BY KYLIE YEATMAN
Part-time musician and full-time Twitter savant Ariana Grande’s latest musical output, the aptly titled “Thank U, Next,” is an album in two parts: Grande gyrates around doing her best Rihanna impression while awkwardly stumbling through some of the world’s least subtle breakup anthems, or Grande lets her talent do the talking (singing?) and makes something actually worth listening to.
There is no in between.
Kickstarting the album is the relatively uninteresting “Imagine,” a song which makes me imagine that I’m listening to something better, although I have to give it credit for some conceptual continuity between the album and Grande’s eclectic real-life drama. “Needy,” characterized by desperate lyrics and looming, sad-sounding vocals, is, on the other hand, a highlight, showing a grave shift in Grande’s outlook on her personal life—while “Imagine” feigns happiness to an almost saccharine extent, “Needy” is painfully real.
“NASA,” perhaps Grande’s best cut since “R.E.M,” is a cute little box of space-themed fun with chants of “N-A-S-A!” and a fun, laid-back chorus that the chanteuse has been clearly grasping for since she met Pharrell, the producer of her previous album. The other best moment from the album, the incendiary “Bloodline,” includes some face-melting instrumentation and one of few instances of Grande convincingly playing up the sexualized image she’s tried to play up for herself in recent years.
The subdued “Fake Smile” emphasizes the maturation of Grande’s never-ending stream of syrupy ballads, also playing up the characteristic motif on the album of voicemails and voice recordings opening the tracks, with a whimsical jukebox tune slowly fading in and out of the track to emphasize the poignant lyrics regarding hardship.
“Ghostin,” a track reminiscent of Grande’s older works with string accompaniment and a more mid-tempo delivery, is the song that ultimately defines what the album undoubtedly is—a solemn, contemporary ballad representative of the greater schema that encompasses much of Grande’s discography. In the vein of previous tracks like “Tattooed Heart” and “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” a more fine-tuned and emotionally honest cut is present.
So everyone knows that “7 Rings” is awful and throws the whole theme of the album out while interpolating “The Sound of Music,” right? This 2009 Rihanna demo probably should’ve been left wherever the song’s ten credited writers found it because there’s really nothing interesting about Grande rapping about her ponytail over a nonsense beat. On that note, the album’s final track, the egregiously titled “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” is the kind of awful female revenge anthem we probably should have left in the Hot Topic era.
Long-time fans of Grande have come to understand that singles from her albums are typically less than representative of the final product, and such is definitely the case on “Thank U, Next.” While “Dangerous Woman” might have had higher peaks, the ultimately cohesive and breathtakingly atmospheric nature of Grande’s latest output is fantastic. It’s certainly a world I couldn’t have imagined where the oversaturation of Ariana Grande in popular consciousness actually led to an acceptable album.