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 Features

On This Day: Shakira Liberated Everyone's “She Wolf”

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

By Fabio Alexx

11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.

"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."

Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com

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Culture News

Ariana Grande's Japanese Tattoo Is Too Funny To Be Cultural Appropriation

Twitter's got this: "Met with all the Asians, and our official ruling is that the Ariana Grande tattoo is good."

Updated 1/31:

As a gift that keeps on giving, "七輪" is now the best tattoo in the world. Ariana Grande took all of yesterday's confused criticism over her misspelled Japanese tattoo to heart. In the middle of the night, she posted a series of Instagram stories to showcase hard proof that not only is she a studious admirer of Japanese culture and language, but she's on close texting terms with her kanji "tutor."

And because Instagram stories shared in the middle of the night are always posted in moments of crisis, the "7 Rings" singer had an emergency corrective tattoo performed. Grande shared a picture of the tattoo's newly added kanji symbols and wrote, "RIP tiny charcoal grill. Miss you man. I actually really liked you."

But the awesome power of the original "七輪" tattoo proved itself to be twofold. Its undeniable star power made it a worldwide trending topic on Twitter yesterday, garnering press coverage from auspicious outlets like CNN, The Guardian, HelloGiggles and Cosmo. Consequently, all that power may have gone to its head (yes, it's a sentient tattoo now), because it refused to be fixed. Instead of signifying a type of BBQ grill (or its intended meaning of "7 Rings"), Grande's "fixed" tattoo now reads, "Japanese BBQ finger."

So rather than resolving the original misspelling, Grande's made it considerably worse—adding insult to injury, she reportedly had to take a shot of lidocaine from her doctor in order to endure the second tattoo's pain. Sadly, the way the kanji characters are divided on her palm still invalidate their meaning. As one Japanese culture site points out, "In English, this would be like writing 'rings' as 'ri' and then 'ngs' in another paragraph."

Original article, 1/30:

Does "七輪" translate to "7 Rings," Japanese BBQ, or cultural appropriation (asking for Ariana Grande)?

In the perfect response to accusations that the singer appropriates styles from non-white cultures for the sake of her brand, the 25-year-old flaunted a new tattoo commemorating the record-breaking success of "7 Rings." Grande posted to Instagram a photo of her new palm tattoo, which she intended to be the Japanese Kanji characters of the song's title. Commenters fluent in Japanese immediately began pointing out that the singer left out a few characters, changing the meaning slightly.

By the way, if you haven't tried shichirin, it's a delicious style of BBQ named after a miniature grill used in Japan. It's also what's actually tattooed on Grande's hand. Initially, Grande responded to fans pointing out the misspelling, alleging that it was intentional. She posted on Twitter, "Indeed, I left out 'つの指' which should have gone in between. It hurt like fuck n still looks tight. I wouldn't have lasted one more symbol lmao. But this spot also peels a ton and won't last so if I miss it enough I'll suffer thru the whole thing next time." Not long afterwards, Grande deleted both posts.

Here's why her bad tattoo is funny, then problematic, then funny again. Grande has been boasting about learning Japanese since 2015. Her social media accounts from that year proudly display elementary workbooks for Hiragana characters; and since then, when she stops by Japan on one of her worldwide tours, she proclaims on Japanese talk shows that she loves edamame, tofu, and J-pop. In short, her love of Japanese culture is at the highest peak a non-Japanese person can achieve.

Firstly, if we're talking about someone who understands a modicum of Japanese, then it's highly unlikely she'd purposefully omit the middle characters, considering they carry the entire meaning of the tattoo. Second, people should stop getting Japanese tattoos. Or at least, if a person's list of reasons to get a Japanese tattoo don't include being fluent in Japanese, then they don't deserve one.

The misspelled tattoo is just the latest in Grande's playing with non-white cultural staples. Following the release of the music video for "7 Rings," a resurgence of criticism prompted The Atlantic to publish an article articulating how "the singer wears a culture as a costume." Specifically, many have taken issue with Grande altering her persona with ever darker self-tanner and imitating AAVE and elements of trap house in her music (which has garnered allegations of plagiarism from SouljaBoy and Princess Nokia). Additionally, comments on social media and lyrics promoting weaves, particularly a line in "7 Rings" ("You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it") have disconcerted some of her followers.

But inevitably, a stupidly bad tattoo by a twenty-something pop diva who has a whole team of Japanese social media managers who should have advised her better is too absurd to not enjoy. Kevin Nguyen, the features editor at The Verge, took a moment to smooth over heated accusations of cultural appropriation with the announcement, "Met with all the Asians, and our official ruling is that the Ariana Grande tattoo is good."

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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