Of all the things you could expect Ariana Grande to acheive, becoming the biggest pop star on the planet and releasing two LPs in 12 months wouldn’t be among them. Hopefully soon she’ll discover the caps lock key.
Sweetener was fine but felt like an awkward growth spurt. Ari seemed caught between her own inclinations and those of a swathe of well-meaning but dispensable collaborators. thank u, next is personal in a meaningful way, and great pop even more so.
The pallet here is familiar and homogeneous with the sounds on Sweetener. Trap hi-hats, finger snaps, echo-laden production – check, check, check. The album is presented in a trendy and sparse arrangement which leaves the voice of Ari as the centrepiece. This proves to be a wise decision, since it’s her incredible pipes and also the maturation of the writing which truly sets this album apart.
The irony here is that for all thank u, next‘s effortless sheen the sore thumb is lead single ‘7 rings’, a braggadocios miss-fire. It’s a bewildering change of tone from her signature tune and title track, released just months earlier: self-love curdling into self-obsession. It gives credence to those who see Grande as no more than a petulant kid, and it’s inclusion feels forced and unnecessary given the wealth of great pop on the album.
That seems to be a viewpoint shared by Grande herself, who bolts on the three big singles at the end of the album. Truthfully this would be a solid collection without, but their inclusion (mostly) serves as a truly thumping finale.
‘bloodline’ is a perfect foil to prior single ‘Side to Side’, which was no less sweatier and played with a similar reggae twang. ‘break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored’ is cheeky, playful and laced with a ‘fuck you’ attitude that doesn’t feel forced (looking at you Tay Sway). The instrumentation is sparse by design but when the fog of moody percussion parts, unexpected orchestral swells accentuate thank u, next‘s emotional peaks; ‘bad idea’, ‘imagine’.
Though it lacks a strong through-line, and only loosely can be called an ‘album’ in the traditional sense, pound for pound this is the strongest pop release of the year and signals that the age of Grande is nigh.