Ariana Grande bounces back from tragedy on ‘thank u, next’

Henry Netherland

Courtesy of iTunes.

It’s no secret Ariana Grande has been dealing with myriad personal issues recently, but does she have enough material to make up an album in six months?

At this point, everyone should be at least a little familiar with Grande. She’s easily one of the most successful pop/R&B acts to come out of the 2010s, and with good reason. She is one of the few singers in the world who can comfortably reach into the whistle register. Even with her incredible talent, she hasn’t really relied on her impressive vocals, aside from a few earlier songs and live performances.

Ad

Starting her career on multiple Nickelodeon shows, Grande exploded onto the pop and R&B charts with a continuous string of hits. In recent years she’s managed to mature her art with an almost uncanny smoothness. Her last album, “Sweetener,” was her most critically acclaimed, making several year-end lists.

“thank u, next” was an incredibly hyped release due to its proximity to “Sweetener” and the two major events in Grande’s personal life since then: the death of ex-boyfriend and rapper, Mac Miller, and her separation from fiancé and comedian, Pete Davidson.

With “thank u, next” being her second album in the span of six months, could this be a rare accomplishment of having two successful albums back to back or a half-a**ed cash grab?

Sober listening

I was initially disappointed by the opener, “imagine,” when I heard it as a b-side to the title single, “thank u, next.” It did grow on me, however, with its fairly minimal instrumentals and Grande’s dynamic delivery on the chorus.

“needy” has a hypnotizing, slightly dreary instrumental. It is a bit one-dimensional, but it allows Grande’s voice to be encapsulated by the lusciousness of it. Here she is incredibly vulnerable, discussing her desire for constant companionship.

“needy” is a good representation of what many of the instrumentals are like. There’s a consistent bedroom pop quality to all of them. They’re incredibly simple and melodically sweet, but Grande still employs typical elements of trap and contemporary R&B in the production.

The single, “7 rings,” is a boring experience, to say the least. I know Grande has had an interest in the past of delving into rapping, but this song just feels like a compilation of rich white girl brags. It also has the driest vocalizations on the entire record. Even when she turns up the speed of her flow, she sounds softer than ever. The best part was the melody on the hook, but that’s not saying much when it was sampled from “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music.”

The title track, “thank u, next,” feels like a sweet, genuine tribute to Grande’s ex-lovers. She doesn’t approach it with a tone of bitterness, rather she uses her experiences to grow as a person. This is an attitude not really seen in contemporary mainstream pop music.

Ad

One smoke session later

Grande takes advantage of the title “NASA,” by incorporating a more futuristic instrumental and by having a bouncy vocal melody on the hook.

I love the dreary, drippy instrumental of “make up.” It kind of reminds me of Baby Goth, but not in a bad way. There’s nothing out of the ordinary by Grande’s standards for this one, but she manages to hold her own.

There’s not a lot of substance when it comes to progression on “ghostin.” It’s definitely the quietest track on the record. Some of the instrumental moments are okay, but that’s about it.

I fail to understand why Grande decided to close the record off with, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” For an edgier than usual title, it’s easily the blandest song on the record. There are not many interesting things going on here, aside from some slightly edgier lyrics.

Overall: 7/10

Best songs: “NASA,” “thank u, next,” “needy,” “make up,”

Worst song: “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”

“thank u, next” is the ideal opposite to “Sweetener.” This album feels so much more laid back and down to earth compared to “Sweetener’s” grand presentation. The simple and homegrown instrumentals help cater to that sound. Not everything stands out, but even some of the more middle of the road cuts like “bloodline,” “bad idea” and “in my head” show Grande working well beyond her age level.

Henry Netherland can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @NetherlandHenry.