Personal and heartfelt, Ariana Grande returns with emotionally stirring album Sweetner.
Undoubtedly, this is a tough album for Ariana Grande. It is her first studio release since the dreadful Manchester Bombings on May 22nd 2017, in which over 22 people died and over 800 people were injured. This album is dedicated to those victims – each song references the incident and stands as a testament to the bravery of the fans, emergency services involved and Ariana Grande herself. They refuse to live in fear and let terror win.
- raindrops (an angel cried)
This track is an extremely personal ballad addressed to those victims of the bombing. Grande uses this small intro to express her sorrow, as well as exhibiting her vocal talent. The solo displays her intensely powerful range and sets the standard for the full album.
blazed ft. Pharrell Williams heads in a different direction compared to Grande’s usual style. Instead of relying on the power of her phenomenal voice to carry the song, we are met with a much more precise, soothing creation. blazed has a positive, chilled hip-hop vibe, and though the lyrics might come off as being a bit repetitive at times, I cannot fault its magnetic feel. The energy between Williams and Grande works perfectly as the two bounce off each other in the hopeful love song.
- the light is coming (feat. Nicki Minaj)
As the second single from the album, this song sees Ariana return to her classic pop style with a rap verse that features Nicki Minaj. the light is coming is a promise to her fans that explains that despite the horrors seen during her last tour, ‘the light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole.’
Pharrell Williams, who helped produce this album, samples a short sentence from a Pennsylvanian town hall meeting in 2009, in which Senator Arlen Specter screeches “you wouldn’t let anybody speak!” This seems like a not-so-subtle nod to the motivations behind the terror attack, and whilst it’s a bold statement to make on a chart song, the repetition (roughly every ten seconds throughout the whole song) is rather aggravating. The question is, was that the intention? Either way, fans on Twitter seemed rather bummed out about this cutting up, what would otherwise be, a bop.
R.E.M deals with a relationship that blurs the lines between dreams and reality, and the song itself feels like the musical version of a lazy Sunday morning with the laid-back beat and the gently drifting vocals. In a way it’s like Grande is whispering to you, it feels like she’s in the room. R.E.M does also, of course, contain the highly suggestive lyrics that sent fans wild when the album finally dropped. Halfway into the song, Grande sings ‘You know how to treat it, you know how to eat it, you know how to beat it’, a line many believe to be written about her fiancé Pete Davidson. While some seemed shocked at the sexuality of the song I think it only goes to prove that Grande is moving onwards and upwards. Despite her Disney past and youthful appearance, she is 25 years old, and we can’t be shocked when she chooses to sing about sex. R.E.M is sweet as honey and paints a picture of an adoring relationship that seems all too good to be true.
- God is a woman
The third single to be released from this album, God is a woman seems to be the standout track on the album. Garnering worldwide notoriety for the arguably overly-sexual connotations, the song harkens to Grande’s upbringing as a Roman Catholic.
A philosophical argument hidden in a late-night club romp, the track is undeniably strong, with Grande showcasing her famous vocal runs layered over a gospel choir proudly proclaiming God is a Woman. This is another song that seems to be uncharacteristic of Grande’s persona, which usually leans more towards the family-friendly and age-appropriate for her young audience. However, this song proudly promotes lines such as ‘boy, if you confess, you might get blessed’ and ‘it lingers when we’re done, and you’ll believe God is a woman.’ Displaying her confidence and growth, this song is a certified bop.
The sixth song on the album – sweetner – is a flashback track, having been written almost two years ago when Grande first started preparing for the album. The harmonies in the opening are sweet, clear, and oh so recognisably Ariana with her powerful and drawn out notes. Quite quickly, we are then thrown into something that sounds like it could have been flirting around the edges of a rap before deciding not to go through with it, and it picks up the pace of the song nicely. Overall, I wouldn’t call the title track particularly overwhelming, but it is fun and presents us with the positive message of always trying to find the good in a bad situation.
successful is an ironic nod to Ariana’s upbringing. Having begun her career at the age of 15, Ariana has spent the past ten years working hard for all that she has. From starring in her own Nickelodeon show to breaking a U.S. Billboard record with no tears left to cry, this song reminds us of those times where you’re at a party drunkenly singing to yourself in the mirror.
