It’s only been half a year since Ariana Grande dropped Sweetener, but more than enough has happened in her life to write another full-length. It’s a cryptic experience, as thank u, next seldomly names names from a roster of celebrity exes. It’s a release ripe with tea from her dramatic personal love life, but it’s got some fat that needed to be trimmed, notably the disinteresting boast tracks (save for the Sound of Music-inspired “7 rings”). Instead, there are only a few slices of the rigid tell-all fans were eager to hear.
Right out of the gate, Ari dreams of a world where all her affections with her man will exist on opener “imagine”. The key indicator that she’s talking about Mac Miller here is the tattoo her former hip-hop beau had on his arm sharing the track’s title. His death in 2018 had a heavy influence on Grande, as well as her songwriting behind this LP.
The late rapper and Pete Davidson are the subjects on “ghostin”. Once again, Grande doesn’t point the finger, but it’s bettable that her beloved Malcolm is the mystery man who visited her when she’s “dreaming every now and then” while locked into a short engagement with the SNL member. The details remain foggy over why exactly the fiancés called it quits, but Grande makes it clear her past traumas played a role. However, the most jarring view into the saga comes when Ari declares to Pete “Though I wish he were here instead/Don’t want that living in your head”. As if that wasn’t jaw-dropping enough, the track reveals a haunting sample of Mac’s “2009”.
Grande gets even more personal on “fake smile”, an admission of self-sorrow, but a defiance of the belief that celebrities should act happy-go-lucky. It nicely doubles as a subtle nod to feminist themes that are no stranger to the star’s catalogue, notably the sexism behind telling women to put on a happy face.
The production team went more towards lo-fi pop sounds than they did on Sweetener. There’s even trap beats to anchor “bad idea” and the seductive “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored”, but the tracklist is unfortunately void of party hits like “no tears left to cry”. While thank u, next isn’t as easily listenable as her prior release, it’s got its fair share of satisfying choruses.
None of the songs are as headstrong as past ballads like the empowering “god is a woman”, with the exception of the titular lead single. In an industry where artists are known to diss their famous exes after the break up, the heartfelt gratitude expressed here is a wonderful change of pace. Old boyfriends like Big Sean, Pete Davidson, and the late Mac Miller are appreciated by the star for her personal growth rather than the turmoil of each relationship’s falling-out. It’s the rare occurrence where Grande calls out her exes by name in a song, and it couldn’t have been used more cathartically.
There are some unnecessary songs on thank u, next, whereas Sweetener covers more ground and has less filler despite being six minutes longer. The lack of narrative limits the star’s fifth full-length from being an emotional journey through her recent tragedies. Hearing about the luxurious diva figure isn’t as captivating to hear about as the woman persevering through a rough patch in her life. Still, not much seems rushed considering her last album came out just six months ago: Grande certainly earns a thank you.
SCAD Radio rates it a 7.8/10.