It took a few years, but Ariana Grande has finally figured out her best place in music. And it comes after a year of high adversity. It’s her first album since 2017’s bombing at her show in Manchester, and not to mention her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller’s death (recently – post-release), a called-off engagement, the list seems to go on. Perhaps this adversity has allowed Grande to find her true self in her music.
Grande’s 2013 debut, Yours Truly, was nearly perfect and exceeded expectations with the only faults coming in at production. But her last two albums, 2014’s My Everything and 2016’s Dangerous Woman, were seemingly just okay. Both albums were watered-down musically and filled with trendy guests. Her bad-girl alter-ego was the most bothersome (see “Bang Bang”). In Sweetener, Grande feels more open, genuine, honest, and distinct. Think of it as Yours Truly part two.
Musically, Sweetener is exemplified. It’s such a solid pop record. Grande co-wrote more songs than usual (10 of 15) and most of them were collaborated with Pharrell Williams. Williams has a hand in vocals on the song “blazed” which follows the stunning acapella introduction, “raindrops (an angel cried)” which shows off Grande’s truest vocal points.
Grande is experimentive (“everytime,” “R.E.M,”), she’s definitively honest (“breathin,” “no tears left to cry”), she dabbles in EDM (“borderline”). Grande scales the entire spectrum of pop across Sweetener. Instead of relying on one-track juggernauts, this time around she’s created a more full-album vibe. The closing “get well soon” is an end-album tribute to her fans in Manchester. She confronts the mixed voices in her head, sings “girl what’s wrong witchu, come back down,” and encourages her fans to love and take care of one another. Her most distinct piece of work, Sweetener is certainly that album. The album shows that Grande is very confident at this point in her career. The maturity and exploration in 2018 is stunning, certainly, and just shows that Grande really has blossomed.