Somewhere amidst the Drake dominance and Post Malone prominence of pop’s last 18 male-dominated months, Ariana Grande — the Nickelodeon alum who’s able to leap three octaves in a single breath — became radio’s biggest female star. But thank u, next, Grande’s fifth album, doesn’t have the insufferable swagger that one might expect from a world-beater who’s fresh off two singles debuting at No. 1, and sat out the Grammys and hit No. 1 on the charts in the same weekend. Instead, it’s a lovely, intimate collection that embraces its essential paradox of being both a grand pop statement and a bedroom-pop wonder.
thank u, next embraces a vibe of few-holds-barred honesty, its emphasis on sonic softness recalling a spa day designed to heal and strengthen one’s sorest muscles and its guest-free roster reminding the listener of who, exactly, is in charge. The lyrics delight in specificity and the possibility of sending more devoted listeners on allusion scavenger hunts; “Imagine,” which opens the album, is elegiac and longing, its booming bassline snapping Grande’s reminiscing over late-night takeout and Instagram posts into sharply loving focus; “Fake Smile” details the red carpet’s dark side in a way that only the most-photographed stars out there can. Watery synths and trap snares abound, although a couple of string flourishes — a swooping break on the pillowy “Needy,” gently encroaching violins of the dreampop-adjacent “Ghostin” — and the brassy breaks on the sashaying kiss-off “Bloodline” add texture and tension.
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