thank u, next: Grande Releases New Album amid Grammy Controversy



Alison Nieto Culture Editor

As if she hadn’t proven her status as one of the greatest pop divas of all time (second only to Mariah Carey, and that is hinging purely on the popularity of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”), songstress Ariana Grande has released her sixth studio album, titled “thank u, next” a mere six months after the release of “sweetener,” her fifth studio album. After months of media attention, Grande has turned the negative events in her life into tangible success, tackling  topics from her newly single life (after that very public and messy breakup with comedian Pete Davidson) to the death of her ex-boyfriend of two years, Pittsburgh-born rapper and singer Malcolm James McCormick, more publically known as Mac Miller. Miller tragically passed away last October after an accidental overdose. He was posthumously nominated for a Grammy award at the show’s 61st ceremony, to which his parents were invited. 

On the album (which I have listened to thoroughly, 15 different times in the five days its been out), there are obvious standouts, as well as songs that don’t necessarily make my “must play” playlist. 

The album starts with the single “imagine,” which  was released in mid-Decemeber and was the second available single on the album. The song is thought to be about the relationship between Miller and Grande, making references to Miller’s song “Cinderella,” with lyrics that mirror his. Miller also had the word “imagine” tattooed on his arm. Ultimately the song speaks about Grande’s denail of failed relationships. Grande tweeted that “imagine” is a darker version of “thank u, next” — the first single released for the album of the same name.  She writes in response to a tweet from a fan that “imagine” is “kind of like pretending it never ended denial.” The song also alludes back to the whistle tones in Grande’s 2013 single “The Way,” which featured the singer and Miller. For this reason, it is believed that “imagine” was written to commemorate and mourn the loss of Miller  and express denial at his tragic loss. 

The album follows up with “needy,” which I personally really love. “needy” is about the need for companionship that is universal in all people. We all want to be needed and we can all be needy. Grande has identified herself before as a hopeless romantic and “needy” may be a homage to her (and our) constant desire to be close to others. The vulnerable nature of the song provides the perfect outlet for these feelings. 

“NASA” has also proven to be a standout on the album, attracting attention from the independent agency of the United States Federal Government NASA as well as astronaut Buzz Aldrin on Twitter. “NASA” strays away from the desire for constant companionship expressed in the previous song. The standout line (and part of the repititious chrous expresses this desire in a creative anecdotal way: “Give you the whole world, I’ma need space.” 

Skipping ahead to the song everyone seems to be talking about, “ghostin” is an extremely emotional account of where Grande was after the death of Mac Miller and before the release of the single “thank u, next.” It was the first single written for the new album and speaks of the difficulty in maintaining her relationship with Davidson while going through the trauma from the Manchester attack in 2017 and the sudden loss of Miller. The song starts with Grande singing the line “I know you hear me when I cry,” which is in direct contradiction to her single “no tears left to cry,” which was released in May of last year. In a tweet, Grande said that “ghostin” is about “feeling badly for the person you’re with [because] you love somebody else.” Fans have speculated that this was written as an apology of sorts to Davidson for the way she acted when Miller passed away. In this song are perhaps most apparent the references to Miller’s “Cinderella.” Grande sings “He just comes to visit me when I’m dreaming every now and then,” which references his line “you’re in my dreams that’s why I sleep all the time.” 

Finally, skipping ahead to the final song, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” Grande lightens the mood a bit. This is the third official single released from the album and dropped with a music video. The overall theme of the song seems to be Ariana asking a boy (whom she’s never met, as is specified in the bridge) to break up with his girlfriend because she is interested. However, after careful analysis and contextual evidence, that may not be the underlying message of the song. Looking at “thank u, next as a wholistic album, the overarching theme seems to be one of comfort with being single. Likewise, in the titular song, Grande sings that “I know they say I move on too fast, but this one gon’ last. ‘Cause her name is Ari. And I’m so good with that.” This leads fans to believe that Ariana herself is asking for the demise of her own relationship so that she can start to focus on herself. When she won Billboard’s Woman of the Year award in 2018, Grande said that she “looks forward to hopefully learning to give some of the love and forgiveness I’ve given away so frivolously and easily to men in the past to myseslf, hopefully this year.” In the past few months, Grande has matured as an artist and capitalized off that self-growth. 

As if this past weekend wasn’t “successful” enough for the pop titan, Grande won her first Grammy award at the 61st Ceremony, of which she was not in attendance. On February 7, Grande took to Twitter to respond to claims from Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich that the reason Grande would not be performing was because she and her team were unable to pull something together in time. Grande responded that she was not only able to pull together a performance overnight, but that the reason she wasn’t performing was because her “creativity and self-expression [were] stiflied.” Variety reported that Grande had felt insulted when the awards show refused to let her perform her single “7 Rings,” and while they had eventually allowed her to perform the new single as part of a medley, they insisted on choosing her second song. 

Grande responded, saying that she offered 3 different songs, yet still didn’t feel the support from the show and for this reason, pulled out because “it’s about art and honesty, not politics, not doing favors or playing games.” Grande sparked a response from fellow artist Nicki Minaj, who claimed the same thing happened to her years earlier and she had been too afraid to speak out. The lack of performance from Grande drew similarities to how New Zealand singer Lorde was not offered a solo performance at last year’s ceremony. She was the only artist nominated for Album of the Year who did not perform. 

Regardless, Grande has cemented herself as an artist to be reckoned with. Producing an album is no easy feat — ask any of your local Soundcloud artists struggling to mix one track. Producing two albums within a year with vastly different vibes is a whole other feat. Using  music as a vessel for growth and exploration is nothing new — ask Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean and basically any other artist making music. Grande is no exception. “thank u, next” is a testament to her growth as a person and artist following the traumatic events of the last two years. As Grande’s rise to stardom  shows no sign of stopping, I feel the need to remind everyone that Grande isn’t a bad person or performer for writing about her experiences (despite the whole donut-licking incident from 2015) — you guys are just mean.