Music Reviews

THANK U, NEXT Represents Ariana Grande’s Long Road to Catharsis

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Genre: Pop, R&B

Fave tracks: “in my head,” “NASA,” “needy,” “ghostin”

I’m just… so tired of talking about Ariana Grande. And it feels like Ariana Grande is also tired of talking about Ariana Grande. She had like, the worst year of all time, and it’s basically impossible for anyone to leave her alone. THANK U, NEXT feels like Grande airing out all her shit and putting a moratorium on 2016-2018, and honestly, it’s what she deserves.

It feels like in the last six months, every man I know is suddenly Chidi from THE GOOD PLACE, ready to sit me down and break down the ethical implications of “7 rings.” Oh, it’s irresponsible of her to brag about having lots of money and spending it on her friends in the face of immense sadness and heartbreak? Bummer, dude. Really shocking that a famous person sang about being rich. Real unblazed territory—the double standard is so glaringly obvious I want to look into a camera like I’m on THE OFFICE. Could she be more conscious of her usage of AAVE and how dark her spray tan is? Yes! And we can definitely discuss that! But she’s lost so much, she was the target of a fucking terrorist attack, and her grief has been exploited by every major media outlet. She’s allowed to pretend like it’s nothing but “some bad shit” and turn to some retail therapy. The lyrics of “7 rings” simultaneously feel like a triumphant declaration of financial independence and what you mumble to yourself in the Madewell sale section at like 10:30 am mid-manic episode. “I want [this out-of-season short-sleeved button-down shirt that definitely makes me look boxy]? I got it.” And the best part is that you know Grande is going for both; THANK U, NEXT is all about acknowledging where you’re at, celebrating what got you here, and looking forward to what’s next.

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The Ariana Grande we met on SWEETENER was radiating excitement and positivity, celebrating success, acknowledging her anxiety, and offering support to those who may need it. This iteration of Ari is exhausted. But the girl basically went studio for SWEETENER → SWEETENER press → death of a loved one → devastating break up → studio for THANK U, NEXT. I’m exhausted just typing it, and that was her life over the course of like… three months. Every song on this album has this pervasive darkness to it, and even the most upbeat songs (“bloodline” and “make up”) are lacking in energy. This isn’t to say it doesn’t work—it absolutely does even if the tracklist may not slap as hard as one might hope. But the effect is coming from such a place of vulnerability that it doesn’t really matter. It feels like she’s working through her trauma in the studio and twisting her experiences and thoughts and feelings into songs in real time. Ultimately, though, it’s apparent that these songs are meant to enhance her tour (what was originally called the SWEETENER tour is now the SWEETENER/THANK U, NEXT tour), because, frankly, imagine current-day Ariana Grande performing “goodnight n go.” It’s almost sickening given the events of the last few months; therefore, THANK U, NEXT carries more weight as a means to find some kind of parity between the two.

What disrupts the intention of THANK U, NEXT, however, is the tracklist. This album is supposed to be a breakdown of a break up, so it’s understandably kind of all over the place emotionally, but this level of chaos works against the whole purpose. “7 rings” and “thank u, next” have such different energies, to put them next to each other completely throws the album out of balance, and to place “ghostin,” the emotional apex of the album, between the cheeriest song (“make up”) and the pettiest (“in my head”) before diving into your thesis statement about Tidying Up™ your emotions feels misguided and lessens the power of one of her strongest, most devastating songs. “ghostin” is on a whole different level than the rest of the album. It’s almost like the record was compiled just so she could release “ghostin” and “needy,” two of her most vulnerable, unspeakably beautiful songs, with “needy” playing like the self-aware cousin of Lorde’s “Liability,” lamenting her constant need for attention and affection. And Grande cheekily places it next to “NASA,” a bop about needing space.

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People (men) really hate when artists (women) talk about their personal lives in their music, as if writing from personal experience somehow bastardizes the artform of songwriting. As if NO ONE ELSE is talking about her personal life and she’s just EXPOSING all these SECRETS with zero regard for those involved. It’s her life (LOL) and the people she engages with are all public figures as well—can’t a woman name-drop every man who’s wronged her in peace? Grande is following in Taylor Swift’s footsteps and taking it one step further: naming all her exes in “thank u, next.” It’s inflammatory, it’s a tad self-congratulatory, but overall it’s therapeutic. She’s not trashing them, she’s not exposing them or pulling receipts, she’s thanking them for what they taught her and moving forward. It’s the best promo for TIDYING UP WITH MARIE KONDO that Netflix could ask for. And there’s a mutual understanding that, alright, this album is where we air it all out: everything relating to Mac Miller’s death, everything relating to Pete Davidson, are both contained in this space. On “thank u, next” she thanks them, and we move on.

Ariana Grande isn’t trying to start shit, she’s trying to find catharsis. She’s said that making this album saved her life, that “life has [never] been as bad as it was when we started,” and locking herself in the studio with her closest friends in the pit of her deepest depression “made it amazing and special.” She’s taking inventory of her life: identifying what brings her joy, what doesn’t, which friends belong and which exes don’t. All we can do in the face of great heartache is feel every single feeling to its absolute dying breath, and in all its chaos that’s what THANK U, NEXT strives to achieve. And it does.

Yes, I made a playlist with my preferred track listing for THANK U, NEXT. You can find that below:

Aya Lehman
Aya Lehman acts as a contributor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine so she can talk about rom coms in a public forum. Her passions include reading the writers of CRIMINAL MINDS for filth, the politics of the color pink, and Steve from STRANGER THINGS.

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