Written by Carmen Mueller
Ariana Grande has made the pop album of the year with her release of her fourth full-length album “Sweetener”. I know this project has been quite a polarizing topic, but for me, pop music can get really stale really quickly. Within the past five years or so, much of the pop music that has been released has felt like something I have heard countless times before. A lot of mainstream pop has suffered due to the overuse of super electronic beats with generic lyrics and underwhelming vocal performances. And while this is not a perfect album, I think Ariana Grande makes really good music, because she’s not afraid to take risks and play to her strengths.
Her strength is mainly her incredibly strong and smooth voice. The opening track “raindrops (an angel cried)” is fully a cappella where she just pours her heart out. And after the year she had following the Manchester bombing on May 22th, 2017, which occurred right outside of her concert, it makes sense that a song like this is on the album. It’s haunting, beautiful, and a perfect display of her skills.
“blazed (feat. Pharrell Williams)” reunites the two artists since they last worked on the song “Focus”, and I think this is the best collab on the album. Hhe adds a really fun element to the already chill song; he doesn’t feel out of place. The production on this song is solid and while it doesn’t showcase Grande’s range like some songs have in the past, the laid back approach works for her smooth voice.
A song that is not my favorite on this album is “the light is coming (feat. Nicki Minaj)”. The reason why this song doesn’t work for me is because I don’t think Minaj’s portion really flows with the rest of the song, it sort of sounds like she was placed in randomly. I find the production is definitely more experimental than some of her past songs and it’s really cool, but I’m not a fan of the structure of the song. I think it’s an alright song, but I definitely prefer Grande and Minaj’s “Side by Side” collab from Dangerous Woman.
“R.E.M.” sort of solidifies the whole album’s direction; it’s far more relaxed than past projects, has that 90’s R&B vibe, and sensual lyrics. This song marks the presence of Pete Davidson and Grande’s relationship and it makes me happy to see that she’s so happy. It’s a sweet, soft, sexy song and it’s just a lot of fun.
The third single off the album “God is a woman” left a lot of people angry. Some believed that the song was pretty blasphemous for claiming God to be a woman; but to be honest, if you look at the lyrics, the song is not that at all. This song is literally about being so good in bed that you could be seen as godlike; to me it’s a theme that has been in music before, so I think Grande getting so much flack for it is pretty undeserved. As far as the song goes, this one really shows off Grande’s voice; her whistle tones and belted bridges are back and it’s such a powerful song that is great to play over and over again
The title track “sweetener” is just that: a really cute song about finding someone who makes a flavorless world really sweet. It has more hip hop influences, especially with the hyped vocals that seem to trail at the end of every line which is in a lot of modern rap. It’s a little out of place, but overall, I think it’s a pretty solid track. The production is cool, the beat is unique, and Grande’s voice is beautiful.
“successful” is one of the most surprising songs I’ve heard in a while. It has a strong 90’s pop vibe and plays a lot with the production but I think it’s so interesting because it makes a statement. It’s intricate and is all about female empowerment, which is cool to hear spoken about so bluntly.
A song that I think a lot of the OG fans will like is “everytime” as it has a strong resemblance to her song “One Last Time”. Grande sings about not being able to get over the pull of an old love. Somehow, she is able to implement more hip hop flair in her music while pairing it with her very sweet tone and guitars!
The next song is probably my favorite. “breathin” is a song that needs to be played on the radio, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be genuinely upset. It’s such a fun, upbeat track that is easy to sing along to and dance to. It is still a softer approach from her than her past work, but it fits well with mainstream radio-esque songs while still makes sense within the album.
“no tears left to cry” was the first single to be released, and I think it holds up wonderfully within the album. It showcases Grande’s voice perfectly while presenting a genre bending song. I really love this song.
I’m so conflicted on this song. While I love the production of “borderline (feat. Missy Elliott)” and appreciate the twists she has in the rhythm of the song, I don’t really love the lyrics and it takes me out of the album a bit. She sings wonderfully and Missy Elliott is a great person for her to collab with, it’s just not my favorite off of this album.
“better off” gives us another look into Grande’s love life. She sings about a failed love, which I can only imagine is about her last relationship with rapper Mac Miller. It’s not a bitter song, it’s a statement saying “we just don’t work, and we’re better off without the other”. It’s a slower song with great production and of course Grande sounds perfect.
“goodnight n go” is also one of my favorites on sweetener. This is the song you listen to while pretending you’re in a music video. I’ve said before, I love songs like this that tell a story. Grande sings about missing trains, sitting on rooftops, laughing so much. It’s just a really cute song that sounds perfect in this more relaxed style.
This track is just adorable. “pete davidson” is literally just Grande talking about how happy she is to be with her now fiancé, Pete Davidson. There’s no complaints to be had; it’s a declaration of love and Grande’s voice is filled with so much adoration that I listen to this and just feel happy for her.
Closing out the album is the track “get well soon” which is a tribute to those who lost their lives from the Manchester bombing. Grande sings about being distant and disconnected which makes sense after such a traumatic tragedy. She stresses having to take care of yourself, connecting to loved ones, while being able to have a dialogue about what has happened and not denying it. It’s a political statement while still being incredibly personal, backed with great horns, piano, and Grande’s powerful voice. The song ends with 40 seconds of silence. If you’re wondering why, it’s so that the song goes on for 5 minutes and 22 seconds which pays tribute to the date of the attack, May 22nd.
“sweetener” is definitely a surprising album for me considering where Grande started her music career. She went from performing on Broadway, to singing on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, to her doo-woop old school pop, to this album project. For some, the change of style may be hard to get used to, but I liked the direction she’s going because I didn’t know what to expect! It’s something new from modern pop and that’s why I think I love this project.