Ariana Grande - Sweetener

“It’s about bringing light to a situation or to someone’s life, or somebody else who brings light to your life, or “sweetening” the situation.”

Three weeks since releasing her fourth studio album, Sweetener, Ariana Grande brings that exact light to fans’ lives just as she discussed with Jimmy Fallon in her first interview since the horrific, Manchester bombing during her show last year. Coming two years after her 2016 Dangerous Woman release, Sweetener spotlights a completely… different Grande. Taking time to heal and grow from that terrible bombing, Grande returns stronger than ever with a completely different mindset, sound, and appeal that many will notice even on the first listen. Already sweeping the nation and marking her third No. 1 album on the Billboard charts, Sweetener further solidifies her as one the best pop vocalists (and vocalists period), as well as one of the best artists out right now.

Consisting of 15 tracks, Sweetener exhibits a more… mature, developed side of Grande. The album features the talents of Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj, and the incredible Pharrell Williams. Instead of the bubbly, kid-friendly songs and anthems (which we still love and can still hear on this project), Grande’s projects a more “grown-up” dynamic. She’s more explicit, personal, and even raunchier than she’s been in previous years. The songs are more meaningful, motivational, and purpose-filled, yet they do a great job of keeping the listener entranced wanting more.

“Raindrops (an angel cried)”, the albums first song, showcases the beautiful vocals Grande has been providing since her days as Kat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious.” She bellows:

“When raindrops fell

Down from the sky,

The Day you left me,

An angel cried.”

Reaching every desired pitch, Grande sets the exact tone for the rest of the project. It’s musically one of the most beautiful moments on the album.. without a beat, or crazy lyrics. It simply shows the raw talent this young woman possesses and instantly became one of my favorites on the album. Partnering up with the legend himself, Pharrell, for most of the first half of the album, the energy immediately switches to an upbeat, electronic, funk appeal as we reach “blazed.” Both Grande and Pharrell come together, as they sing about their lovers having this appeal that they simply cannot get enough of. Grande’s voice is lower and very sensual as she sings, “Once I have you, I will never let you go.” She sings in disbelief that she has found the absolute love of her life and she’s so happy. She can’t believe that with millions of people in this world, she was able to find the perfect one for her. It’s a very catchy yet sincere song. Again, the beat possesses this funk zest that makes you want to do a little dance in your seat and just rock out with Pharrell and Ariana.

“the light is coming,” Sweetener’s third song and a lead single from the album, initially did not resonate with me as much but it literally grows on you! Pharrell uses his musical genius again to generate this dope, electronic beat, as Grande and long-time collaborator and friend, Nicki Minaj, team up yet again and deliver another pop anthem that listeners will find themselves playing years after this release. With high energy and charisma, Nicki delivers yet another memorable verse as she raps about the “F-boys,” and basically, dropping them and the deadweight that comes with them. Ariana delivers the theme of the record with her robotic chorus, “the light is coming to get back everything the darkness stole.” The song literally focuses on that chorus. It is about regaining that positivity and that light to get through the trials and tribulations. She sings about not caring about anyone’s opinions or views if they aren’t your own, and even throws what might be some shade at ex-boyfriend Mac Miller (RIP). The song is just so catchy. The production is so futuristic and does not overpower the song. It actually balances with both Minaj and Grande’s deliveries on the record.

The next personal favorite arrives with the mesmerizing, “R.E.M,” a song that was actually based on Beyoncé’s demo record, “Wake Up.” Pharrell really held nothing back with his production hat on the song because it literally just feels so good. Then, you add the soft-toned, R&B charm Ariana provides on the song, and now, you have generated a hit. The song is so hypnotic, you instantly get lost in the flow of the song. It’s as if you’re hovering on a cloud as Grande sings her heart about not wanting to wake up because of her lover, her fiance, Pete Davidson. R.E.M sleep, which can be defined as rapid eye movement sleep that takes place in intervals and can actually be characterized with rapid eye movements, heavy dreaming, and even body movement. Ariana is so enticed by her love, she wants to stay asleep forever and enjoy her dreams of him because he is so wonderful to her soul. In a sense, he… “sweetens” her core. My utmost favorite track on this entire album arrives with the hypnotic “God is a woman,” produced by Ilya Salmanzadeh, and the second single from the album. I can honestly say, this is one of the best songs Ari has ever created. From the song’s production and melody to Ariana’s larger-than-life vocals, the record is a HIT. She sings with such passion and strength that you feel chills go down your spine. The theme here is female sexual liberation. She basically says that sex with her is so powerful, you’ll basically feel as though you experience the wonders of God. She reinforces power, freedom, and sex throughout the song. Her lyrics are raw, her voice is smooth as silk, and her performance is effortless. She hits every tone, pitch, key… whatever it is; she nails it each and every time throughout the record. The song and the video are both very different for Grande and showcases her ARTISTRY. She paints such vivid imagery with her voice and creates a true revelation that women are and will forever be powerful beauties not to be taken for granted.

