Ariana Grande explores new territory in cohesive, career-defining ‘thank u, next’

A woman lies on the floor, upside down, with her hands crossed over her chest. and her eyes closed.
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On Feb. 8, less than six months after the release of her last number one album, Sweetener, Ariana Grande released thank u, next — a masterfully made album that is set to be a career-defining moment for the pop star.

For someone who is only 25, Grande has had a wildly successful career matched with a great deal of controversy and criticism. In the past six months alone, she released another highly acclaimed album, called off her engagement with ex-fiance Pete Davidson, grieved the tragic death of her ex-boyfriend, rapper Mac Miller, and is currently in the midst of scandals surrounding cultural appropriation allegations as well as an apparent “feud” with the Grammys. Yet, Grande managed to put together thank u, next in just two weeks and release the album soon after.

thank u, next is notably different from Grande’s past albums, namely the recent Sweetener. While Grande’s past albums often approached her romantic relationships in black-and-white fashion — either expressing her monogamous love and affection in songs like “pete davidson” or celebrating her independence in songs like “no tears left to cry” — Grande explores a more nuanced perspective of love in her new album. thank u, next is diverse in its themes; from celebrating self-care in relationships in “NASA” to exploring the struggle of unreciprocated love in “needy” and “ghostin,” Grande proves her maturity through songs that vary both in terms of subject matter and musical style.

The album is 12 tracks long, and each song feels significant in creating a cohesive piece of work. thank u, next begins softly with the dreamy and romantic “imagine,” which does a perfect job of introducing the songs that follow; its soft instrumentals matched with Grande’s powerful vocals and passionate lyrics set the tone for the rest of the album. This is followed by several other dynamic tracks, including the upbeat pop anthems “bloodline” and “fake smile,” through which Grande embraces the idea of prioritizing herself. In “NASA,” Grande uses quirky space metaphors and a buoyant beat to express the necessity of self-care and personal space in relationships, singing, “Usually, I would love it if you stayed the night / I just think I’m on another page tonight / It ain’t nothing wrong with saying I need me time.”

In “bad idea,” Grande shows off her vocal range and talent with a powerful chorus paired with experimental guitar instrumentals. The album’s energy falls slightly flat on “make up,” which is made up of commonly used pop instrumentals and veers from the album’s theme of personal fulfillment. However, the sincerity picks up again with “ghostin,” a slow and emotional track in which Grande laments having residual feelings from a past romance during a new relationship.

The pace changes with the next few songs, including the controversial, braggadocious “7 rings” and the chart-topping title song “thank u, next,” an unabashed and honest recounting of the lessons Grande has learned from her past relationships. The album ends with the sultry “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” in which she playfully sings, “You know what you’re doin’ to me / Actin’ all innocent, please, when I know you out here thinkin’ ’bout it.” The final three songs mark a turn toward confident pop hits — a powerful ending to an introspective and multifaceted album.

thank u, next feels like an essential moment in the development of Grande’s career. Through this album, the star embraces her imperfections and contemplates her internal and interpersonal relationships, using these realizations to self-actualize. With a diverse track list, impressive vocal performances and meaningful lyrics, thank u, next is where Ariana Grande truly finds herself — both as an artist and a person.

Contact Salem Sulaiman at [email protected].