Ariana Grande has rewritten the rules of pop with 'thank u, next'
14 February 2019, 11:57 | Updated: 14 February 2019, 19:44
'thank u, next' marks the start of an exciting new chapter in Ariana Grande's career and pop music at large...
There comes a point in almost every popstar's career when they get tired of the system. Pop, as an industry, is well known for its carefully curated campaigns and relentless promo cycles. Our faves usually spend one to two years working on an album and then the next 12 months or so doing red carpets, photoshoots and everything in between all in the name of pop. It looks fun from the outside but it can become unfulfilling on the inside.
With that in mind, it's no surprise that in recent years many of pop's biggest stars have given the tried and tested framework of pop two fingers. After releasing six albums in seven years, Rihanna took a three year break and then released her best LP yet ANTi. Beyoncé spent 2013 shrouded in mystery before stopping the world with her stunning visual album BEYONCÉ. And now Ariana Grande is changing the game in her own way.
thank u, next arrived less than six months after Ariana's critically acclaimed fourth studio album, Sweetener. While Sweetener was an extensively planned traditional pop release (we got the first single, then the promo single, then the second single, all in a four month period ahead of the album), thank u, next is a spontaneous burst of creativity, released just weeks after Ari recorded it.
Speaking to Billboard in November Ariana said: "My dream has always been to be -- obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does. I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren't." Ariana then said: "I just want to fucking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do", and she did.
thank u, next is in many ways a mixtape in terms of its creation. Not in the headspace to tour after she released Sweetener, Ariana decided to return to the studio and do what she does best: make music. She reunited with her friends and longterm collaborators Victoria Monet, Tommy Brown, Social House (and a new one: Tayla Parx) and wrote honest music about her life.
However, no one could have anticipated what a traumatic period it would be for Ariana. Her ex, beloved rapper Mac Miller, died and she later split up with her fiancée Pete Davidson. With Sweetener, Ariana pushed towards the light she wanted in her life in the wake of the Manchester bombing, with thank u, next she leans into the darkness she's experienced since.
The chorus of 'fake smile': "fuck a fake smile" is so simple, and yet, it perfectly encapsulates how Ariana feels about putting on a front when she's going through so much bullshit. "I saw your potential without seein' credentials" in 'in my head' is the most cutting read of an ex at first glance but, really, it's the most cutting read of herself. Ariana "invented" a man instead of accepting the boy before her.
Things get even more devastatingly raw on the album's emotional centrepiece 'ghostin' as Ariana convinces herself that she can maintain her relationship with Pete after Mac's passing. Ariana sings "We'll get through this, we'll get past this, I'm a girl with // A whole lot of baggage", while admitting "Though I wish he were here instead // Don't want that living in your head". There's no pretence.
And this is where thank u, next thrives. Every track is emotionally complex. There are no villains or heroes. Ari is sharing her messy, flawed, brilliant self with us. The songs aren't happy or sad; they're layered. '7 rings' isn't shallow; it's about turning to retail therapy and friendship in the wake of pain. The fact that it's in minor signifies that it's a bop for a bitch who's been through some shit.
'make up' may appear light and fluffy but it's about the very real situation that so many of us find ourselves in when fighting becomes the norm in a relationship and we somehow romanticise it because we "love it when we make up". Even the Max Martin bangers cut deeper than usual. "I ain't lookin' for my one true love // Yeah, that ship sailed away" on 'bloodline' is remarkably blunt.
And the reason why this album is so unfiltered and intricate is because it wasn't overthought in some label meeting. It came straight from Ariana's heart and mind. It's the magic of 'thank u, next' the song captured in an entire album. On each of her albums Ari has honed and explored her sound and talent; on thank u, next she flourishes in both and takes back her narrative.
Yours Truly introduced us to Ariana's voice (it's quintessential Ariana), My Everything saw Ariana stake out her pop ambitions (it's filled with hits), Dangerous Woman was where Ariana made pop on her own terms ('Dangerous Woman' as a lead single was inspired) and Sweetener saw her return to R&B alongside tailor made moments ('no tears left to cry' is a masterpiece).
thank u, next is a game-changer. Pop single campaigns have always been long and streaming extended that. In the last few years, we've seen pop stars perform the same songs again and again in a bid to push Spotify numbers instead of creating new and exciting moments. Ari proves that you can dominate streaming and still keep things fresh, candid and fun.
'thank u, next' became the fastest song to reach 100 million streams on Spotify when Ariana put it out it last November, '7 rings' then topped it this year and thank u, next is now the most streamed album by a female artist in a day on the service ever with 70 million streams. Ariana's fame gives her an advantage over smaller artists but the numbers don't lie.
thank u, next is so important because it's not Ariana working to fit the paradigms of pop, it's Ariana changing the paradigms of pop to work for her. Like Beyoncé and Rihanna before her, Ari is done playing by the rules and that makes her career so exciting. We can't wait to see what she does next. Not only that but we can't wait to see how she influences others.
An icon is forming.