Review: thank u, next by Ariana Grande

thank u, next by Ariana GrandeHere I am again, confronted by the premise that I’m really just not cut out for reviewing pop records. You see, I don’t like Ariana Grande’s thank u, next. I tried, though. I tried to understand what it’s for, considering it’s released just five months after Sweetener. The two albums are intrinsically connected, not least through the continuity of narrative: the former sees a respite, apparently temporary; the latter, an outright rebirth, embracing themes of self-care and independence without being an asshole about it, as other similarly-themed albums with their “fuck you” demeanor tend to be. thank u, next definitely has its highlights: the fluttering title track, the affecting “Imagine”, the playful “NASA”. But then, perhaps it really is just me. I’ve said a few posts ago that my musical preferences are arguably too white, and so I’m not predisposed to the sounds coming from the urban sphere. To me it all sounds generic, and the middle bit of the album, as much as it has something significant to say, feels all too generic to me, trying too hard, perhaps. More credible critics seem to like it, though, but then the focus is on the narrative. That, and they’re more predisposed to understand these trends more than I do. I wanted so hard to like thank u, next, but I was irritated by the time the surprisingly throwaway “7 Rings” came on. But does it matter? This album, as much as we want it to be for us, is really for Ariana. [NB]3/5

Review: Sweetener by Ariana Grande

Sweetener by Ariana GrandeIt’s been full of ups and downs for Ariana Grande the past couple of years. The triumphant release of Dangerous Woman – solidifying her as a new pop diva, for better or worse – was followed by the Manchester Arena bombing which happened after her concert, compelling her to carry the burden of showing that everything will be all right in the long run on her shoulders. Recently her whirlwind relationship with comedian Pete Davidson left some happy notes. All that informs Sweetener, a record that could have been just another pop record, if not for Ariana finding her voice throughout the tracks, and latching on to it with gusto. Some songs feel like stuff you’ve heard before, but the highlights are triumphant, assured and even cathartic – all without being too heavy. The one-two punch of “R.E.M.” and “God is a Woman” make for strong statements, while lead single “No Tears Left To Cry” still remains one of the best pop songs of the year. Sure, the tricks get reused elsewhere, and it can feel derivative at points – Pharrell Williams can be lazy, but boy, when he’s inspired, he pushes the boundaries far. The duds should not bring this down, though. Sweetener further solidifies Ariana’s place in the pop fabric, but this time, it’s on her own terms. [NB]4/5

Review: Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

Dangerous Woman by Ariana GrandeAriana Grande seems more comfortable on her third album, Dangerous Woman. Sure, for a while it seemed she can pull her songs off relatively effortlessly, what with that voice of hers that defies her age, but with this record she seemed to really know what she’s doing – what she wants to say, how she intends to say it, the works. With a solid statement running throughout – the whole “I am my own woman” thing her contemporaries have long latched on – plus an easy skip through genres, with a keen ear on hooks, of course, Dangerous Woman is mostly consistent and quite efficient. Sure, it’s a pop record, meaning it wouldn’t necessarily hold my attention (it’s a personal thing, this) but there some particularly inspired turns: “Greedy”, for instance, is a soul anthem that you’d be surprised to hear from Ariana. But then again, she has that voice. [NB]4/5