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“Thank U, Next” Shines a Light on Ariana Grande’s Vulnerable Side

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“Thank U, Next” Shines a Light on Ariana Grande’s Vulnerable Side

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When I heard that Ariana Grande was releasing her second album in six months, I decided to keep my expectations low.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Grande. She’s clearly talented, she has the voice and the stage presence to prove it.  However, it seems that it would be quite difficult to make two full-length, good quality albums in the span of six months.

Grande’s last album, “Sweetener,” was pleasant and euphonious. It featured love songs, like “pete davidson” (named after her fiancé, at the time), as well as empowering anthems, like “God is a woman.”

“Sweetener” was cheerful and seemed to reflect the positive emotions Grande was feeling at the time regarding her love life and her success.

“Thank u, next” is, quite honestly, the antithesis of “Sweetener.”

In the past, it’s been easy for many to excuse Grande as a naive popstar, especially since her career started on the kid’s channel Nickelodeon and she sings to an audience made up of mostly teenagers.

This dismissal couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In 2017, Grande’s concert in Manchester was the target of a suicide bombing by an Islamic extremist. 22 fans died as a result of this attack and many more were injured. Grande later revealed that she suffers post-traumatic stress disorder because of the bombing.

Grande also experienced emotional turmoil following the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller last year. Miller died of an overdose.

Grande’s life was turned upside down once again when her engagement to Pete Davidson was broken off last year.

The truth is that Grande is far from naive or immature and, for a 25 year old especially, Grande has been dealt more than her fair share of bad fortune.

In “thank u, next,” Grande confronts the negative emotions she has been experiencing head on with no sugar coating. And to be frank, I love the fact that she was honest enough to create an album full of so much vulnerability.

The album begins with “imagine,” in which Grande soulfully fantasizes about an ideal relationship.

The song perfectly encapsulates her impressive vocal abilities and perfectly leads to the second song of the album, “needy.”

This track was honestly one of my favorites on the whole record. Grande’s vocals were breathtaking and the song’s lyrics were honest and clever.

The song features Grande legitimately acknowledging her flaws:

“Sorry if I’m up and down a lot (Yeah) / Sorry that I think I’m not enough / And sorry if I say ‘sorry’ way too much.”

But the song also doesn’t discount the fact that Grande is damaged. She’s been through a lot and, sometimes, she deserves a little bit of grace.

“You can go ahead and call me selfish (Selfish) / But after all this damage, I can’t help it (Help it).”

Track two, “needy,” was in my head for days after I listened to the album the first time, and I was happy about it.

“NASA” was another one of my favorite tracks from the album. I especially loved the cleverness of the lyrics, which stuck to the theme of space:

“Usually, I would orbit around you / But gravity seems to be the only thing that’s pulling me / You’ll be my rise and shine soon as them stars align, mmm.”

Track four, “bloodline,” was one of the more stereotypical pop songs on the album and although it wasn’t my favorite, it was a nice breath of fresh air before “fake smile,” one of the more emotionally heavy tracks of the record.

In “fake smile,” Grande comes to terms with the fact that she’s not always happy — and that’s okay. And she’s not gonna fake being alright when she’s really not, anymore.

“I can’t fake another smile / I can’t fake like I’m alright / Woo, ah (Woo, ah) / And I won’t say I’m feeling fine / After what I been through, I can’t lie.”

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of vulnerability that was showcased in this track. Ariana Grande is a role model to people around the world and a lot of her fans are young.

Every person goes through stages of extreme sadness or anger and everyone is a little bit damaged. Humans are imperfect.

I’m glad that a star of Grande’s popularity is not afraid to take off the guise of perfection that many celebrities wear and to say that it’s okay to be not okay sometimes — it’s okay to need improvement. That’s a very important message for people to hear.

Next follows “bad idea,” about numbing the pain from a breakup using unhealthy coping mechanisms. The song was incredibly catchy and included very honest lyrics. The song fit comfortably into the album, since it dealt with grieving and coping.

Track seven, “make up,” was, arguably, the most forgettable track on the album, but I still thoroughly enjoyed listening to it. The lyrics were pretty simplistic, but Grande’s vocals nearly made up for it.

Track eight was “ghostin,” another one of my favorite tracks on the album. Grande’s vocals were shockingly beautiful and the production on the song was really impressive.

The lyrics on “ghostin” were incredibly endearing. Grande sang, “We’ll get through this / We’ll get past this / I’m a girl with / A whole lotta baggage / But I love you.”

The song’s lyrics reiterated the idea that Grande is damaged, but will not give up on love.

After “ghostin,” came “in my head.” This was another song on the record that stuck in my head for days. The production on the song was superb and the tune was really catchy. The message was also interesting, as it revolved around Grande falling in love with a version of someone she idealized in her head.

“7 rings” was one of my favorite songs on “thank u, next.” The track revolves around retail therapy and paints a picture of Grande using copious amounts of money to deal with her problems.  

Out of context, the song may sound incredibly braggadocious and it definitely is (on purpose). For instance, Grande does sing:

“Whoever said money can’t solve your problems / Must not have had enough money to solve ’em / They say, ‘Which one?’ I say, ‘Nah, I want all of ’em’ / Happiness is the same price as red-bottoms.”

But as braggadocious as “7 rings” might be,  in the context of the album it makes a lot of sense and details a coping method apparently used by Grande. I would imagine many people can relate to this song, as well, since material items and wealth often serve as an escape from real life problems.  

The track was catchy and full of clever lyrics. To be quite honest, I’ve had “7 rings” on repeat since it came out.

The beginning of “7 Rings” includes interpolation of “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” (1965), which I found to be quite interesting. But, as it progresses, the song turns becomes more rap-oriented.

Claims have been made that Grande stole the song’s flow and lyrics from other artists, like Soulja Boy and Princess Nokia, but, no matter what, it’s still a great addition to the album.

The title track of the album came next, “thank u, next.” Like “7 rings,” I was a fan of “thank u, next,” even when it was released as a single. The release followed directly after Grande’s engagement was broken off.

In the song, Grande details her past relationships:

“Thought I’d end up with Sean / But he wasn’t a match / Wrote some songs about Ricky / Now I listen and laugh / Even almost got married / And for Pete, I’m so thankful / Wish I could say, ‘Thank you’ to Malcolm / ‘Cause he was an angel.”

Grande goes on to explain how grateful she is for her breakups, which helped her to grow and learn more about herself.

In the chorus, Grande sings, “Thank you, next / I’m so [expletive] thankful for my ex.”

“Thank u, next” was full of maturity and confidence. The song really proved that Grande has really grown as a result of all of the heartbreak she has endured. The track also showed great vulnerability — to explicitly name your ex-boyfriends in a song is a pretty brave thing to do.

The album finally wrapped up with “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” which I thought was a great song to end on.

I do not encourage cheating in any way. However, I think that this song is less about encouraging cheating and more about Grande trying to admit to her audience that, even though she is growing and maturing, she is still imperfect.

Grande may be working through her problems, but she’s still going to make mistakes — she might even help a man cheat on his girlfriend or encourage someone to leave their significant other for her. This is, of course, just an idea of what Grande could be trying to convey with this track.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed by “thank u, next.”

If Grande can make an album as great as this one in just six months, then who knows what she could create in the future.

Ariana Grande has a long career ahead of her, if she wants it, and I’m excited to see where her talent takes her.

I would give “thank u, next” a 9/10.

About the Writer
Riley Johanson, Editor-in-Chief

Riley Johanson is a Sophomore at Livermore High School in her second year of Journalism. Riley was the Opinions Editor for The Torch last year and is now...

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