Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’ a Carefully Calculated Success

Just six months after the release of her critically acclaimed album, “Sweetener,” Ariana Grande took the world by storm with the announcement of her fifth studio album, “Thank U, Next.” The album debuted on Feb. 8, the eve of the Grammys, and became the fastest album in history to reach No. 1 on iTunes, doing so in just five minutes. In fact, in its first week of release, every track on “Thank U, Next” held a spot on the iTunes Top 20 List. These achievements come as no surprise, as they exemplify Grande’s ability to turn tragedy into success.

Grande is no stranger to this industry. Less than a month after her engagement with “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson was officially called off, she released the album’s title track and first single, “Thank U, Next.” Grande’s capitalization on the sudden, dramatic media buzz surrounding her breakup demonstrates her unwillingness to personify the media’s image of her as Pete Davidson’s ex-girlfriend rather than an individual. This also began Grande’s strategy of dropping singles as soon as they are finished, a tactic typically used by rap and hip-hop artists. She released the album’s second single, “Imagine,” a tribute to her late boyfriend Mac Miller, on Dec. 14, 2018. And, just a few weeks later, the third and final single, “7 Rings,” was released.

The “Thank U, Next” album opens with the track “Imagine” as its first track, which is abnormal for Grande’s albums, as they typically begin with a short ballad or orchestral piece as opposed to a previously released single. This dreamy, lively track sets the tone for the whole album. The song’s harmonies, use of string instruments and synthesized beats illustrate Grande’s willingness to bend the rules of pop music, a genre that typically shies away from blending these types of sounds.

The rest of the album incorporates the theme of rebuilding oneself after tragedy, as reflected in the line from “7 Rings,” “Been through some bad s**t, I should be a sad b***h / Who would have thought it’d turn me to a savage?” From the terrorist attack at her Manchester concert in 2017, to the death of Miller, to the end of her engagement with Davidson, Grande uses the album to discuss the trauma she has endured. The album appears to function as a means of catharsis for Grande and her fans alike. While some artists might need to step away from their craft during hardship, Grande rebuilds herself through her music in a calculated and absolutely flawless manner.

Stylistically, this album is a major evolution from her previous one. While “Sweetener” draws much of its influence from R&B and pop fusion (much like her very first studio album, “Yours Truly”), “Thank U, Next” seemingly takes inspiration from contemporary trip hop blended with operatic-like harmonies. This album took less than half the amount of time “Sweetener” took to make, yet it appears more mature in its musicality and lyricism. “Thank U, Next” wholly exemplifies Grande’s growth as an artist and a person.

However, some of the strongest tracks on “Thank U, Next” juxtapose Grande’s Broadway-style vocals against synthesized beats in a superimposed manner that can feel disconcerting. For example, in “In My Head,” a track that highlights Grande’s unhealthy tendency to build false versions of people in her mind, the harmonious melodies of her vocals almost mismatch the synthesized instrumentals, simulating the thematic conflict for her listeners through musical clash. This type of discord is uncommon for pop music and exhibits the experimental side of Grande’s creative process.

Overall, Grande’s newest album is a resounding success for her career, and one of the most effective musical endeavors of 2019 thus far. Grande’s evolution has garnered untold laud from fans, especially from long-time listeners. “Thank U, Next” demonstrates that Grande is fully capable of single-handedly taking over and rewriting the rules of the pop music industry.

Grade: 5/5