Ari­ana Grande’s new al­bum


The Gulf Today - Panorama - - FRONT PAGE - By Mikael Wood

You can imag­ine how Ari­ana Grande’s new al­bum might’ve turned out. The pop singer’s first record since the ter­ror­ist bomb­ing that killed 22 peo­ple last year as they left a con­cert of hers at Eng­land’s Manch­ester Arena, Sweetener would likely have sur­prised few if it had ar­rived as a heavy-hearted work of mourn­ful re­flec­tion.

As that ti­tle sug­gests, though, Grande has cre­ated some­thing dif­fer­ent: an al­bum about how hard it is to move be­yond tragedy — and how good it feels when that fi­nally hap­pens.

“Right now I’m in a state of mind / I wanna be in, like, all the time,” she sings in No Tears Left to Cry, an ebul­lient, 1990s-style dance-pop jam. “I’m pick­ing it up, pick­ing it up / Lov­ing, I’m liv­ing, so we turn­ing up.”

Do those lines sound glib on pa­per? They’re any­thing but when de­liv­ered by Grande, who at age 25 pos­sesses one of her gen­er­a­tion’s big­gest, most ex­pres­sive voices: an in­stru­ment ca­pa­ble of com­mu­ni­cat­ing all the emo­tional labour re­quired to reach a place of love and light.

An­other thing that’s easy to imag­ine: Jimmy Fal­lon’s relief that he’d booked Grande, and not one of her lighter-weight peers, for his late-night show af­ter news broke of Aretha Franklin’s death. Grande’s stir­ring ren­di­tion of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Nat­u­ral Woman was a stun­ner.

Sweetener is full of in­ward­look­ing re­as­sur­ance, as in the dance hall-in­flected The Light Is Com­ing — “To give back ev­ery­thing the dark­ness stole,” as Grande puts it —

and Get Well Soon, where she lay­ers her voice into a one-woman choir preach­ing a gospel of self-care.

Yet the al­bum is also clear about who helped Grande find her way out of the dark­ness, and that’s Pete David­son, the imp­ish Satur­day Night Live star to whom the singer is re­port­edly en­gaged.

Half the songs here — in­clud­ing one ti­tled Pete David­son — de­scribe the re­ju­ve­nat­ing power of fresh ro­mance. There’s the bouncy ti­tle track, about some­one who “bring(s) the bit­ter taste to a halt,” and there’s Grande’s lib­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion (fea­tur­ing some orig­i­nal lyrics) of Good­night n Go, an ode to a cute crush by the Bri­tish pop ec­cen­tric Imo­gen Heap.

R.E.M, with a pil­lowy elec­tro-doo-wop beat, sets a meet-cute with a guy in Grande’s dreams, while God Is a Woman prom­ises that’s what her lover will say af­ter they spend a night alone to­gether. “If you con­fess, you might get blessed,” she sings over hu­mid trap-style drums, “See if you de­serve what comes next.” God Is a Woman is hardly the singer’s first song about in­ti­macy; Grande, who came up as the star of a Nick­elodeon show, has been work­ing for years to shake off her kid­die-core past.

But Sweetener has a grav­i­tas that feels new — the re­sult of her life-al­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Manch­ester, no doubt, but also of the weird sounds and un­con­ven­tional song struc­tures she crafted with a team of pro­duc­ers led by Phar­rell Wil­liams and Max Martin.

The songs are shiny and catchy of course; they’re com­pet­ing for at­ten­tion in the pop mar­ket­place with stuff by Tay­lor Swift and

Post Malone and Shawn Men­des. (And Grande com­peted in real time when she per­formed on MTV’S Video Mu­sic Awards.)

Yet there’s an un­com­mon sense of self­pos­ses­sion to this al­bum — a kind of ec­static calm — that sets it apart from ev­ery­thing else on Top 40 ra­dio right now. It’s as though Grande feels that by stick­ing it out to make Sweetener, she’s al­ready won the game.

She may be right.

Grande has cre­ated some­thing dif­fer­ent: an al­bum about how hard it is to move be­yond tragedy and how good it feels when that fi­nally hap­pens.

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