By Teresa Ugarte

Ariana Grande’s newest album, “thank u, next” seemingly came out of nowhere. Her last album, “Sweetener,” came out in August of 2018, just six months previously. A lot has happened in the meantime: Grande’s ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, died of a drug overdose, and Grande broke off her engagement with comedian Pete Davidson just a few weeks later. All of this comes just over a year after a bombing at Grande’s 2017 Manchester, Britain concert, which left 23 people dead and 139 injured.

Grande’s personal life has been in turmoil. But professionally, she’s on top of the world. “Sweetener” just won best pop vocal album at the Grammys, the “thank u, next” single has been on the top ten Billboard chart since it was released, and the “thank u, next” album has been dominating the Spotify most-streamed chart.

“Thank u, next” has a different feel from the rest of Grande’s work. It’s a far cry from “Sweetener”’s bright style and sound, dropping the Pharrell-influenced doo-wop vocals and funk. It doesn’t really utilize her impressive vocal range like her most popular singles, “Bang Bang,” “Side to Side,” or “Problem” all do. But it’s by far the most authentic and raw Grande has been lyrically.

The album tells the story of Grande’s life in the past few months. It starts with “Imagine,” setting the scene of a perfect world where perfect relationships can thrive. Things start to fall apart as Grande, trapped in the real world, struggles to reconcile craving attention (“needy”) and needing space (“NASA”). She tries and fails to remain upbeat and authentic in “fake smile.”  

There are a few less serious songs. “7 rings” is a fun flex, and “bloodline” is a bop about trying to have detached fun. In “make up” Grande sings about breaking up with someone just to make up with them again, inviting them to “go ‘head, ruin my makeup”.

Things get serious again with “in my head” and “ghostin.” “In my head” is about falling in love with a version of a person that you made up in your head, and dealing with the fallout when you realize they don’t exist. In Grande’s own words, “ghostin” is about “feeling badly for the person you’re with bc you love somebody else. feeling badly bc he can tell he can’t compare … and how i should be ghosting him.” As it’s lyrically similar to a song Miller wrote for Grande before his death, many have speculated that “ghostin” is about Grande’s conflicting feelings for Davidson and Miller. In any case, the song is a guilt-ridden apology to a current partner for longing over a past one.

The album closes out with “thank u, next,” a tribute to all of Grande’s past relationships, thanking them for all they’ve taught her, and “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored,” a more electronic-sounding single that feels detached from the rest of the album. There’s an abrupt tonal shift from the 11th song to the 12th, which makes sense when you consider Grande originally had another song lined up to be the last song on the album: “remember,” a tribute to Miller. At the last minute, Grande decided the song was too personal, and it was swapped for “break up with your girlfriend” instead.

Though the instrumentals and harmonies are simpler than other songs by Grande and the vocal range is much tighter, “thank u, next” is some of Grande’s best work. It’s a deeply personal collection of emotionally raw music. The fuel for “thank u, next” is tragic, but it produced something beautiful.

The album gave away the ending from the start. It’s about her journey, but the title is the destination. For Grande, it’s all about what comes next.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ariana Grande’s Facebook page.

Teresa Ugarte is a freshman journalism and English major and can be reached at teugarte@terpmail.umd.edu.

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