Two years ago, Ariana Grande solidified her place as one of 21st century pop’s most revered queens with Dangerous Woman, an album that captured her unbelievable talent and confident, feisty spirit. She carries that relentlessness into her fourth LP, Sweetener, but with a different message — one that shows Grande is more than a note-belting diva.
Those who hailed Dangerous Woman for its irresistible hooks may meet Sweetenerwith mixed reviews. While the club-ready lead single “No Tears Left to Cry” was a proven hit, Sweetener sees Ariana spending more time on her hip-hop interests and soulful R&B background rather than pop hooks. But that’s not to say that Grande’s latest album is a dud: Aside from the somber (yet beautiful) a cappella opener, “Raindrops (An Angel Cried),” every track on Sweetener has its own dance-worthy beat, and lyrically, Ariana explores love and heartbreak in a freshly inspiring, vulnerable way. This combination makes Grande’s fourth album a special one, even if it isn’t the most radio-friendly one in her discography.
Below, take a look at why Sweetener is Ariana’s most uplifting album yet.
Grande is still as empowering as she’s always been on Sweetener, in a way that champions those who might not be as fierce as the Arianas of albums past. Grande addresses the anxiety she experienced as a result of the Manchester Arena bombing on May 22, 2017 in “Breathin” (“Feel my blood runnin/ Swear the sky’s falling/ I know that all this shit’s fabricated”) and album closer “Get Well Soon” (“I’m too much in my head, did you notice?”). But instead of going for ballads, Ariana channels these emotions through uplifting sounds, as “Breathin” is a pounding anthem and “Get Well Soon” has a piano-heavy “keep your head up” message.
Pharrell brought out a new side of Ariana.
Grande enlisted Pharrell Williams to produce and co-write nearly half of Sweetener, which is a big reason for its more R&B-leaning sound. This resulted in bouncy vibes Arianators haven’t really heard from the singer, particularly on the sassy “Successful” and “The Light Is Coming,” both of which have a very hyped-up N.E.R.D “Lemon” feel. Even so, she also kept producing powerhouse Max Martin on board to assist with the poppier tracks like “No Tears” and “God Is a Woman,” which helped Grande not lose sight of her pop sensibilities and allowed for more versatility than her previous albums have seen — in turn, helping the singer exude a confidence like never before.
Her collaborators are as fierce as she is.
In addition to the masterminds behind the boards, Grande featured some serious girl power on Sweetener. Along with bringing back the epic Ari-Nicki combo with the fiery Nicki Minaj collab “The Light is Coming,” Grande teamed up with the one and only Missy Elliott for the fast-paced banger “Borderline.” She also shouted out one of her biggest idols, Imogen Heap, in “Goodnight and Go,” a brilliant sample of the British artist’s song of the same name.
Even with anxiety, Ariana is feeling the love.
Grande went for a no-holds-barred approach with “Pete Davidson,” a track named after her fiancé of two months in which she deems the comedian her soulmate. There’s also a handful of other love songs that hint at their whirlwind romance: the funky Pharrell-assisted “Blazed” (“Thought that I was dreaming/ ‘Til my love came around”), the bass-heavy “R.E.M” (“Think I heard some wedding bells”) and the ‘90s-inspired “Sweetener” (“I’m hoping that everybody can experience what we have in ours”). Frankly, it’s hard not to want to experience what they have after listening to how happy she is.
There’s no relationship-inspired heartbreak in sight.
Though she had to go through a very public split to get to where she is, Grande hardly has any bit of breakup sadness on Sweetener. Rather, any concern about love on the album is presented through upbeat “bad-for-me” tracks “Better Off” and “Everytime” — both of which establish a confidence that nicely contrasts the anxiousness Grande reveals elsewhere.
It’s easy to feel that she loves this album.
Fans who love the more traditional Ariana Grande pop hits may not find exactly what they’re looking for on Sweetener, but at its core, the album is everything an Arianator should want from the pop star: great beats, honesty and, of course, dynamic vocals. Grande found a way to break through her struggles and highlight her triumphs, creating a collection of songs that makes you want to dance no matter how you’re feeling. Whether or not the album becomes a favorite among fans, Sweetener is clearly a victory for Grande herself.