thank u, next: The Need For Space, Forgiveness, and Self Love

Ariana Grande - the  Florida born vocalist whose ability to hit high notes with the smooth ease of melted butter makes you wonder if she’s a Mariah Carey reincarnate - has done it again. Her fifth studio album, thank u , next was released on Friday after months of hype. All over the world fans were desperately waiting for the release, using her Instagram story countdown tool, eagerly checking the clock for midnight so they could stream AG5 (a term I learned is used by her fans to describe her albums [AG1, 2, 3, etc]). 

If you’ve listened to my podcast episode Adrihen Takes Shardashian you know a bit about how I became an Ariana Grande fan. I’m a late bloomer, having become a fan a mere 7 or so months ago. It wasn’t until August of 2018 that I was urged to listen to the song No Tears Left To Cry. I watched the video and was in awe. My jaw actually dropped. Not only was the video incredible but her voice. HER VOICE. The power, the passion…I had no idea. After those 3 minutes you couldn’t pry me away from her music if you wanted to. I went back and listened to all of her hits and realized many songs are ones I had jammed out to in the past but never realized were hers to begin with. Side To Side, One Last Time, The Way…all classics. Her fourth studio album, Sweetener, came out in August of 2018 and rose to be my most listened to album of 2018. With guest spots from Pharrell, Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliot - Sweetener is a 15 track album that showcases her vocal range incredibly. Sweetener, which gave Ariana her first ever Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album this year, features a very much in love Ariana - fresh into her relationship with comedian Pete Davidson. It made me fall for her and truly appreciate the honesty in not only her music but in her entire persona. This girl doesn’t even try to hide what she’s about - one of the songs off Sweetener is actually titled Pete Davidson and if you follow her on social media her transparency is even harder to miss. She hides very little about her emotions, her ups and downs, and even cringey tattoo mistakes.

A month after Sweetener dropped and a few months after her engagement to Pete Davidson, Ariana’s ex-boyfriend Malcolm McCormick (Mac Miller) passed away. thank u, next was written during the worst period of her life: the time between Mac Miller’s death and the eventual break off of her engagement with Pete. Writing about Ariana Grande comes weirdly natural to me because I feel like she’s just another friend of mine. If you’re a fan of her and follow her on social media it doesn’t take long to warm up to her and feel like you’re a part of her tight knit crew. The candor with which she shares her highs and lows opens a door into her life and at the entrance is Ari: welcoming you with her arms up, flailing, and waiting for you to get closer so she can shower you with love. thank u, next is her in album form. It’s the embodiment of how she presents herself - just another bff you scroll through your Instagram feed following. 

Ariana’s crew of creatives includes writers and producers such as Scooter Braun, Victoria Monet, Tayla Parx, Savan Kotecha, Kevin Briggs, and Tommy Brown among many who all played important roles in thank u, next as well as many of her previous bodies of work. Not only did they help her produce and write the songs, but they “literally saved my life” she explained in her most recent interview with Zach Sang. She tells the story of how bad she was doing after Mac Millers death and how all of her friends immediately hopped on a plane in October to be there as she went through it. This support turned into a 2 week period of writing, producing, and completing her fifth studio album: thank u, next. Her New York City apartment, which is just a few blocks from Jungle City Studios, is where thank u, next was recorded. They spent every day going to the studio and what they created and the process of creating it is what saved her. Not therapy but her friends, family, and music. Oh, and champagne.

Ariana’s appeal, aside from her gloriously powerful voice, is her unapologetic relatability. Not only does she expose the inner corners of her universe on social media but she invites us into her life through her songs. When it seems like there’s nothing left for her to share she drops bombs in the form of behind the scenes footage of her music videos and tours. With every piece of music, every update on Instagram, and every music video it’s clear that she was made for this.

Thank u, next starts with imagine - a pop/r&b ballad that throws a bit of trap into the mix. It’s a soft but powerful introduction that ends with out-of-this-world high whistle notes a la Whitney Houston. imagine could be a reference to Mac Miller as he had a tattoo with the word IMAGINE on his arm - as well as one line: Stayin' up all night, order me pad thai - which can be tied to a similar lyric in Mac Millers song Cinderella: And when you hungry I can chef you up with stir fry.

