What We Missed is WMSR’s review of summer releases.
Ariana Grande has definitely had a harder year than most. Yet somehow, she manages to keep her head up high, while also not being afraid to let her emotions show. Her fourth album Sweetener is an outstanding showcase of the ups and downs of life; filled to the brim with pop perfection.
The album opens with “raindrops (an angel cried),” an earth-shattering acapella cover of the Four Seasons’ song “An Angel Cried.” The album might as well come with a warning that any speaker you play this on will be destroyed by Grande’s powerhouse vocals. The album’s two singles, “no tears left to cry” and “God is a woman,” have dominated the charts over the past summer with their memorable hooks and social commentary. The former is an uplifting ode to conquering tragedy and the latter is already being considered a feminist anthem. (Also can we talk about the literal church choir at the end comprised of harmonies by Grande?)
Grande exudes a confidence throughout the album that we have never seen before. In “successful,” a jazzy hip-hop infused track, she celebrates all women’s’ success. In “sweetener,” she gushes over having someone there through the hard times.The production on this album is top-notch (kudos to Pharrell Williams), with every song sounding different but contributing to an overall futuristic sound. This album just vibes really well—you just want to jam out to every song.
However, the true standouts of the album come when Grande bares her emotional side. In “better off,” she details the experience of getting out of a toxic relationship and staying true to yourself or having to “keep it 1000.” No, not 100. 1000! In “breathin,” Grande tackles anxiety and talks about the importance of just pushing on through whatever troubles come about. Easily one of the best songs on the album, the song slowly builds on itself, adding something after every chorus. It finally reaches its climax as Grande takes an audible deep breath to belt out the rest of the song—proving that “breathin” deserves to be Grande’s first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. In “goodnight n go,” Grande anguishes over a person that she cannot have over an EDM beat.
The album closes with “get well soon” (my personal favorite on the album), where Grande lets us inside of her head as she’s having a panic attack. She asks herself questions like “Girl, what’s wrong with you?” and tells herself to “come back down.” This song is applicable to anyone who struggles with anxiety, as Grande wrote this while having a panic attack. Personally, I find it to be the song I relate to the most, especially the line where she states her “life is so controlled by the ‘what ifs,’” constantly scaring herself with the uncertainties of life. Even Grande has moments where she feels as if no one else understands her, blatantly asking aloud, “Is there anybody else whose mind does this?” The song is an auditory masterpiece, with an elevator bell serving as a catchy hook. Grande concludes the track with a 40 second moment of silence, bringing its runtime to 5:22, the date of the Manchester attacks.
Grande doesn’t necessarily shy away from having fun on the album. “borderline” sounds like it came straight out of 2008 (in the best way possible). However, it suffers from an awkwardly brief verse from Missy Elliott. “R.E.M” is the sneakiest of earworms with a futuristic doo-wop beat that has you just as bummed as Ariana when it’s ending. Tracks like “everytime” and “pete davidson” are really good filler tracks to the album’s overall sound.
The only time the album stumbles is with the tracks “blazed” and “the light is coming,” because they both suffer from repetition. Revisiting the album since the summer, I find myself skipping these songs just because compared to the high quality of the rest of the tracks, they’re not that great. Although Nicki Minaj does open “the light” with a verse that’s astonishingly better than most of what was on her album Queen.
Overall, Ariana Grande has proved with Sweetener that she is among the heavyweights in music right now and nothing can bring her down. What a goddess.
Key Songs: “breathin,” “get well soon,” “god is a woman,”