Ram Jams: ‘thank u, next’ Is Sweeter Than ‘sweetener’

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COURTESY OF REPUBLIC RECORDS, UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP

Grande has a musical and lyrical triumph in “thank u, next.”

By JORDAN MELTZER

The Deets: In the summer of 2018, I gave Ariana Grande’s “Sweetener” a lukewarm review, much to the dismay of many of my friends and internet connections. Grande herself must have read it; just about every hole I pointed out has been filled, every scratch itched and every song slayed on her new album. “thank u, next” is far sweeter than “Sweetener.”

The album opens with “imagine,” a song that is surprisingly intricate from a compositional standpoint. The complex harmonies, unusual vocal rhythms and magnificent whistle tones are difficult to conceive and perform, but Grande and her team of songwriters outdid themselves. It’s hard to believe pop writers came up with this song; it’s far more elaborate than almost any other pop song I’ve heard.

On “needy,” Grande shows her soft side, declaring, “I’m obsessive and I love too hard/Good at overthinking with my heart.” The record quickly dichotomizes her emotional and tougher personalities, though, as “NASA” does a complete 180 and depicts the latter. It’s a fast-paced banger with space-based lyrics displaying her control of a relationship: “You know I’m a star/I’ma need space.”

The album has its fair share of safe, radio-friendly tunes, but “bloodline” stands out for its Panic! at the Disco-esque horn section and its especially catchy hook. The album’s title track, “thank u, next,” is especially distinct because of its healthy approach to breakups that is otherwise unheard of in popular music. With the permission of her exes, she displayed genuine gratitude for her past relationships while also expressing her desire to move on and be her best possible self. “Thank you, next/I’m so f—ing grateful for my ex,” she sings.

She also dives headfirst into the hip-hop world on this record. The single “7 rings” is an unapologetic trap song with the flows and the beat of many a SoundCloud rapper dominating the hip-hop charts. Listeners immediately recognized the similarity of the sound to rappers who came before her, like 2 Chainz. She responded by releasing a remix of the song with 2 Chainz. “bad idea” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” feature prominent hi-hats, an element for which trap music is famous. On all three songs, Grande embraces a bravado that complements her feminine edge nicely; she gives new meaning to the term “bada– babe.”

As she gave a nod to the Manchester bombing on “Sweetener,” so she gave one to her late ex-boyfriend Mac Miller on “thank u, next,” which came out just five months after he died of an overdose. During the weeks that followed, Grande broke off her engagement with Pete Davidson (whose name became the title of a song on her previous release) and wrote and recorded most of “thank u, next,” including its titular track. Miller’s moment comes on “ghostin,” during which Grande sings, presumably to a lover: “Though I wish he were here instead/Don’t want that living in your head/He just comes to visit me/When I’m dreaming every now and then.” It’s a heart-wrenching moment for both the singer and her fans, and it contributes nicely to the album’s lyrical well-roundedness.

Though a few numbers on this tracklist aren’t memorable, especially “in my head,” most of it is the opposite. It’s well-performed, well-produced and so much damn fun. I’ll be listening to this album on repeat for quite some time.

 

The peaks: “NASA,” “thank u, next,” “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”

The valleys: “in my head”

The verdict: 9/10