Liz Foster ’22
“You know I’m a star” sings Ariana Grande on “NASA,” the third track off of her fifth and most recent album thank u, next as she solidifies her place as the biggest popstar in the world. The album comes from two weeks of non-stop studio time, a well slated, spontaneous single release system, and Grande’s inescapability. Since her appearance on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, Ariana Grande has shown herself as a vocal powerhouse capable of taking over the charts. It has only been after a series of tragedies, including a terrorist attack at her concert and the untimely death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, that she truly shot to the forefront of pop culture. Her back-to-back release of 2018’s Grammy award winning Sweetener and 2019’s thank u, next secures Ariana’s role as the face of pop music.
The popstar opens up thank u, next with the dreamy, soft “imagine” that dotes on Ariana imaging a picturesque relationship filled with the magical moments, like her head “fits so good” in his neck. The song showcases Ariana’s vocal strength as she radiates over the chorus and employs sharp whistle tones as the piano fades. The meek, apologetic “needy” reflects on her emotional habits, her titular neediness, and her tendency to love too hard. She’s the exact opposite on “NASA,” a song where Grande aptly begs for some “space” from her lover. The song’s introduction continues the artist’s new feminist-focused theme, referencing the moon landing with “one giant leap for womankind.”
Halfway through the record, “ghostin” stands out with its somber, spacey production and Ariana’s breathy, haunting vocals. The song has been scrutinized by both fans and tabloids alike as Grande speaks on a person in her current relationship and his inability to match up with his predecessor. With lines like “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again/over him,” the track is a clear cut response to the death of Grande’s ex Mac Miller and her most recent ex Pete Davidson’s support of her through the tough times. “Ghostin” is raw and melancholic, a beautiful ballad amongst a cluster of pop-bops.
The album picks up in a snappier, sassier vibe on “bad idea,” a song that steps the album into high gear. Grande commands confidence as she toys with the idea of getting into trouble with someone while the claps and obtuse bass line make the song an instant bop. It begs to be danced to. Similarly, the seductive “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” lulls the listener into a murky pre-chorus before leaping into a sing-songing “you can hit in the morning / like it’s yours.” Ariana steps from her shell into a fully sexualized being that wants what she can’t have.
The biggest smashes from the album, its two promo singles, find themselves neatly in the final moments of the album before concluding with “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” “7 rings” is a polarizing hit. The song has been charting just as well as its predecessor “thank u, next,” with just a bit more controversy. “7 rings” grabs the listener with its interpolation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music classic “My Favorite Things.” This track more than any other summarizes Ariana’s new confidence. The artist on “7 rings” is not the same as the one on “needy,” yet it is this duality that makes thank u, next such a compelling piece of work.
Even in its differences, the album is cohesive. Thank u, next is the culmination of two weeks of non-stop studio time, a product of Ariana Grande’s resilience, controversy, and powerhouse vocals. This record allows her vocal talents to shine through while still maintaining a fun, fresh, innovative vibe. Save for sweetener’s undeniable banger “God is a woman,” the listener can find trap and rap influences within this album more than anywhere else in Grande’s discography. She has proved her ability to be a pop chameleon while still honing her prowess as one of this decade’s most promising vocalists. Thank u, next proves itself as one of the strongest pop pieces of 2019 thus far.
Liz Foster ’22