Thursday 14 February 2019

Ariana Grande - thank u, next

Ariana Grande - thank u, next

Listening to ‘thank u, next’, the latest album from the current reigning queen of pop Ariana Grande, it's clear she's redefined the pop album for 2019. Music alone is no longer enough. This is a pop cultural event that works on multiple levels, defining Ariana not only by the music, but by her relatability and her meme-worthiness.

This really is an album for the internet age. Lead single and title track thank u, next has become a meme since its release, while its accompanying video – an ode to Mean Girls and other teen rom-coms – broke records in its first 24 hours on YouTube. The title of closing track break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored seems particularly primed for the internet; it immediately got fans’ attention when the tracklist was released. And while the album’s second single 7 rings received a (mostly) positive reaction, fans have since started a hashtag to boycott the song in an attempt to get break up with you girlfriend, i’m bored to the top of the charts. Such is the power of fans in this digital age.

It all ties in with the relatable pop star, social media allowing artists to interact directly with their fans. That’s certainly the case with Ariana, whose fans have stood by her over the past couple of years through engagement, break-ups, tragedy and every other twist and turn of her life. ‘thank u, next’ addresses all of this, working like a puzzle box for fans to decipher lyrical context. Other references add to the pop cultural fun – “highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit,” she sings on make up, in a nod to Rihanna’s beauty company.

On a deeper level, though, this album is clearly catharsis for the singer. Beat for beat it takes us through her emotional relationship history over the last year. It begins with the downbeat romanticism of imagine, perhaps referencing the impossibility of love with ex-boyfriend Mac Miller who passed away from a drug overdose. Through needy, NASA and bloodline she gives reasons why a relationship would break down, from neediness to time apart and not wanting to commit. Introspection comes with fake smile, Ariana at her most open and vulnerable: “I can’t fake another smile…And I won’t say I’m feeling fine / After what I been through.” Later that continues on ghostin in which she tragically admits “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again over him.” By the end, the album is flipped on its head with the empowerment of its final few songs. Not merely satisfied with a kiss off to her past lovers with the title track, she ends the album openly coming for your man.

Initially at least, ‘thank u, next’ seems least satisfying on a purely musical level. Known for her pop bangers, this album lacks a big pop moment in the vein of Break Free, Into You, or no tears left to cry. It also sees her leaning more heavily into hip-hop, filling the void that Rihanna has seemingly left behind, for the time being at least. bloodline is a re-tread of Side To Side. 7 rings is tritely based on ‘The Sound of Music’ song My Favourite Things.

Repeated listens prove fruitful, however. The personal connection provides a compelling overarching narrative and, just as the lyrics are filled with little details, so too the production comprises little sonic nuggets. The yearning, rising whistle tone hooks of the gospel-tinged imagine. The warm synths and space whooshes of NASA. The half-rapped pre-chorus in bloodline. The delicious guitar line in bad idea that’s slowly overtaken by cinematic strings in the bridge; the way, in that same song, the outro pitch bends and distorts the vocals. The breathy, otherworldly harmonies in ghostin. The simple hook and playful tone of thank u, next juxtaposed with its sassy sentiment. The anthemic break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored that certainly lives up to its brazen title. Throughout, deep trap beats and delicate vocals create a sensual, intoxicating mix. 

Even beneath the fun and the memes and the raw, cathartic lyrical content, the songs of ‘thank u, next’ ensure Ariana Grande will remain on the radio, YouTube and streaming services for as long as she's written about online. It seems 2019 has already been won.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Bad idea
* Break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored

Listen: ‘thank u, next’ is out now.