After listening to Ariana Grande‘s thank u, next, which has already been dubbed a masterpiece by many mainstream critics, I feel like she just hit modern-day Mariah Carey status. This album is nothing but top-shelf tunes bolstered by the unshakeable tentpole of her authenticity, which shines through virtually everything she does despite the highly polished Ariana Grande package. I predict in 20 years she’ll still be relevant and documentaries will still be made about her legacy, which I wanted to examine today as it’s developing in real time and to honor of her outstanding new record.
There’s no denying that her brief career has been marked by moments of unforeseeable devastation. Between the tragic death of her ex of Mac Miller in September of last year and the bombing at her Manchester show in May 2017 that killed 22 people including some children, she’s had more than her fair share of trauma — and that’s just in the last year and a half. Beyond that, she’s been the target of unfathomable hate online following Mac’s overdose, and through all this, there’s no sign she’s slowed down or compromised herself in any way. In my opinion, she’s handled herself with an unprecedented degree of gratitude, simplicity, and elegance that have been reflected both in her musical output and social media presence, without ever putting a hard stop on having fun.
Even “Ghostin,” the most widely talked about song on thank u, next where she mourns Mac Miller and apologizes to ex-fiance Pete Davidson, is an uplifting song even if it’s seated in the worst kind of heartbreak. She replied to a fan on Twitter who asked point-blank about the song’s meaning, saying it’s about “feeling badly for the person you’re with bc you love somebody else. feeling badly bc he can tell he can’t compare…. and how i should be ghosting him.” That’s the degree of both accessibility and vulnerability I’ve watched her consistently demonstrate in recent years. Unlike when Mariah Carey was on the rise in the age of tabloids and TV in the early ’90s, Ariana carries the added burden of being a superstar in the real-time, rapid-iteration world of the internet where it’s virtually impossible to catch a break from public scrutiny. She’s also been in the spotlight through the rise of social media since her starring in Nickelodeon’s Victorious nearly a decade ago.
Even when she has a blip of a scandal, from her botched Japanese tattoo to her refusal to perform at the 2019 Grammy Awards (which she clapped back at the show’s producer about on Twitter this week), it still feels somewhat light-hearted. “It was when my creativity & self expression was stifled by you, that i decided not to attend,” she clarified curtly. Ariana has never been one to let anyone push her around, especially men in positions of power. We first fell for her when she gave the hosts at Power 106 the business during an on-air interview after they asked her some incredibly infantilizing and low-key sexist questions. She didn’t roast the guys hosting the show and she didn’t dwell on the matter, but she did very directly and articulately make it clear that she wasn’t going to entertain any ignorant or disrespectful lines of inquiry: thank u, next, indeed.
This new record is her fifth studio album, if you can believe that, and from the opening track “imagine,” I’m hooked on that subtle yet infectious beat, brought to life by her relentless soulful vocals and positively insane range — I swear Ariana could break glass with the notes she hits sometimes. Other favorites off this album include “NASA,” a bubbly R&B crooner with a bouncy melody, and “make up,” which has a warped, liquid quality to the production that envelops a smooth hip-hop groove. Even her polarizing single “7 rings” is excessively endearing to me, as is the throwback Gwen Stefani-tastic album closer “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” Her brand and personal aesthetic may be dripping in privilege, but her own self-awareness cracks through that facade and makes for some damn memorable music and high-impact cultural moments. To me, at least, her Mean Girls-inspired “thank u, next” video with its barrage of high-profile cameos and iconic, goddess-tastic “God is a woman” performance on the VMAs were as unforgettable as the aftermath of the Manchester bombing or Mac’s death.
Even if you’re not an Ariana fan, if you have a soft spot for modern pop, ’90s R&B, or just for artists who really know who they are, you’re likely to find something you love about thank u, next. I personally believe she deserves a lot of credit for being so simultaneously authentic and unflappable in the face of unimaginable devastation, as well as being so voracious about turning her the peaks and valleys of her life experience into songs. Listen below.