Ariana Grande – thank u, next

25 Feb

It’s an unlikely thing to say about someone who’s already pop royalty, but thank u, next is Ariana Grande taking herself to the next level. She’s already a superstar and a household name, but this is the album that really pushes herself as maybe the most important act in pop today.

This felt clear from the moment the title track dropped. There’s a maturity to “thank u, next” that was expected at this stage of her career but is no poorer for that. This could have easily come off as cynical and trite but Ariana has an effortless sincerity here that carries the song. Her conclusion of self-love would have been cliche in less skilled hands but instead you find yourself happy for her. Pop has always played out at least in part in the E! News of the day but Ari has made it service her music and not the other way around.

Her voice is the centerpiece of the album. Powerful when it needs to be, delicate when it needs to be, it gets the showpiece here that it long deserved. Her musical instincts are likewise impeccable. “7 rings” felt like a misstep at first as repurposing “My Favorite Things” needs to be handled with care and her interpolation is unconventional. She pulls it off though and pulls off the tonal shift of flossing as well. This is a large part of what makes this album such a statement. She’s built the confidence to inject some strength and variety into her work and the result is eye-popping. 

Unsurprisingly, I also really like the sexy, playful Ari you see in songs like “make up.” “NASA” is a lot of upbeat fun. It even feels a little retro and I’m always a sucker for spelling titles out like it’s the 80s again. Also, the metaphor still makes me smile. “needy” reminds me pleasantly of the last SZA album.

I like her harder stuff more though. “bloodline” has a great, assertive beat and the callousness is delicious. “bad idea” is very sharp. “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored” is supercilious and excellent for it. This is the Ariana Grande that I am now here for.

This album is Ariana’s best yet and hopefully a blueprint for what is to come next. This album apparently only took a few weeks from alpha to omega and the result is more free-flowing, more honest and more confident than ever before. It’s time to crown a new pop queen.

@murthynikhil
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