wed 23/10/2019

CD: Ariana Grande - thank u, next | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Ariana Grande - thank u, next

CD: Ariana Grande - thank u, next

Princess of pop bares her soul on hastily-dropped breakup album

The biggest pop star in the world, and prolific with it

The nature of the product that is pop music is that its stars rarely get the chance to be prolific. It’s something that Ariana Grande – the biggest pop star in the world right now, at least on the numbers – complained about in a recent interview: how, when it came to music, she just wanted to “drop it the way these [rap] boys do”. Arriving a mere six months after the smash hit Sweetener, thank u, next may be her attempt to do just that, and it makes sense from both personal and professional standpoints: it’s fair to say that Grande’s previous album had no worlds left to conquer, and besides – it doesn’t do for the latest statement you’ve given to the world of your artistic mission to bear the name of your ex-fiancé, like last week’s troublesome tattoo.

The pre-release singles hinted at a flippancy, post-Pete Davidson engagement, from a singer whose previous work attempted to illuminate the anxiety and fear that followed the bombing of her Manchester Arena concert. But “7 Rings”, her vacuous ode to retail therapy over a Rodgers and Hammerstein sample, and the tabloid-bating title track with its Mean Girls-inspired video, don’t reflect the album as a whole. Each track may come with the usual lengthy list of co-writers and producers – Max Martin’s name being the most prominent – but the overwhelming sense is that this is as close as it’s possible to get to the “real” Ariana, from the heartbreak-meets-daydream-fantasies of “Imagine” and “Ghostin” to the late-night confessionals of “Needy” and “Fake Smile”.

It’s partly down to the lyrics: gone are the pop-plaudits-by-numbers of early releases, replaced by lines that beg to be picked over, even more so than a title track that famously namechecks four celebrity exes. Is the breathily gorgeous “NASA”, which turns needing space from a lover into an extended metaphor about actual space, a reference to a favourite sweatshirt of Davidson’s? What about “In My Head”, which opens with an affectionately damning voicemail from a friend and contains lines such as “look at you, boy, I invented you?” Or “Ghostin”, the album’s staggering emotional centrepiece, in which our heroine, “a girl with a whole lotta baggage”, cries herself to sleep over a lost love in somebody else’s arms.

Does it even matter though, when the songs sound this good? The timeline may scream haste, but the hooks on the title track, the bouncy “Make Up” and swaggering, savage “Bloodline” are ten times catchier than anything on Sweetener, while there’s a creative cohesion to Grande’s heart-on-sleeve performance that begs to be listened to as a complete body of work – at least until the loosely juxtaposed collection of singles kicks in towards the end of the run. Sure, it’s a confessional but – to quote an all-conquering pop star you may have heard of – issa bop too.

Below: watch the "Thank U, Next" video

There’s a creative cohesion to Grande’s heart-on-sleeve performance


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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