Break up with this album. I’m bored.

Ariana Grande unloads a bitter follow-up to her Grammy-winning LP Sweetener in a dramatic fashion.

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Break up with this album. I’m bored.

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Ariana Grande has had a run like no other. Starting with her humble beginnings as a co-star on Nickelodeon’s ‘Victorious’, Grande has slowly but surely developed a career unlike any other. Her vocals blossomed over the Babyface-produced record Yours Truly, which showed off her dynamic range and diverse musical pallet. She had tracks on that album with two of her public love interests, Big Sean and the late Mac Miller. This album exemplified the potential that lay within Grande, while still keeping true to her pop roots.

Grande’s musical exploration has only grown stronger over the years, with collaborators from unique corners of the music world. These artists included Childish Gambino, the Weeknd, Cashmere Cat, and A$AP Ferg. Through showing her eclectic sound and taste, Grande separated herself from the rest of the pop sphere with sheer talent and star power.

Though her artistry was well noted in the pop world, it was not until her breakthrough LP Sweetener that she broke through the musical stratosphere. With pop-legend Pharrell Williams behind the boards, Grande floated over his light-hearted and layered production with ease. The release of this album marked when I started to take more note of her music on a personal level. With tracks like “R.E.M.”, “successful”, and “breathin”, I found myself now a part of her fanbase at some capacity. I am a long-time fan of Pharrell’s collaborations with pop stars, including his musical relationships with Mariah Carey and Justin Timberlake, so the fact that Ariana Grande was following in these footsteps drew me heavily to her music.

I have always had a complicated relationship with pop music, in the sense of my level of exposure and willingness to sit and listen to it. My musical origins are rooted in angst and anti- establishment sentiments, so for me to develop a taste for music like Grande’s has been a challenge that has taken me awhile to overcome. Music fan bases are about inclusion and exclusion, like any other community, and for most of my life I found that pop music was exclusionary. In my mind, I couldn’t ride around town on my ten speed bike bumping the Slim Shady LP while simultaneously listening to Taylor Swift. I rejected these pop anthems and just turned the volume up on artists like the Sex Pistols and Blink-182 until it drowned out the sounds of the radio hits. It was not until fairly recently that I have removed all preconceived norms for liking music. I think my consumption process is much more simplistic now. If I enjoy the music I will listen to it, it’s quite simple. I have no issue spreading that I know every word to “You Belong With Me” and “Stan” and that is something that has taken my psyche a while to accept.

One of the best aspects of thank u, next was the lead up to the album. The rollout was impeccable, through a stream of well-timed marketing tactics and public announcements. Through aesthetically pleasurable and culturally relevant music videos and Twitter insight from Grande herself, the anticipation for this album was at an all-time high. Regardless of how the general public felt, I personally thought this process was a little rushed. In this day and age, the skill of letting bodies of art breathe is rare.

In the past, artists have had ample time expectations to release music, with two years being the standard time between records. In today’s time, with streaming being the main form of music consumption, it is tempting to take the route of releasing a new project every six months. This avenue is constructed for a constant stream of relevancy and monetary gains, while sometimes at the expense of artistry. Though I do not believe Grande needed either of these, I found her timing of this release to be interesting. In my opinion, Sweetener had yet to breathe and be solidified in her discography, and adding thank u, next deafened the success and content of the former. Even with this preconceived notion, I understand her choice to drop the album now. She has publicly gone through more trying times than any celebrity in recent memory. With the accidental overdose of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, to the public relationship and falling out with most recent ex-boyfriend Pete Davidson, Grande has a library of issues to discuss on wax and releasing this record gave us some insight into the inner workings of someone going through unthinkable tragedies.

The album’s lead singles are some of the strongest from the offerings of thank u, next.  The title-track was one of the strongest pop performances of the entire year. Though it has been misrepresented by every bitter millennial Instagram caption going through a mild breakup, the content of the track is actually quite refreshing. Most anthems for single populations are hauntingly unforgiving, stemming from themes such as lack of gratitude and hostility, yet Grande channels a completely different energy on the track “thank u, next”. I appreciate how she is able to communicate her self-worth and attitudes towards her past relationships in an aspirational sense, rather in one rooted in hate. For someone who has had such a hectic and public history with relationships, Grande handled her past with grace and poise. Coupled with mainstream qualities of the track, the music video was one of the best of the entire year, with seemingly every reference from the last ten years present in her agenda. Again, for someone who doesn’t frequently listen to modern pop music alone, I find myself walking around listening to the title track of Grande’s album quite frequently.

