Two albums in six months has a tendency to make people suspicious. In their musical snobbery, most listeners will deign that Ariana Grande’s quick output diminishes the quality of the music. They’re wrong. Released five months and twenty-two days after Sweetener (no doubt another nod to the 2017 Manchester attack), thank u, next feels like a necessary companion piece; whereas the former celebrated love and attempted to find light in the worst of situations, the latter dwells in lust and the darker corners of the singer’s psyche. It’s a dichotomy and side of Grande we haven’t really seen in her first four albums that makes her fifth so enthralling.
Introduced by trap-goes-Broadway opener “imagine,” the record explores the conflicting moods and feelings we all endure. While “needy” spells out Grande’s demand for attention, “NASA” uses the titular institution as a metaphor for needing space; acknowledging a warped perception of a partner on “in my head,” but thanking them for your time together on “thank u, next.” In other tracks, the singer addresses public perception of her (the snoozefest that is “fake smile”), being hung up on an ex (trap-and-strings ballad “ghostin”), and flaunting her dizzying wealth (the rap-lite “7 rings”). On paper, the album feels like the most consistent and expressive of Grande’s still young career.
The album isn’t without its missteps, which mostly come from the singer’s brief foray into Caribbean sonic textures. Though “bloodline” is a solid bop, it rarely feels like anything more than a rehash of Grande’s 2016 single “Side to Side;” likewise, 2:20 ditty “make up,” with its Fenty Beauty-referencing and all, adds almost nothing to the singer’s discography. Even with these outliers, the record rarely loses any artistic momentum.
After all the highs and lows, closer “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” ends the album on the most prowling note it possibly could. The *NSYNC-sampler is the slinkiest of the twelve tracks, giving the listener a front-row seat to watch Grande stalk her unwitting prey; promising to let the object of her desire “hit it in the morning/yeah, yeah, like it’s yours,” the singer goads them into ruining their relationship for the thrill of getting with a femme fatale like her. It’s Grande at her worst in the absolute best way, and brings an intriguing piece to the Ariana puzzle into focus. If thank u, next is any indication, we’ll be seeing much more of it in the coming years (or maybe even months!).
Standout tracks: “NASA,” “in my head,” “7 rings,” “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”