2018 was a year that challenged and changed Ariana Grande. Yeah, it was really cute and really chaotic. From her third No. 1 album and her first No. 1 single to rounding out the year with the death {not sure “loss” is clear enough} of her ex and a broken engagement, Grande’s life was  full of turbulence. With all of these things coming off the heels of the terrorist attack at her show in Manchester in 2017, the common person would think she’d take a break and center herself.

Well, Ariana isn’t common, and it shows in her new album, “thank u, next,” which was released earlier this month. One thing we can always count on with Ariana are the vocals. Her voice is butter on the undercurrent of R&B melodies and basslines with pop overtones. Musically, the album shines through as a beacon of forward-moving music. This idea of moving forward is reflected within the sassy and sultry lyrics of the songs.

Now, this is a big step forward for Grande. Just three years ago, she was singing how she wanted a man to make her a “Dangerous Woman.” On the contrary, “bloodline” dispels any of the inhibitions of needing or wanting a man—especially wanting one not on her own terms.

Throughout every song, there is this constant message of living life by her own guidelines. Along the album opening with a ballad-like anthem, “imagine,” discussing what simple, healthy love can look like, and then transitioning into “needy” and “NASA” — needing space, time, energy and a myriad of other things plays into bringing this relationship into fruition. Nevertheless, still on her terms.

This is amplified in the grinding, full-throttle song “bad idea.” Many of us have been in situations where we leaned on another person to help us “numb the pain” in more ways than one. Honest, real, vulnerable and most of all relatable.   

Grande previously stated in a Billboard interview that she wanted “to release music like rappers do”— freely. Grande’s goal is to release music without any restraints, since so many want to fit her into cute box wrapped in a pink bow. Grande is still trying to be more than the little red-headed girl from “Victorious” who transitioned to a lengthy pony. She’s stepping into her womanhood her way. With the album being written and recorded within only a few weeks, it makes sense that it be airy and light while still packing intricacy and layering—as only one would imagine womanhood.

Even within the dark places of the album like “ghostin,” where we hear Grande deal with loving what is assumed to be Pete Davidson while still vulnerable and weighed down by the loss of Mac Miller, the soft song radiates love and mourning with lyrics like,

Look at the cards that we’ve been dealt
If you were anybody else
Probably wouldn’t last a day
Heavy tears, a rain parade from hell (From hell).”

She is still bleeding out to Pete, apologizing and crying throughout the lyrics for causing him pain through trying to survive her own trauma. Selfless and selfish—the beauty of her rawness is undeniable. Usually this type of lyrical writing is most commonly found in R&B. Her infusion of loss and love applique over instrumental silk and satin makes for a finished piece of musical fabric that you can cuddle with on a rainy day and know you are not alone.

No one wants to be alone, especially when we have fallen in love with the potential of a partner and not the reality of that person. “in my head” is literally my first heartbreak when I was an undergrad. When my friends and family saw “a demon, I saw an angel,” Grande depicts the beginning of the end for a lot of people, including herself.

“thank u, next,” which is the name of her album as well as one of the songs, and official first No. 1 single is coupled with other songs like “7 rings,” her second No. 1 single. Collectively, each song rounds out the album, focusing solely on enjoying the moment now, moving on from the past, and becoming okay with an imperfect piece of perfection.

Ariana owns her agency in this album. Not that just that, she’s defining what that means exactly without authorization from any man. This is a testament that we have yet to see the fulfilled artistry of Ariana. She’s just getting started.

The album can be found on all streaming services including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music. The album can also be purchased in person at retailers.

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