“Tonight truly is a blessed night.” That was the ominous text I received from my friend on a rather boring Thursday evening. Were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie back together? Was The Office coming back for a 10th season with Steve Carell? Was President Donald Trump impeached? It was quickly followed with a second text: “In 15 minutes we will finally have access to ‘thank u, next.’”
That was better news than anything I could’ve ever hoped for.
“Thank u, next,” the fifth studio album from Ariana Grande, was released on Spotify Feb. 8. Less than six months after her previous, disappointingly mediocre-at-best album “Sweetener,” Grande cranked out a 12-track album, and every single song is a bop. I’m in a happy relationship and I still find myself blasting “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” in the car (If you’re reading this Josh, please don’t break up with me, it’s just a really good song).
But “thank u, next” is problematic. The problem doesn’t lie within the music, though, it’s with the artist herself. For reasons that are beyond me, Grande is arguably one of the most hated women in the country. Her hair is too long. Her voice is high and whiny. She’s a diva. She’s to blame for Mac Miller’s death. She got engaged and later broke up with Pete Davidson as a publicity stunt, and she led him to threaten to commit suicide. And now, she’s being condemned for creating an album that draws inspiration from her recent experiences.
Grande has been through more in the last two years than most of us have in our entire lives: a bombing at her Manchester Arena concert in May 2017 that left 22 people dead and 59 wounded, trying to support ex-boyfriend Mac Miller with his addiction – then dealing with his drug overdose and death in September 2018 – and a failed engagement to Pete Davidson. In a tearful December 2018 Billboard’s Women in Music event speech, Grande said, “This has been one of the best years of my career and the worst of my life.”
Here’s the thing. Everyone deals with trauma and healing in different ways, and Grande’s way of dealing with hers is valid. She has every right to produce a song like “thank u, next.” She’s acknowledging and appreciating her past relationships and moving on from them. Yes, “7 rings” – which includes lyrics like, “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems, must not have had enough money to solve ‘em” – flaunts her elitism. But everyone loves “Glamorous” by Fergie, “Started From the Bottom” by Drake and “Material Girl” by Madonna. So why can’t Grande sing about her poppin’ lip gloss and matching diamond rings that she bought for her friends?
Music listeners have every right to like an artist’s music and dislike the artist that creates it. I, too, find myself struggling with this concept as my beloved Kanye West continues with his Twitter tirades. But Grande and “thank u, next” deserve credit where credit is due: She’s an extraordinary singer and songwriter (skip to the last minute of “imagine,” the first song on the album, to hear her Mariah Carey-contending whistle tones and you’ll see what I mean).
Each song on “thank u, next” is phenomenal on its own, but together, they create an album of true musical, lyrical and artistic talent. Listeners can cry over lost lovers with the song “ghostin,” then reinforce their self-worth with “NASA.” “Thank u, next” is an extremely versatile and catchy album, and it’s a blessed time listening to it.