If it’s one thing editors and critics always mention regarding Ariana Grande, it’s her adversity, and for good reason. While the release of Sweetener last August surrounded Grande with a slew of radiating positivity with the outside world, who said her reaction to these circumstances was paramount, the quick February turnaround release of Thank U, Next is quite the opposite. Over the last two weeks, the noise surrounding the album has been anything but. Her recent controversies surrounding the “7 Rings” video and the accused-Japanese-cultural-appropriation scandal have left her in a bit of a mess. Ariana Grande still proves to be as intriguing as ever.
Thank U, Next is the perfect follow-up to Sweetener. To really get into what Ariana Grande has been through would be just the beginning: 22 of her fans were killed in a terrorist attack at her Manchester show in 2017; everything surrounding her struggles with ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and the breakup in the spring of 2018, due in part to his struggles with substance abuse; her falling for Saturday Night Live‘s Pete Davidson and leaving him a month later. There’s been a lot. This twelve-track record contains substantial identifiable material. Even if you haven’t dealt with the death of an ex or the specific struggles Grande chronicles on Thank U, Next, it is still a very emotional and intimate record.
While Sweetener portrayed an “I can endure anything” message, Thank U, Next dissects the opposite. Songs like “Fake Smile” offer a reality check, that everything might not be okay; she samples Mac Miller’s “2009” on “Ghostin,” that signifies the struggles of losing an ex while being in a new relationship; “In My Head” reminisces painting a picture of a partner because you idealize them being the person they aren’t; the ‘Nsync-sampling “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” yearns a hookup. Each track on Thank U, Next fades between moods: they scream “I’m needy,” “I’m sad,” “I’m horny,” and “I need space.” The most imperative of these moods, however, is the message concerning the way women’s emotions are treated among pop culture, like obstacles that need to be deciphered and “walked on eggshells” for.
The album’s makeup surrounds production and songwriting from brink-of-career-wavering Max Martin, along with Andrew “Pop” Wansel, Ilya Salmanzadeh, and Tommy Brown, among others. The production only really falters on tracks like “Bad Idea,” “Bloodline,” and “Break Up With Your Girlfriend,” all part of Martin’s work. However, Andrew “Pop” Wansel’s involvement is outstanding, being productively involved on key peaks in the record: “Fake Smile” and “Imagine.”
Thank U, Next is a perfect sequel to Sweetener and provides a message that is important and really has something to say: there’s a lot of baggage, but we’ll get past this.