Album Review: Ariana Grande – Sweetener (track by track)

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Ariana Grande aims for imperial phase on Sweetener
Ariana Grande came back stronger than ever earlier this year when she dropped new music for the first time since the horrifying terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester, back in May 2017. From the moment she shared ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ with the world, it sounded like she was about to enter her imperial phase in the pop world. When follow up single ‘God Is A Woman’ (including its stunning video) dropped, there did not seem to be much doubt that Grande was cementing her status as one of the biggest stars on the planet. Today she finally released her fourth album Sweetener. Is she really entering her imperial phase or does the full body of work not live up to the promise of the singles? A Bit of Pop Music helps you make sense of it all with a track by track review.

01. Raindrops (An Angel Cried)
Ariana Grande kicks off her album with some proper vocal acrobatics on the angelic intro ‘Raindrops’, a cover of ‘An Angel Cried’ by The Four Seasons, which she has been teasing for a few months now. The tune sets the mood for the album perfectly and shows off her vocal range for the first of many times!

02. Blazed (feat. Pharrell Williams)
Ariana did work with Pharrell Williams on a handful of tracks on the record. Although not all of them fit in well with the overarching sound of the album, ‘Blazed’ is a laidback, breezy tune with a fine chorus that could easily become a single. It is not surprising in any way nor one of the highlights of the record, but uncomplicated fun for sure.

03. The Light Is Coming (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Grande released ‘The Light Is Coming’ as a promo track after the first single, just to confuse us on the direction the album was going in. The trippy production by Pharrell Williams is border on unlistenable with a male vocal sample being repeated over and over again, while the chorus itself does not serve any variation either. This sticks out like a sore thumb.

Read full ‘The Light Is Coming’ single review.

04. R.E.M.
With ‘R.E.M.’, Grande moves into sensual slow jam territory. She proved before that she can pull that off like no other and this track is no exception. It’s as sultry as it is romantic and her warm vocals shine. The production is done by Pharrell again and this time he proves that he can produce something serviceable too instead of distracting. This will not go down in history as one of the highlights of her discography, but it has its place on Sweetener.

05. God Is a Woman
The track ‘God Is a Woman’ in combination with its brilliant video for sure is one of the best pop moments of the year. With a team of Swedish hit writers including Max Martin and Ilya, she created a nothing less than brilliant chorus that explodes into a full ‘take me to church’ moment during the climax. The video made the world see that Grande is one of the best pop stars we have at the moment.

Read the full ‘God Is A Woman’ single and video review.

06. Sweetener
The title track sounds as sweet as the title would suggest. The lyrics are all about the ‘if life gives you lemons, make some lemonade’ mentality, as Ariana uses ‘sweetener’ as a metaphor to chase away the bitter in life. The track starts out as a ballad, but has a catchy hiphop inspired post chorus, of course produced by Williams again. The video game sound effects are cute, but we really could have done without him constantly sneezing in the background.

07. Successful
‘Successful’ is meant to be an inspiring track for other young girls to encourage them they can be successful too or already are in what they do. Lyrically however, it does never really takes off and gets stuck with almost childlike sentences as ‘girl you too are so young and beautiful and so successful yeah’. In terms of melody and production it does not go anywhere either. We could have easily done without this one!

08. Everytime
‘Everytime’ is a catchy little tune that brings me straight back to the R&B of the early noughties. The melody in the chorus is undeniable and easy to sing along to, while Ariana serves a broad range of ad libs. Lyrically it is all about wondering why you keep being drawn to a person that you actually try to stay away from. We have all been there! I could see radio eat this up if it were to be released as single at one point.

09. Breathin’
‘Breathin” was created with mostly the same team as first single ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ and this is hearable in the way it is produced. It has the same type of soaring chorus with subtle use of synths and an overall ethereal quality. It is for sure one of the most poppy and probably least experimental  efforts on this record, but it could potentially gain her another top 5 hit. Such a delicate, but at the same time powerful little tune.

10. No Tears Left To Cry
At the time of writing, ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ is unchallenged in the list of best pop choruses of 2018. This track is absolute genius from start to finish. It starts out with that all absorbing chorus and turns into a funky, danceable verse that slowly makes its way back into the heavenly melody. Her vocals are out of this world, without trying too hard at all. The last chorus serves the perfect amount of ad libs which only underline the strenghts of the hook. This should go down as one of the defining moments in Ariana’s career.

Read the full ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ single review here.

11. Borderline (feat. Missy Elliott)
Ariana Grande managed to get Missy Elliott to rap a verse on ‘Borderline’, a fresh, swinging pop and hiphop hybrid with hooks in all the right places. Here, Pharrell Williams proves that he can still create productions that elevate a tune to the next level. This track sounds like it was the most fun to create and to be fair it is one of the most entertaining tunes to listen to as well!

12. Better Off
‘Better Off’ is one of the slower track on the record that deals with the feeling of being better off without someone you are in some kind of romantic relationship with. Grande makes it very clear that she prefers to just have sexual encounters with him over actually being in an unsatisfying relationship: “If we’re being honest I’d rather your body than half of your heart.” In interviews she explained how the song is older and almost not made the record, but it is a pretty, little slow jam that more than earned its place.

13. Goodnight n Go
‘Goodnight n Go’ samples Imogen Heap’s track with the same name. Grande is known to be a fan of said singer and songwriter and she did her everything to make the track completely her own. The trap like production fits right in with the rest of the record and although she kept the melody of the original in place, Ariana’s version is a loose interpretation to say the least. This is how one covers; keeping the core of the original alive while fully incorporating it in ones own style!

14. Pete Davidson
This cute interlude is dedicated to her fiancee and shows us how Ariana grew personally while recording this record, finding true happiness in this moment with someone. In an interview she explained how she wanted to make this feeling eternal by putting it into music.

15. Get Well Soon
Ariana left an emotional track for last. On ‘Get Well Soon’ she touches upon the anxiety she experienced after the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester. While describing the dark times she went through, the track also seems to serve as support for the fans that lost close ones, experienced the attack or deal with any other trauma. It is a soulful, compelling closing number that will sure leave an impression. Also note how the song is followed by 40 seconds of silence to make the running time 5:22 (the attack happened on the 22nd of May).

To be completely honest, Sweetener is not the revolutionary pop record I low key expected it to be, but it sure is another step up for a pop star who has been steadily growing with every album release. Ariana Grande is on a steady road to become pop royalty with already two of the very best singles of the year to her name, but I think she will have even more to offer in the near future!

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