When Ariana Grande released "thank u, next" back in November, I knew I was going to hate it before I even heard it.
On paper, it's everything I dislike about modern pop music—cloying lyrics about exes accompanied by a grating, sing-song-y refrain, all wrapped up in the "nice girl with a bad side" package that every major pop star seems to be pushing these past few years. "Thank u, next" was going to be yet another wad of chewed up bubblegum inadvertently stuck to the bottom of my shoe: sticky, annoying, and eventually forgotten.
But to my surprise, I didn't hate it. Sure, it was basically what I expected. The lyrics were cloying, the refrain was grating, the package was Ariana Grande. But there was something else there too. Whereas typical "ex-boyfriend" songs (Taylor Swift) tend to come off as petty and vengeful, "thank u, next" struck me as empowering. Grande wasn't singing about how awful her exes were or how they had screwed her over—quite the opposite, actually. Grande's "thank you's" seem like genuine appreciation for the ways her previous relationships have helped her grow into the person she is now. She's simply older and more mature now, and ready to take on whatever comes next.
I didn't just not hate "thank u, next." I liked it. And now that Ariana Grande has released the full twelve-track album, I've come to a horrifying realization. I like Ariana Grande, too.
thank u, next
The entire thank u, next album is upsettingly good. From the poppy "NASA" to the hauntingly emotional "Ghostin," every single track gives the sense of honest introspection. In "NASA," for instance, Grande cleverly expresses her need for "space" in a relationship. "Baby, you know time apart is beneficial/ It's like I'm the universe and you'll be N-A-S-A." Later, in "Ghostin," Grande wrestles with the conflict of being in one relationship while mourning another one: "I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again/ Over him, mmh/ I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again/ 'Stead of ghostin' him."
Each track flows into the next, giving the impression that Grande is working through the emotional fallout from a complex series of relationships as the album progresses. This makes a lot of sense considering the publicity and tragedy surrounding her past two years, from the terrorist attack on her Manchester concert in 2017 to the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller. Unlike many pop stars who tend to mine drama from nothing, Grande's trauma feels authentic which, in turn, makes her music feel authentic. In this context, the titular "thank u, next" solidifies as a true empowerment anthem.
Ultimately, Grande's newest album is poised to become a huge hit and for once, the accolades are deserved. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Ariana Grande's thank u, next is fantastic.
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