With the ever-increasing ease of access artists can offer to their music here in the streaming age, we see musicians and their sound evolving and changing as rapidly as the times we live in. For Ariana Grande, whose fourth studio album, Sweetener, released today, the singer has moved on from the blatant, unapologetic themes from 2016's Dangerous Woman and settled into a soothing, infectious bliss.
Whereas in 2016 women felt the need to remind us that, yes, they can be strong, sexual beings without vying for the affections of a man, here in 2018 men would do well to remember that without a constant reminder. Two years ago we needed a Dangerous Woman, and now the world could use a little Sweetener.
Track 1: "Raindrops (An Angel Cried)"
The opening acapella snippet serves as a palate cleanser. If you're distracted or were listening to anything before, "Raindrops" appropriately brings your attention back into focus. Grande's signature soaring vocals help ground the listener in the moment and prepare them for the emotional journey ahead.
Track 2: "Blazed" (feat. Pharrell Williams)
The high tempo track is reminiscent of an early 2000s Whitney Houston, with Grande keeping the vocals light and airy. Though this is the only vocal feature for Williams, he was invaluable to the album, serving as a producer on six tracks including this one, "The Light Is Coming," "R.E.M.," "Sweetener," "Successful," and "Get Well Soon."
Track 3: "The Light Is Coming" (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Arguably the weakest of the teaser tracks Grande released ahead of the album, as a part of the whole, "The Light Is Coming" is redeemed. Though it once seemed out of place next to unforgettable moments like "No Tears Left to Cry" and "God Is a Woman," the track performs well surrounded by its peers.
Track 4: "R.E.M."
"R.E.M." starts a trend true Grande fans can pick up at different points throughout the album with instrumentals and vocal techniques that sound like echoes of Yours Truly, the singer's first album. This slow bop is even Grande's admitted favorite at the moment and it's not hard to see why - it feels like a throwback and a fresh pick all at the same time.
Track 5: "God Is a Woman"
What could possibly be left to say about this song? What began as a powerful track was elevated to heights divine by a video rife with feminist and religious iconography and remains one of the album's absolute best.
Track 6: "Sweetener"
Another flashback track, Grande harmonizes with recordings of herself adding audible layers to the song highlighting her impressive vocals. The chorus summarizes the mission of the entire album: "When life deals us cards, Make everything taste like it is salt, Then you come through like the sweetener you are, To bring the bitter taste to a halt."
Track 7: "Successful"
Fun and light, "Successful" is one of the last breaks before the album crosses over into emotional territory.
Track 8: "Everytime"
The timeless "why do I keep coming back to you" track, Grande tries to reason with the magnetism between her and a past love.
Track 9: "Breathin"
The undisputed banger of the album, "Breathin" is an ode to the epidemic of anxiety that permeates our culture. "Feel my blood runnin, swear the sky's fallin, I know that all this shit's fabricated," Grande sings, reminding herself that a great deal of the immense pressure we feel building up when things become too much is brought on by ourselves. Though the album's tone doesn't allow for a proper follow up to "Into You," "Breathin" is definitely at the top of the list for single potential.
Track 10: "No Tears Left to Cry"
Grande chose this song as the album's lead single for a reason. After everything that happened to her between Dangerous Woman and Sweetener, she had a statement to make and "No Tears Left to Cry" was it. A near perfect blend of the singer's old and new styles, the track remains a standout. "And if you don't know, then now you know it babe."
Track 11: "Borderline" (feat. Missy Elliott)
Yes, that's a Missy Elliott feature. Check your hype, and then let's talk. The beat itself strikes a very Missy Elliott chord, and though the song fades into the background compared to stronger selections, this pairing did not disappoint.
Track 12: "Better Off"
Need a new breakup song? Ari has you covered with this slow burning ballad. The singer is able to split the physical and emotional attractions she feels to the song's subject, singing "let's put those topics to bed and go fuck on the roof" before insisting she's better off without him. Werk.
Track 13: "Goodnight n Go"
An ode to Imogen Heap's song of the same name, Grande makes you feel the lyrics in your bones with her soft, breathy vocals. If you don't feel an emotional connection to any other song on the album, this one will get you.
Track 14: "Pete Davidson"
The song Grande wrote for her fiance that had the whole world throwing a little cynical side-eye. While the title is his name, the song doesn't wax poetic about the comedian specifically. It plays out as a true funnel for Grande's emotions written in the early, dreamy stages of a relationship. Grande is living out a fairytale romance and now everyone knows exactly how she feels.
Track 15: "Get Well Soon"
The closing track on the album feels like it encompasses everything you'd do for your best friend. Grande sings about calling someone who is upset on the phone and asking where they are and saying they shouldn't be alone. As the journey of Sweetener comes to a close, the singer reminds us that it's perfectly fine and normal to need help and companionship, and if that's not a mood for the trying times we live in, what is?