- every time
In everytime Grande asks, ‘why does God keep bringing me back to you?’ as she laments on a past relationship. It is a timeless theme, and recognisable to most people as something that they too have experienced, and because of this everytime holds emotional weight. While the tune and Grande’s vocals sound relatively upbeat, lines like ‘you get high and call on the regular’ and ‘I get drunk, pretend that I’m over it’ highlight the sadness and pain of the old relationship that is probably best left in the past.
breathin serves as a form of therapy for Ariana. She openly struggles with anxiety issues, only made worse following the attacks last year. She stated that in the weeks following the attacks, she regularly struggled to keep breathing. The song layers this mental health discussion with an extremely danceable beat, a clever tactic used by Grande and Williams. The song also serves as an intimate connection to her fans who also struggle with anxiety, continuing to display Grande’s down-to-Earth nature.
- no tears left to cry
There’s nothing left to say about no tears left to cry that hasn’t already been said, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be skipping over it. In the wake of the Manchester Bombing last year, Grande was understandably heartbroken. Released in April of this year, no tears left to cry was the anthem she created in memory of those who died, and to uplift and give hope to everyone else. While the song begins on an initially sombre tone the pace quickly picks up and the themes of solidarity and hope in the face of tragedy raise their heads. Lyrics such as ‘comin’ out even when it’s raining down’ and ‘we’re too fly to partake in all this hate’ sum up the song’s general attitude, and the importance of the song for not just for those affected by the Manchester Bombing but also for Grande herself cannot be underestimated. The message of this song is clear – we will continue.
- borderline (feat. Missy Elliot)
borderline features Missy Elliot and serves as another ballad to fiancé Pete Davidson, wherein Ariana states that she’s the ‘wifey’ type, a nod to her short relationship to Davidson prior to the engagement. Lyrics such as ‘once you tastin’ my ice-cream, I bet you won’t ever leave’ are a pretty transparent nod to their relationship.
Davidson suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD), which seems to be the inspiration for the title of this song, and the titular lyric ‘meet me at the borderline.’ The song works as a nice dedication to Davidson, but personally, it seems as though both the song itself and Missy Elliot would’ve benefited from using Elliot’s talent on another song. That way, the song becomes a bit more personal between the couple, and Miss Elliot’s rap isn’t overshadowed by these loving comments.
- better off
better off hits a different tone to most of the other tracks on the album and tells a story that is less idyllic than her other love songs. In this slow-paced ballad, she sings about her experience of ending a toxic relationship and creates a softly moving, solemn yet tender tone. The gentleness of this is then shattered when she sings ‘put these topics to bed and go fuck on the roof’, her language seeming abrasive after her previous gentle musings. But it works, and it works well. better off is dripping with honesty, and after listening you feel a little more involved in Ariana Grande’s world.
- goodnight n go
goodnight n go is the cornerstone for Grande’s new style; the song features a bass-heavy reliance, nodding to her previous hits such as Dangerous Woman, as well as featuring this new layered harmony style she seems to be developing. The song also is a nod towards Grande’s idol, Imogen Heap, and her song entitled Goodnight and Go, with the chorus being a direct cover.
- pete davidson
The 14th track is simply and un-subtly titled pete davidson. Clearly written during the depths of the honeymoon phase, Grande pours her heart out to her fiancé in this short but sickly sweet, optimistic track. She declares in a final sweeping romantic statement that ‘my whole life got me ready for you’, and, if there was any doubt in my mind about the strength of her feelings towards him, there aren’t now.
- get well soon
The final bow from Grande is another dedication to the Manchester attacks. This laid-back piece is charmingly relaxing and intimate, and yet again shows off Grande’s powerful layered voice. This soulful song is punctuated with a silence, which turns the tracks runtime to 5:22 – a minute of silence for those killed in the attacks.
Overall, this is an incredibly strong album, yet not a perfect one. However, it certainly is the most personal from Ariana Grande and displays the strength and growth that she has displayed over the past year. It’s an emotionally stirring piece and deserves to be revered as a work of art.
Will Wilkins & Celia Moon.