It’s been two years since Ariana Grande last graced us with an album, leaving listeners wanting more after 2016’s “Dangerous Woman.” She certainly does not disappoint with “Sweetener,” a healthy mix of soulful, sexy and smitten songs.
It seemed as if nobody could escape the album’s first single, high-tempo bop “No Tears Left to Cry.” The catchy single debuted at No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and set a high expectation for the album.
In an interview with Apple Music, Grande said, “I’ve made the pop bangers for a while. I’ve done that, and I wanted to do something different, something that felt a little more like home, what feels like me as a person … (“Sweetener”) feels like my DNA.”
Through this album, we follow Grande’s heartbreaks and triumphs. Layered vocal arrangements, heavy beats and eloquent lyrics allow listeners to see the cohesive story inside her head, from emotional healing to her budding relationship.
Leading up to her album’s release, Grande dropped little tastes of “Sweetener,” including a short clip of the music video for “The Light is Coming” and screencaps of scenes from the video for “God Is a Woman.”
Instead of sticking to the usual setlist of three-minute arrangements, Grande spices up “Sweetener” by using a mix of both full-length songs and an anthology of short melodies.
On “Raindrops,” the first track of the album, listeners will find Grande’s best raw vocals in the form of a stripped, acapella cover of the Four Seasons’ “An Angel Cried.” The original 1964 hit was co-written by a close friend of Grande’s grandfather, making the track a somewhat spiritual homage to the rhythm and blues singer.
Grande told Beats 1’s Ebro Darden, “I felt like (my grandfather) was saying ‘hi’ to me. I was a mess, and I cried all day for two days.”
In addition to including this composed classic, Grande invited several music moguls to feature on “Sweetener,” including old friend Nicki Minaj and rap legend Missy Elliott. Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams also got his hands dirty on the album, collaborating with Grande on seven of the album’s 15 songs.
The album has its weaker points during repetitive tracks such as “Borderline” and “Blazed,” where it seems that a formulaic rhythm was created to fill time. However, these weak spots still hold a groove until stronger tracks reappear.
Grande especially shines on “Breathin” and the controversial “God Is a Woman.” The latter’s release led to many evangelical Christians boycotting the entire album, yet it is a slow-burning jam that deeply contrasts many of the other tracks.
“Sweetener” closes with a lyrical love poem named for Grande’s fiance, Pete Davidson, that is immediately followed by the album’s final track, “Get Well Soon.” A 40-second moment of silence at the end of the latter track is dedicated to the victims of the bombing at her Manchester concert a year ago. The added time leaves the song’s length at five minutes, 22 seconds, which is symbolic of the attack’s date, May 22, 2017.
On Twitter, Grande said, “I felt like I was floating for like three months last year and not in a nice way — like I was outside my body. It was very scary, and I couldn’t breathe well. So it’s about that. And lots of voices in my head singing. I hope it comforts people who hear it.”
For Grande, this packet of “Sweetener” has the potential to become not only her strongest work as an artist but also one of the strongest releases of 2018.