Leonard Duffy reviews Ariana Grande's latest release, Thank U, Next
You can’t keep a world-conquering pop star down.
Just six months since her fantastic Sweetener album, Ariana Grande has released an even better follow-up. Brimming with bare-bone grooves, sugar-puff melodies and heart-breaking lyrics, Thank U, Next is the work of an artist at the peak of their powers. It is fraught and fun, bruised and broiling — a rollercoaster you’ll want to stay with all the way until the end.
Sweetener was recorded in the shadow of the 2017 Manchester bombing in which 23 of her fans died — a tragedy she acknowledged in the devastating single ‘No Tears Left To Cry’. Thank U, Next is more personal as Grande comes to terms with the passing of her former boyfriend Mac Miller, a rapper who died of an accidental overdose.
He is a haunting presence on ‘Ghostin’ — an out-of-body ballad that sounds like Enya if Enya was a 25-year-old r’n’b singer from Florida.
But there is redemption as well as pain with the bustling ‘Bloodline’ celebrating casual romance (‘Don’t want you in my bloodline just want to have a good time’) and ‘Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored’ an anthem to losing yourself in the moment and the thrills of forbidden love.
Grande was early in her career dismissed as a Gen Z Britney Spears. Yet she has grown into a peerless boundary pusher, as underscored by single ‘7 Rings’, where skittering tempos bob and weave around her storm-tossed vocals.
As an act of bearing witness, Thank U, Next — where Grande reunites with producer Max Martin— is hugely emotional (adding to the drama are reports she recorded an alternate version of the title track in the event of her marrying her now ex-boyfriend, comedian Pete Davidson).
Along with that it is a heartfelt proclamation of defiance from an artist who had stared into the darkest depths but never stopped looking for the light.