She’s here ladies and gents, and she is thriving! After almost two years of working on new music, Ariana Grande finally released her highly-anticipated, fourth studio album, “Sweetener,” and as Ari herself would say, “Honest to God, knock me out!”
Grande had previously hinted in 2016 that she had enough songs written for a fourth studio album. But after a suicide bomber killed almost two dozen of her fans at Manchester Arena in May 2017, Grande, for very obvious reasons, did not feel she was ready to release an album.
Then, in December of 2017, Grande posted a short clip of a new song and disappeared from social media for the first quarter of 2018. That’s when it became clear: she’s coming (the pronoun “she” referring to the album itself because “it” doesn’t feel special enough).
“no tears left to cry” was the first track Grande released from the album in back in April (full review of the song and music video here). The song celebrated Grande’s ability to triumph over all the hate and negativity in this world and come back, stronger than ever, into both music and reality. During an interview with Jimmy Fallon to promote the single, Grande announced that the name for the album would be “Sweetener” because it is about bringing light to and sweetening any situation.
The intro to the album is a 38-second acapella cover of a song by The Four Seasons titled “raindrops (an angel cried).” Though the track is short, Grande managed to win me over and convince me that this album would be her best yet, solely based off of her angelic voice singing the song’s only lyrics: “When raindrops fell, down from the sky / The day you left me, an angel cried / Oh, she cried / An angel cried / She cried.”
The album is comprised of various collaborations, including “the light is coming” with longtime friend Nicki Minaj, “borderline” with Missy Elliot, and “blazed” with Pharrell Williams, who is also responsible for the production on almost half of the album.
Minaj and Grade have collaborated frequently in the past. On Grande’s third album, the two worked together on Side to Side, where Minaj spits “I’m the queen of rap / Young Ariana run pop” and their new collab, “the light is coming” is no exception. The words “You wouldn’t let anybody speak and instead” loops throughout the entirety of the song. The quote is from a sample taken from a 2009 confrontation regarding a Democratic healthcare proposal, during which an angered member of the public stood up and complained to the Pennsylvania Senator about not letting the public share their opinion. The song, like most the others, is meant to represent moving from darkness into a better place.
Grande not only “runs pop,” but on this particular album she redefines it entirely. The genre of pop music has had a bad rep in the past, with many believing that liking pop music means liking bubblegum pop that always has a positive, upbeat “life is great” attitude.
With “Sweetener,” Grande breaks misconceptions of pop and creates something entirely new: a contemplation of 15 songs that are each unique in their own way, while combining pop, contemporary R&B, and rap all together in a single masterpiece and pushing past so-called genres, in order to focus solely on making genuinely good music that everyone could potentially find interest in.
When Grande first released the track titles for the album, there were two in particular fans were excited for. The first, “R.E.M,” is just as dreamy as it sounds. The song includes fast-paced breaths echoing throughout the track as Grande’s ethereal voice sings, “Before you speak, don’t move / Cause I don’t wanna wake up / Cause you’re such a dream / If you can believe, you’re such a dream to me.”
The second, “God is a woman,” speaks to female empowerment and encourages female sexual liberation with lyrics like “I could be all the things you told me not to be / When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing / And he see the universe when I’m the company.”
An accompanying music video directed by Dave Meyers was also released to bring to life the idea of having strong women in powerful positions. The visuals included allusions to art and religion, replacing famous males with Grande in works such as Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam and Rodin’s statue of The Thinker.
Grande also opened up about the dark side of love and complicated relationships on the album: “better off” wasn’t initially going to be on the album because Grande feared being to honest opening up about being “better off without him.” In “goodnight n go,” Grande tells the story of it being impossible to ignore a boy because he’s “so cute,” but as the title implies, she ultimately wants him to go away from her life. In contrast, “everytime” talks about how Grande reverts back to an an ex not matter how hard she tries because “gets weak and falls like a teenager.”
“pete davidson” is both the name of Grande’s fiance and the title of a short, two minute track on the album. The light synths combined with her repeated “Got me happy, happy / Imma be happy, happy” represents how Grande feels about her relationship with the SNL star. The couple faced quite a bit of backlash when they got engaged in May following only a few short weeks of dating. The song is Ari’s way of telling the world that she believes Pete is her “soulmate and all that,” and her happiness is all that matters.
When a fan asked what “breathin” was about, Grande responded by tweeting “A N X I E T Y.” Grande’s struggles with anxiety became very apparent following the Manchester attacks. In an interview with Apple Music Beats 1, Grande broke down in tears when talking about struggling with her own personal demons. The song encourages listeners to stay strong in order to fight off personal struggles and know that they are never alone.
“Mental health is so important,” she said trying to catch her breath, while wiping the tears streaming down her face. “People don’t pay enough mind to it because we have things to do. We have schedules, we have jobs, we have kids, and places to be and pressure to fit in. People don’t pay attention to what’s happening inside.”
Grande also shared her love and excitement for making music on what is perhaps the most uplifting song on the album, “successful.” The track is her way of celebrating well-deserved success and uplifting other young women to do the same by stating, “It feels so good to be so young / And have this fun and be successful / I’m so successful / And, girl, you too, you are so young / And beautiful and so successful.”
The album’s name is shared with a song titled “sweetener” as well, which fully encompasses the message Ariana hopes to convey with her new music. “When life deals us cards / Make everything taste like it is salt / Then you come through like the sweetener you are / To bring the bitter taste to a halt,” she sings in the angelic tone of hers that so obviously was honed when she was just a teen on Broadway.
The final track on the album, “get well soon,” ends with 40 seconds of silence. Grande later confirmed that her fans were in fact correct when they speculated that the added seconds were intentional to make the song’s length 5:22, which happens to be the date (May 22) marking the Manchester attacks. The song therefore, pays homage to all those who were and still are struggling with trauma following the event, including Grande herself who sings, “This is for everybody / Babe, you gotta take care of your body / Ain’t no time to deny it / That is why we talking about it.”
The track not only connects with those who were there that night, but it’s also her way of telling her fans that she is and will always be there for them. Grande, who is very well known for constantly connecting with here fans states in the refrain “I’m with you / Just call me / No matter the issue (no matter what).”
The album in its entirety is so much more than just another set of songs to add to Grande’s already impressive track record. “Sweetener” marks a new time in her life, where after a decade since moving to LA in pursuit of a career in music, she was finally able to put out the R&B-esque album she’s always wanted to with real messages and meaning, and she did so effortlessly, proving to the world that she’s so much more than “a walking ponytail who screams high notes.”
Since its release on Friday, the album has been streamed over 110 million times worldwide, breaking Spotify’s record for most-streamed album by a female artist in its first week, doing it in just four days!
“Sweetener” is also Ariana Grande’s first album to have a colorful album artwork, as the last three were black in white, proving that the light did in fact “give back everything the darkness stole.” It’s a 47 minute audio representation of real struggle, heartbreak, and emotion people face in their daily lives. It is a glimpse of the reality people put up with when they take off their rose-colored glasses. And yet, as tragic and unpredictable as that may be, Grande’s plea to always gravitate towards the light, proves that living life to its fullest potential is very much so possible, once you get a hold of your personal struggles and stop letting them consume you.
Grande’s rawness on the album is a true testament to her artistry and ability to channel her emotions, in order to truly connect with people. She proves that we’re only human and all we really have to hang onto in life is the love and support we give one another because even in the most bitter times, that’s what makes life a little sweeter.
Grande is expected to go on a “Sweetener Tour” in 2019 to promote the album. Information regarding the tour can be found through her website once tour dates become readily available.