If anyone has been through it in the last year, Ariana Grande is the one. She was already topping charts long before 2018 with hits like “Problem” (2014), “Focus” (2015), “Dangerous Woman” (2016), “Into You” (2016), “Side To Side” (2016), and “Everyday” (2017). Grande’s purely feminine, lustful, and young vocals had transfixed heads and hearts globally, and curated her a colossal fanbase as she came into 2018. Now, one year and many heartbreaks later, Grande has taken 2019 by storm and given the world an entirely new era of music and emotional healing: the thank u, next era.
Rewind to November when “thank u, next” first dropped. I sat on a Peter Pan bus and hugged my knees to my chest, looking out the window at the pitch-black silhouettes of trees scattering by our bus as we hurdled towards Washington, D.C. Tears fell down my cheeks. I had gone home to Connecticut that weekend and ended a three-year relationship with my now ex-boyfriend. In for an eight-hour ride, I opened Spotify. I had never really listened to Ariana Grande before except occasionally on the radio, but now everyone couldn’t stop talking about her new song. I put it on play and let the soft, opening instrumental of “thank u, next” rock me into calmness. It was like emotional healing bottled in a song. I felt the pain, validated my relationship’s existence, and then moved on. I put that song on repeat until I felt my wounds start to heal. All night, Ari sang, “I’ve loved and I’ve lost, but that’s not what I see… I’m so f*ckin’ grateful for my ex.”
Grande dropped another song only about a month later in December, releasing “imagine” and skyrocketing to the top of the charts once again. My car sped down the highway with “love how my face fits so good in your neck, why can’t you imagine a world like that?” blasting through the speakers. I was crying again, but it was good. It was the best kind of healing I had ever felt in my life. What I realized through “imagine” was that women are humans, we have emotions, and we should love and accept those feelings for what they are. Ariana fearlessly promotes the harsh realities of life, love, and loss while putting on a stunning exhibition of vocal range.
Grande balanced the sorrowful “imagine” in January with the drop of “7 Rings.” She acknowledges her pain, but notes how grateful she is for it being able to harden her: “been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch. Who would’ve thought it’d turn me to a savage?” Grande goes on to push for the strength she has found in herself and her surrounding friends, developing a straightforward line that echos like a heartbeat through the track: “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.”
@mellowmellow on twitter seems to have put it best when it comes to “7 Rings:”
“Her savage resilience is dripping throughout this track and it is intoxicating. The nonchalance and braggadocio in her delivery is iconic. Is it ridiculous to say that i cried a little bit hearing this song?”
February arrived and Grande was ready yet again, this time with a bomb, after teasing the world for months with three singles, Grande dropped the full thank u, next album just a few days before Valentine’s Day. The album took the world by storm, topping U.S. and Global charts on both Spotify and Apple Music, immediately.
thank u, next has Grande weaving a track list into a masterpiece of lessons that follow one another with sharpened sense. After “imagine” opens the album, “needy” strikes a vulnerability in a society that so overwhelmingly praises independence, showcasing insecurity and the instinctual craving for emotional support and attention: “I can be needy, way too damn needy, I know it feels so good to be needed….” Then, “NASA” counters “needy” by asking for space: “You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight.” “bloodline,” Grande says, is about wanting someone but not enough to “want them in your bloodline,” case in point: “love me, thank you, leave me.”
“fake smile” is confrontational, facing the false facades society puts on day after day, and in particular, the frustration Grande feels as a celebrity having to pretend to be fine all the time. “I can’t fake another smile, I can’t fake like I’m alright…” Meanwhile, “bad idea” follows this with Grande’s attempt at numbing pain with a lover, trying not to face the truth of pain: “Tryna get control of it, why can’t I let go of it? Gotta find somebody quickly…” The lustful side of Grande flows into “make up,” a track that blends the feminine power of cosmetic art with the act of repairing a relationship: “I love it when we make up, go ‘head and ruin my makeup.”
“ghostin” is the one song Grande will not open up about, and many have speculated it’s just too personal. The song hints at relevance towards the recent, unexpected passing of her ex, and fellow chart-topping artist, Mac Miller. “I know you hear me when I cry, I try to hold it in at night,” Grande croons. But, the track resonates with a greater messages: “We’ll get through this, we’ll get past this, I’m a girl with a whole lot of baggage.”
“in my head” opens with a bang that most people needed to hear. Doug Middlebrook, Grande’s best friend, leaves a voicemail for Grande, saying, “Here’s the thing: you’re in love with a version of a person that you’ve created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix. Uh, the only person you can fix is yourself. I love you, this has gone on way too long. Enough is enough. I’m two blocks away, I’m coming over.”
“7 Rings” and “thank u, next,” grace the album at numbers 10 and 11, respectively. The album is given a grand finale with “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” This last track is colder and pulsing with lust. It thirsts for the taste of satisfaction: “I know it ain’t right, but I don’t care.”
Grande leaves the album with a tone of confidence, owned sex appeal, and the strong will of a woman who has loved, lost, and lived.