“Sweetener,” the title track, is one of the album’s purest treasures. Reinforcing the theme of something or someone coming into one’s life and basically bringing positivity and light into it, the song is a true testament to the message of positivity. Ariana bellows: “When life feels deals us cards / Makes everything taste like it is salt /Then you come through like the sweetener you are / To bring the bitter taste to a halt.” Pharrell again uses his craft to create yet another memorable moment on the project. Following the energy from “GIAW,” Ari gets a little raunchy, as she describes with great detail how her lover will please her. Ariana lets everyone know she is not a little girl anymore and that she is still a dangerous woman. The song is heartfelt and listeners will appreciate it. “Successful” is a charming catchy tune that just shows Ariana talking about loving the life she lives. She is thriving, she is young, and she is happy. She declares to others that they can be successful too! Of course, her melodies and harmonies are heavenly. Her voice makes one think of this endless stream of honey. It’s just so fresh, smooth, and beautiful.

Produced by Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh, “everytime” switches the mood and appeal, as Grande sings about being so infatuated with her lover that she simply cannot ditch them. She tries and every time she falls she can’t help herself. She even asks God why does he keep bringing her back him. It is a cut that everyone — regardless of race, gender, or age — will be able to relate to. Again, Ariana provides pure imagery in her lyricism. She delivers a soundtrack to listeners’ lives with just one record and that is worth discussing. Her passion is felt through every yell, ad-lib, and vocal technique she puts in the song.  Songs such as “breathing,” the album’s lead single, “goodnight n go,” “no tears left to cry,” and the Missy Misdemeanor-assisted “borderline”, give the fans that classic pop energy that Ariana stans and listeners heavily desire. However, they still manage to still unveil different layers to the 25-year-old that we have not seen before. The vibes from each song are so diverse and the fans who play this album over and over will appreciate that.

“Better off” poses to be one of Grande’s most open, vulnerable moments on the album. The song is said to be about her ex, Mac Miller, as she reflects on their past relationship. She is brutally honest with lines such as, “steering clear of any headaches to start / And if we’re being honest / I’d rather your body then half of your heart.” She makes it clear that the relationship was merely physical and that she’d prefer it that way instead of an emotional-filled relationship. She goes on to say that she is ultimately better off without him. Her voice is deeper than what we usually associate with her, yet still so delicate and gentle. This peels the layers of Ari back even further and truly gives her audience a glimpse into who she is. She holds nothing back and really speaks what’s on both her mind and her heart.

On the contrary, “pete davidson,” completely flips the switch and brings us back to a gleeful Ariana — so happy that she says the word “happy” over 20 times. Only a little over a minute, the song is dedicated to her fiancé. Ariana peacefully sings about thinking about her relationship with him into fruition, life preparing her for this moment, and the joy that he brings her. It’s one of those super mushy moments, but it is so catchy, so sentimental, and warm that you can not help but love it. This is Ari saying, “Look, I’m really in love with this guy and I’m not afraid to show it to the world. I want to be with him forever.”

The album’s last song, “get well soon,” is honestly the best way to end this body of art. The song is completely motivational and open. Ariana speaks about the growing anxiety she gained from last year’s, Manchester bombing and the darkness that tried to engulf her. In a tweet to a fan, she revealed that the song was indeed about her anxiety and that she legitimately felt like she was floating outside of her body. The rest of the song is an empowering message to take care of your body, take care of your mental state, and rise above each and every trial and tribulation that tries to form. She lets her heart write the lyrics, as she sings about the worry of life’s “what-if’s” that tried to fill her mind. It’s as if she penned a letter to herself from herself. She is talking to herself, trying to regain her strength and reclaim the light she once held. She had to deal with the demons, talk about them, and literally work her way to the top. It is truly one of the most relatable records on this entire album. Life is quick to toss us down, beat us up, and count us out, but we have to know there is light on the end of the tunnel and keep the faith. She even empowers her fans on the record, letting them know she’ll always be there for them. She yells to them to “unfollow fear,” block it and never revisit it. It may be the best song on the entire project.

This project is truly one of Ariana’s best works yet. This was my first time really thoroughly playing an album of hers completely through, from beginning to end and I just could not get enough of it. She put her pain, sweat, and tears into every lyric, every vocal note, every chant, ad-lib, you name it. She did a phenomenal job. Even some of the songs that are not necessarily favorites are still good. Sweetener showed me that Ariana is truly in a category all on her own. She created a true body of work. Literally, from the very first song to the final song, the album is a pure gem. What I love most about this album is the growth. Ariana could have made an album filled with pop anthems and sensations that easily placed her on the top of the charts, but she chose to reveal and share the truth she’s experienced since her last album (and still claimed the charts with pure ease) and as a listener and lover of (great) music, I’m so very thankful for it. The music is timeless, her voice is unlike anything else out right now, and at such a young age of 25, Ariana Grande has accomplished so much. Sweetener takes everything that is meant for evil and darkness and turns into pure beauty. It truly sets her apart and further progresses her legacy.

Congratulations on such a dope project, Ari!