Thank U, Next - An Era Review
et us take a moment to watch Ariana Grande ascend and reclaim her title as pop star with her fifth studio album Thank U, Next. She received writing credits, had videos with bottomless budgets, and created an entire album reflecting on intimate and platonic relationships that have broken and rebuilt her. I thought this would be the perfect album to do an Era Review, the first in my new series where I will dive in and take a closer look at an artist’s career-defining moment.
2018 marked the Year of Women, which is why God is a Woman was such a momentous moment at the VMA’s. This time around, Ariana is less ladylike and more human with her audience. Grande released her fourth studio album Sweetener on August 17, 2018, the same day as Nicki Minaj’s Queen album. Queen flopped to the bottom of the charts and Ariana swiftly surpassed Nicki with her singles No Tears Left To Cry, God is a Woman and Breathin’. Sweetener served as a post-tragedy cure for fans and a new chapter for herself, as it was her first album since the Manchester bombing. Before drowning in crowds and spending time promoting an album, she exceeded expectations by releasing the title track from her next album to kick off this new era.
Break up with your marketing team, I'm Bored. Grande has lost interest in her sweet and vibrant marketing and wants her dark aesthetics back. This was a different marketing strategy for Grande and Republic Records. Republic Records is home to some of your favorite rising stars but Ariana Grande is their star child and we’re all thinking it! She gave birth to the lead single and title track Thank U, Next without warning and it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Ariana’s 11th top-ten entry and her highest-charting single to date. Most music artists don’t seem to take advantage of marketing, which is one crucial key to success. While Republic Records isn't known for showing favoritism, they are definitely partnering Ariana with their best marketers.
If you aren’t an Instagram or Twitter junkie you probably haven't seen her moody content from her panasonic VHS Camcorder, throwing splashes of pastel pinks everywhere. She may not receive more likes than the Egg or Kylie Jenner, but Ariana Grande has been focusing on sharing content that reveals family memories, the process of recording her album, and the fun she is having in life. Rather than promotion through magazines and interviews, she seems to be endorsing authenticity. We deserve every surprise that comes with this new wave of marketing.
Imagine a world in which you are an Ariana Grande song. Which song would you be? To tell you the truth I haven’t always been the biggest Grande fan. It wasn’t until she released Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored that I developed my fangirl syndrome. You may be wondering, why would I pick that song as a song that best describes me? Watch the video and think about it. You don’t know me if you disagree. Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored entered the Youtube realm at 12:02, just minutes after dropping her album at midnight. The video starts with cut and paste scenes that set the mood for the party and then breaks to the balcony where the malicious Grande reveals her refurbished high ponytail. The video continues to tell a story of a vigorous love triangle that goes left in all the right ways! Symbolically we learn about the sultry vocalist’s yearning to love herself and simply have fun. Although we visually see three different people, Grande wanted us to see that she meant business. This video was the perfect introduction to this album because of its powerful demeanor and robust storyline that turns one character into three. Since collaborating with director Dave Meyers on No Tears Left To Cry and God is a Woman, Grande has quickly established her dark, dynamic, very symbolic video concepts that have since been passed on to director Hannah Lux Davis. Ariana Grande has outdone herself by mixing and mashing her favorite movies in Thank U, Next and shocking us with her alluring 7 Rings video.
What you do understand is that everyone wears clothes. What you don't know is that Law Roach is the mastermind behind all of Ariana Grande's looks. There is certainly a time and a place for everything, and if you're wondering why Grande is consistently dressed in the latest fashion it’s because of Mr. Luxury Law himself. You may know him from the undeniable Zendaya but he has also struck another deal with Grande. I can say nothing more than that I aspire to be Law. Most stylists create ensembles for a particular occasion, but Law creates for whoever, whenever. He has such a captivating eye for detail, and he’s masterful at bringing out the personality in his clients. Ariana Grande has truly slayed this era with looks from video sets to the red carpet. Law, you did that!
Attending a Troye Sivan concert is like being at a party. Beyonce’s concerts are high quality performances. Lizzo’s concerts are like being in a church dedicated to twerk.
Ariana's concerts are more personal and intimate. Call me crazy, but as I watch her Coachella performance, seeing her cry, laugh, and enjoy herself, I felt like I was watching a little girl perform in her living room for her parents. I think it’s spectacular how much breath control she has, especially since she is a vocal powerhouse. Her setlist was thoughtfully compiled. Her choreography, crafted into perfection. Her visuals, dynamic and tasteful. Before I leave this earth I need to grace one of her live performances with my presence.
To any artist making music, this is a quality album. You may not like the style of music created for Thank U, Next, but we cannot skip past the undeniable lyrics written on this record. If you're a fan of Beyonce, you know she isn’t one to speak much about her projects. She will rather let it marinate with you and let you create your own meaning. I feel like Thank U, Next is Grande’s Lemonade, which is why she didn't share much about the meaning behind each song. This is an album about vulnerability, and you can especially hear this in songs like In My Head, Ghostin’ and Imagine. A common theme in each of these songs is the role she played in her relationships. This hasn’t been confirmed but after sitting with the lyrics you can see this was a painful time for her. No one deserves to be blamed for someone else's overdose, or experience mental health difficulties as she has. In Fake Smile she opens up about how this all affected her, bringing us behind the curtain to show us how it feels to be a celebrity. I applaud Ariana Grande for writing an album that portrays the difficulties of dating in 2019, let alone as a world-renowned artist. Thank U for letting us in.
Call me crazy, but Ariana Grande did occasionally miss the mark here. She wrote a killer album, published videos with limitless budgets, and performed on some of your favorite late night talk shows. However, I feel the flaws in the Thank U, Next era heavily fall on it being released just six months after Sweetener. Ariana dropped the ball when she titled the tour “Sweetener” and continued to market both albums together. Which album are we supposed to listen to? They have contrasting themes that appeal to different audiences and attempting to juxtapose the vastly different albums muddled the message.
The sequence as an album wasn't fully realized. Thank U, Next presents such a deep, emotional story but the track list does not tell a cohesive narrative. Think about it: we open with Imagine and close with Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored. Then we have Bad Idea followed by Fake Smile? The tracklist could've been planned in a direction that utilized filler songs to support a deeper message and help tell a more cohesive story. The lack of filler songs was a huge missed opportunity. Albums need songs that don’t necessarily belong, breaking up the storyline, ironically making a more complete experience. I don’t particularly like filler songs but this album needed them, and that’s that.
For a better song arrangement check out Simone Gabrielles (@Createdbysimone) playlist on Tidal or Spotify.
There isn’t much left to say, other than to wonder what’s next for Ariana. It’s crazy to think that in 2016 she was telling us she needed a man to feel like a Dangerous Woman and now she is dominating the charts with a whole new perspective on what she wants. Ariana can be needy but I am so happy that she has developed herself into the person she wants to be. Thank U, Next is my favorite version of Ariana and I hope she’s here to stay. Until next time, Thank U, NEXT.
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