avoid, given what she's been through

hasan
February 14th 2019


898 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

great pop on the CD the songs and good write up on the web site here

sixdegrees
February 14th 2019


5703 Comments


agreed hard lambda

Digging: Cock and Ball Torture - Sadochismo

DivergentThinking
February 14th 2019


6226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

lol

StrikeOfTheBeast
February 14th 2019


5690 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

\m/

Kalopsia
February 14th 2019


3126 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

if i love Dangerous Woman, would i like this?

Digging: Highly Suspect - Mister Asylum

hasan
February 14th 2019


898 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Kalop it is a good pop CD.... great pop on the songs here.. it is good for me to have pop songs that make you want to tap your feet a bit when you are sitting and try to sing along some hard hits. she Ariana is a very very good singer. alot of the cd has a good beat.... a 3.5

StrikeOfTheBeast
February 14th 2019


5690 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

@Kalopsia I think so. Her 'evolving maturity' presented on Dangerous Woman is on full display here.

Kalopsia
February 14th 2019


3126 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i'll probz pick this up then. i only liked about half of Sweetener, but this is sounding better overall

DivergentThinking
February 14th 2019


6226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This is definitely better than Sweetener, although I liked that one too. This is tied with Dangerous Woman as my favorite by Ari

DivergentThinking
February 14th 2019


6226 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Also, Needy is the easy highlight for me here. Incredible little track

FTM1234
March 19th 2019


38 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

It's pretty decent. I've never been the hugest fan of Ariana Grande but there is definitely good music on this album, and 'ghostin' is a fantastic song in every right

Kalopsia
March 19th 2019


3126 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

DW is still her best

Hawks
March 19th 2019


68364 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sweetener blows, this doesn’t. Haven’t heard DW yet.

Digging: Akasha - Canticles of the Sepulchral Deity

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 19th 2019


29907 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8 | Sound Off

DW is a hit machine, this is her most consistent release, and Sweetener indeed blows ass.

TheSpirit
Contributing Reviewer
March 19th 2019


24971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

UMMMMMMMMMMMMM Sweetener rules.

Digging: Akasha - Canticles of the Sepulchral Deity

TheSpirit
Contributing Reviewer
March 19th 2019


24971 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

screw you guys :[



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