Music Reviews

Please Help, I Liked Ariana Grande's New Album Way Too Much

thank u, next is really good.

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.


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com



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MUSIC

Ariana Grande Drops out of Grammys After Dispute with Producers

It's like they aren't even trying to glow up at all.

Mike Coppola / Getty

It's like the Grammys aren't even trying to glow up at all. After using her image on billboards and heavily touting her performance at Sunday's event, The Grammy Awards have lost Ariana Grande as both a performer and an attendee. According to Variety, a dispute arose between producers and Grande, who is nominated for two awards at the ceremony, over the pop star's setlist. An unnamed source told the magazine that Grande was "insulted" when producers initially refused to let her perform her latest single, "7 Rings." They had reached an agreement once producers relented and agreed that the song could be included in a medley, but fell apart again once they insisted that they choose the rest of the songs in the performance.

It's certainly a...choice for Grammy producers to deny one of today's most famous artists the opportunity to perform whatever song she wants—especially when that song is currently number one on Billboard's Hot 100, and has been since it was released two weeks ago. Producers undoubtedly knew that booking Grande to perform would be a big draw for viewers, especially with the release of her latest album, Sweetener, set for just two days before the event. That much is clear from the use of Grande's image and news of her performance in their ads for Sunday's broadcast.

Let's Hear It | 61st GRAMMY Awards youtu.be

Some are comparing Grande dropping out to Lorde declining to participate in a group tribute to Tom Petty at the 2018 ceremony after being the only woman nominated in her category and the only nominee who was not offered a solo performance. (Grande has often publicly lamented double-standards set for women in the music industry.) The Recording Academy, which is the governing body for the Grammy Awards, faced criticism after the 2018 ceremony for a very low number of female nominees and comments from the organization president attributing the gender disparity to women needing to "step up," rather than outdated membership models and inclusion or nomination criteria that inherently favored male artists, engineers, and songwriters. The Academy seemed to be taking a step in the right direction by adjusting their nomination and membership policies under the guidance of Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which is why the decision to deny Grande autonomy over her performance is especially disappointing.

It's also worth noting that the Grammys broadcast is in the unique position of being able to showcase more of the work that it's celebrating than any other industry awards show. It's not possible to give an audience a true sense of an entire film, TV show, or stage performance unless they've seen it. A performance at a music awards show, however, is probably the closest a viewer can get to a complete picture of the work before a winner is announced, and it's the easiest way to bring entertainment to an event that could easily feel stuffy and self-congratulating. After last year's event pulled in the lowest ratings in almost a decade, it seems especially unwise for producers to object to a performance of the current most popular song in the country.

Neither Grande nor the Grammys have spoken publicly about the canceled performance. But maybe the Grammys aren't even worried about ratings. After all, they've still got the universally popular and highly-anticipated collaboration between Post Malone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the newly announced and very obvious, not-at-all confusing Jennifer Lopez tribute to Motown.


The Grammys will air live on Sunday, February 10 at 8pm.


Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.



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