The second single, “imagine”, was also a strong opener for the album rollout. With lighthearted production and a graceful hook, it is hard to imagine how the track has such dark and layered themes. I loved the melancholy aura of track as well as the differentiation from the first single, “thank u next.” This track gave us a glimpse into the involvement of the late Mac Miller’s legacy into her new work. For those that do not know, Imagine is a phrase that Miller had tattooed on his forearm, and with this information one could conclude the content of this song was about him. There are general references that allude to her attitudes toward her past relationship with Miller littered throughout the album, but this one of the clearer moments about him on the record. Grande has been put in this compromising position about how she can reference Miller’s death by the fans, which is one of the downside of how interconnected fan bases are. If she were to clearly speak on Miller and her feelings about their relationship after his passing, the public would claim that she was profiting off his death. I found this criticism to be completely out of line and ill-conceived. We have arrived at a space in social media where people believe they have a right to someone’s legacy as much as a person who actually had a real-world relationship with the artist. The job of musicians is to give us a look into their lives and thoughts, so I do not understand how fans wanted Grande to leave Mac Miller’s legacy out of her recent work. In my mind, that would be more disrespectful than anything. Grande reserves to write about the most intimate themes she pleases in her music because at the end of the day it’s her creation. The death of someone so prominent in her life is something that is rightfully the focal point of her recent work and the public lack of understanding of this concept is mind-numbingly shallow.

The third single, “7 rings” is where my initial criticism of the record arose. Throughout the entire album, Grande attempts to keep up with the trap-atmosphere of the current music scene, yet most of the time she just sounds out of creativity and breath. The ironic aspect of this track in particular is how it obviously borrows from a culture Grande is blatantly attempting to swim in, and the lack of attribution she delivers shows that she is, in fact, drowning. The cadence she steals from Soulja Boy’s hit-record “Pretty Boy Swag” on the hook of this song is so strikingly apparent that her lack of accreditation leaves me curious. What was the point of not giving credit where credit is due, especially when maneuvering in a culture where you are a tourist? If Grande is really attempting to add more hip-hop influence to her music, the least she can do is rightfully acknowledge those who created the lineage to which she is fruitfully taking advantage of. Coupled with the aforementioned reference above, as well as borrowing influence from The Notorious B.I.G., Beyoncé, Young Thug, and The Sound of Music, this resulted in one of Grande’s most unoriginal and uninspired songs to date.

As for the rest of the album, it did not live up to the expectations set by the released singles. One of the biggest highlights for the whole record is “needy”. Through the simplistic composition and the revealing, yet catchy lyrics, Grande delivered one of my favorite songs from her recent catalog.

Though there are a handful of memorable moments on this record, there are an equal amount of lackluster attempts from Grande on thank u, next. Some of the more forgettable moments arrive in the thick of the album. The songs that truly solidified the mediocre center of the record are “bloodline”, “bad idea”, and “make up.” In a recent interview, Grande stated that she wrote the album in two weeks and songs like those listed above display the downside of a rushed creative process. The project picks up again with two of its strongest components, “in my head”, and the daunting track “ghostin’”. The latter contains my favorite moment on the record; it is where the introspective view point that Grande was attempting to formulate for most of the record comes to true fruition.

“ghostin” is where the pop-chops of Grande’s usual work combine with this new, raw version of herself to create something with depth and charisma. This inner fight between the old aspects of Grande’s work and her recent content is where my biggest gripes with the record derive from. Pop music, to me, has this goal of being relatable and easily digestible, yet Grande is in one of the least accessible points in any superstars careers. She has been poised with the impossible task of making her completely unique personal turmoils easily consumable in her art, to a public that could never truly relate.

Finally, we come to the closing track of the album, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” This song lived in infamy even before the song actually came out, with it’s provocative title and position on the records track list. With the title of the track reading like a t-shirt at Forever 21, Grande’s fans were anticipating a messy anthem. What was delivered was an misused flip of *NYSNC’s “It Makes Me Ill” and a basket of insecurities. In the age of social media, Grande was able to let down fans expectations solely based off the title of the track. I do not doubt this song will become popular in the upcoming months and that it will dominate the charts, it just did not meet the expectations set before it by the provocative title. I truly hope the check Grande payed *NYSNC was worth it.

Overall, Grande was faced with the inconceivable task of letting us into her slowly burning world, and with this in mind she delivered a completely normative project. I do not think the album was necessary for Grande’s career, with it being released so close to sweetener, yet I appreciated her opening the door of her insecurities and demons to her fans in a semi-revealing fashion. I am glad I was able to appreciate this album before it is shoved down my throat by the radio, the single populations’ Snapchats, and college bars in the upcoming months. I hope that Grande figures out how to conceive music that is at the level of content I know she can deliver, as well as keeping her pop qualities that brought her the warranted success she has garnered.

5.5/10