Ariana Grande blessed the world with her second album in six months when she dropped thank u, next at midnight on Friday. The album already features two number one singles, “thank u, next” and the trap-tinged follow up, “7 rings.”
Sweetener was mostly a light listen, but often felt too much like it was a Pharrell Williams vehicle with Grande as its chanteuse. Thank u, next instead sees the reigning pop queen move into a much moodier place, and after a first listen, all I have to say is: if you’re in a moody place, I want to go to there. The album definitely has a lot of relatable content, as Grande talks about self care, trying to find herself, and the struggle to be authentic amidst pressure to conform.
Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of Grande’s fifth album.
First of all, that title! John Lennon is shaking. Anyway, those who remember and love Grande’s last LP Sweetener remember that she opened the album with the short, schmaltzy “Raindrops (An Angel Cried),” which in many ways felt incongruous to what followed. But, “imagine” does the double duty of being both a great song and a great introduction. Most of Grande’s music this era has been about vibing and “imagine,” a song about wanting to be alone with the person you love, seems concocted in a lab to produce tweets that just say “mood.” Not even necessary to say at this point, but her vocals are also especially on point.
What’s best about “needy” is that, as it plods along on a minimalist beat, it genuinely surprises at times. The melody veers into melancholy territory as Grande sings about her own insecurities, which is not only good listening but a great instance of the music reflecting the subject matter. The song has a violin breakdown that sounds like an updated version of the singer’s first LP Honeymoon Avenue and, in referencing her past, shows just how much she’s evolved.
On this banger, Ari demands distance from a smothering loved one, but it’s also very much an ode to self-care, something everyone in Grande’s target demographic — everyone — thinks about. The good news is that the verses are killer and succeed at establishing the kind of mood Grande wants to create. That said, the chorus here feels a little mismatched with the rest of the song. It’s not that it’s bad, but the rest of the song is so chill, that her Toni Basil-like repetition of “space” over and over feels a little underwritten.
Another banger for anyone who has ever had a ho phase — or who lives ho life — ”bloodline” satisfies in both content and presentation. Not only does it work as your new thot anthem, it’s also the perfect soundtrack as you prep yourself in the mirror for a night out. Of course, there are other theories out there.
There’s no other way to describe “fake smile” than just luscious. By this point, Grande makes it clear that this album isn’t about anyone else but her. Each song, one after the other, underlines the importance of self-care, self-contemplation, pleasure, and, with “fake smile,” living authentically. Her vocals stand out especially on the song’s pared-back chorus, a simple “Fuck a fake smile” repeated once for emphasis.
It’s a given that Grande can sang, but “bad idea” serves as a reminder that she’s not just a singer who can belt, she’s a vocalist who can interpret. A song instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever contemplated calling up the one person they shouldn’t, “bad idea” features the most dynamic vocals on the album, specifically the inflection Grande uses to great effect when she sings the song’s title.
“Make up” probably won’t end up being anyone’s favorite song on the album — especially as it seems to veer a little bit from the anthem’s themes of self-actualization — but as far as detours go, you can do a lot worse than “make up.” The song, an appreciation of reconciliation and beauty products, matches the album’s low-key vibe and helps keep the album’s mid-section buoyant and playful.
After serving us bop after bop, “ghostin” packs the album’s biggest emotional punch. With lyrics that seemingly allude to Mac Miller, Grande laments that she has to break someone’s heart because she’s mourning the loss of another love. The song might catch you off-guard after a song as light and bubbly as “make up” but its predecessor’s light-heartedness only makes this track’s emotional wallop land harder.
“in my head”
Grande has a problem: she falls for the idea of a guy instead of the guy himself. And with “in my head,” Grande tackles the problem head-on. It features some of the album’s shadiest lyrics — ”Your Gucci tennis shoes/ runnin’ from your issues” — but also some of its busiest production. Though it’s at times noisy, it’s never bad noisy.
You’ve already heard “7 Rings,” but most striking in the context of the album is how little it sounds like anything else. Most of the album finds Grande searching for herself and rifling through her own baggage, while “7 Rings” leaves contemplation in the rearview in favor of stunting about her wealth. The song has already inspired several rounds of internet discourse and you probably already have your own take on it — but, hey, it’s her second #1, so what does it matter what I say?
“thank u, next”
As Ari says in the song, it was a smash. It was everywhere. It definitely reads a bit perkier compared to the rest of the album, but also feels much more anthemic and singular than its parent album’s offerings, which work best in the context of the album.
“break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”
Already known as the song and video in which Grande kisses a girl and samples NSYNC, “girlfriend” is an odd album closer, but also, it’s a bop. Of the three singles, it’s the one that feels most at home among the album’s other tracks. This is the last thing you hear on Grande’s fifth album, and it’ll make you want to press repeat.
Thank u, next is a darker, more inward-looking Sweetener. What’s best about next is that, though only 6 months have passed since Sweetener dropped, it feels like an evolution for the singer in terms of content, sound and maturity. She’s leaving formulaic pop music further in the rearview (yes, it’s still there!) and this might open the door to more experimental sounds in the future.