“thank u, next” was recorded in two weeks. (Photo courtesy of Republic Records)
“thank u, next” is the fifth studio album from Ariana Grande and comes a mere six months after her prior album, “Sweetener.” Before its release, it was supported by two singles, “thank u, next” and “7 rings”, both of which swiftly became two of her biggest songs ever, in no small part thanks to her highly publicized breakups and her addressing of such on the two songs. However, despite this growing attention surrounding her, Ariana Grande sounds more lost than ever before.
Listening through the album, it quickly becomes clear that Ariana Grande has either lost all sense of musical identity or never had an authentic one in the first place. The album opens with brooding R&B ballads “imagine” and “needy,” and then transitions through further exploration of this style, her traditional upbeat pop style and even a strange delve into trap. While no style is inherently unfitting to her besides, perhaps, the trap, it lacks any sense of cohesion or identity for her. It sounds like she is trying to be something for everyone, at the expense of making an album that works together as a whole.
One major contributing factor into this issue is a seeming lack of effort into making a logical track ordering. Tracks are seemingly ordered throughout the album at whim, without consideration of what order would actually make the most sense sonically, which results in strange jumps between styles that could have been much more seamlessly integrated with just a little more thought put into arrangement.
That being said, “thank u, next” does do a lot right despite this seeming identity crisis. The highest highs are where Ariana is in her usual pop/R&B comfort zone that she used to great success on her third album, “Dangerous Woman.” Tracks such as “bloodline” and “bad idea” are the best examples of such and are the two clear highlights of the album. They are upbeat, catchy and show off the full range of her vocal powers. Other highlights include R&B-tinged ballads “needy” and “ghostin,” which combine her beautiful voice with above average lyrical content for her. Specifically, “ghostin” narrates her struggles of being with Pete Davidson while mourning the loss of Mac Miller and is probably the rawest, most emotional song she has put out to date as a result.
Despite these high points, “thank u, next” does suffer from a few weak tracks. “7 rings” is probably one of the most divisive and polarizing songs she has released, thanks to its wonderful production and catchiness but her lack of rapping skill and generally terrible lyrics. “make up” is also a big disappointment, due to an overly done concept of, “breaking up to make back up,” and a beat that sounds off with the vocals. Beyond these two arguable misfires, “thank u, next” is mostly a collection of great, potential hits.
“thank u, next” is, in a way, a perfect example of how the rise of streaming has inherently changed the format of the album. Before the rise of streaming, where albums were purchased as a collective bundle, there was an emphasis on making sure every album worked as a cohesive whole and that all tracks were placed in a logical ordering. However, with the rise of streaming services, the primary goalpost for album success in getting songs on playlists, which encourages albums like “thank u, next,” which focus on getting a variety of different, unconnected styles and concepts to match different popular playlists. As a result, it is almost a perfect album for 2019, but a disappointing one by most other standards, even if it has a lot of good songs on it.
Overall score: B-