The next track, needy, speaks of her desire to be loved but she’s always the needy one in the relationship. The line: I can be needy, tell me how good it feels to be needed - tells us that she’s always the needy one while her partner is always needed by her. She wants to know what it feels like to be on the other side of that dynamic. We can all relate, I’m sure. NASA - oooooeeeeee. This was the one that stuck out most for me during the first listen. NASA is about needing space and touches on that age old belief that distance makes the heart grow fonder. You know I’m a star - space. I’ma need space. I’ma need space, I’ma, I’ma need space. This could speak to her needing space while mourning the deeply tragic loss of Mac. The actual federal agency NASA tweeted about it soon after the release mentioning that they thought THEY were trending that day but it was actually the Ariana Grande song that was being hashtagged on millions of people’s timelines.

NASA Twitter

NASA Twitter

bloodline is next and easily one of my favorites. It starts off special as the track features an intro from the legendary Nonna - Ariana’s maternal grandmother. Nonna is popular on social media and you will often see her being silly and just incredibly cute all over Instagram. She’s one of Ariana’s biggest fans and a woman she credits as a reason she’s so empowered herself. Soon after Nonna’s line: “Because I'm trying to do the best I can, and they can't find something to satisfy me" the strong brass instruments kick in giving way for the actual lyrics which tell the story of Ariana wanting to have a good time but not wanting [them] in her bloodline. I don’t blame her - that bloodline is strong. fake smile isn’t hard to decipher and paints a clear picture of Ariana having to fake it and keep up her bubbly persona while all she feels like is utter shit. This is a pretty common theme in the album as a whole - hitting rock bottom, having to fake it a bit but eventually overcoming it and being able to have a good time.

There’s not much to read into when it comes to bad idea and make up - they provide a catchy, carefree break from the previous songs and their heavy tones right before she hits us with the colossally emotional track ghostin. To start, ghostin samples the Mac Miller song 2009 - a track off his last album. The sound of this track, the first one she wrote for the album, is soft but the lyrics are a lot to take in. She talks about wishing she could be with someone else, how she cries in her sleep at night, and how she thinks they’ll get past this. Who this song is about is up for debate it reads as if she’s talking about more than one person at a time and at some points even interchangeably. To be honest, this is one I skip not because it’s a bad song but because it’s just too much. in my head starts off with another intro that sounds like it was extracted from a WhatsApp audio message starring Ariana’s friend Doug Middlebrook giving her the support she shares saves her daily. Listening to this song is like looking in the mirror for me. Dreaming up a person that doesn’t exist while justifying the wrong that’s undoubtedly in them because you only see the good in people is so goddamn relatable it hurts.

7 rings was written after Ariana and took her friends to Tiffany & Co. and bought them all diamond rings after she and Pete broke off their engagement - Wearing a ring, but ain't gon' be no "Mrs." Bought matching diamonds for six of my bitches. What do I have to do to be part of this crew, honestly? My favorite thing about this chart topper is that for one part she uses the melody of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. This girl knows the key to my heart. thank u, next was the first song she released after Sweetener - a break up anthem that inspires us to look at what we’ve learned in a past relationship instead of focus on the trashy side of it. The album closes with break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored another light and flirty track that hits us with a surprise change in perspective when watching the last 5 seconds of the music video that she released the same day the album dropped.

If Sweetener was about living on a cloud where the frozen crystals that make it up are the promise of forever love thank u, next is a cloud that’s a bit darker who’s particles are more painfully raw, honest, and tell us to listen to our gut over everything and above all - learn from our past mistakes. AG5 explores inner reflection, self discovery, being free from the reigns of judgement and doing what she feels is best for her. Never waiting for approval, she drops songs and videos whenever she wants and the only promo she does is in the form of sharing stories on social media. And it works. It’s a testament to her talent in which every album she puts out highlights how effortlessly she’s able to jump from one world to another. The creativity that oozes out of her solidifies her position as one of the most versatile and powerful pop princesses of this past decade. And I can’t wait to see where this rocket of hers takes us next.