A few thoughts about Ariana Grande’s new album, Sweetener:
- The Good: Big, hyped up pop albums are notoriously hit and miss, and Sweetener is no exception. It does feature some fully fleshed out, innovative ideas from Grande, who has subtlety grown as a pop artist. Of course, there are some bangers on here, specifically “breathin” (my personal favorite – check out those vocal acrobatics and the balls to the wall production), “no tears left to cry,” and “blazed.”
- The Bad: The title track reminds me a lot of Taylor Swift’s “Ready For It?” – not because they sound similar musically, but because like that song, “Sweetener” has a great pre-chorus build up that gets absolutely ruined by the chorus (“get it get it get it/flip it flip it/mix it and mix it” etc). The kids on Instagram and music.ly will love it, but all it represents to me is a missed opportunity for something a lot better and substantial.
- The Ugly: There are definitely some tracks I could live without – namely, “successful,” where Grande basically brags about how (you guessed it) successful she is. I’ve never been a huge fan of posturing or bragging about success in any genre of music, and this is no exception. Yes, you’re young, famous, beautiful, rich, and arguably the biggest pop star in the world. We don’t need to hear more about it.
- Half-Baked: “the light is coming” bothers me. Nearly everything about this song feels off-kilter and clunky. The thing that bothers me the most is that the sample itself is weirdly too long. If the sample was just “you wouldn’t anybody speak” – and didn’t include the “and instead,” it would fit perfectly into the tempo of the song – but instead (ha!), we have a couple of words running into the next measure which ends up being distracting, at least to me. Add in a phoned in Nicki Minaj verse at the beginning where she ends up falling back on her go-to rhyming patterns, and you have a song which seems forced, despite it’s addictive chorus. Not a great song for a second single, and clearly just trying to take advantage of the Grande/Minaj pairing that has worked so well in the past.
- You again? Our favorite pop producer, Max Martin, has worked with Grande extensively in the past, especially on her most recent studio album, Dangerous Woman. Martin contributes to Sweetener, but it is a bit surprising to see that he only gets writing or production credits on four of the fifteen tracks, and one of those tracks is the intro song. There’s been some talk that Martin’s time may be running out as one of the key influences in the pop world due to tastes in pop music changing to more of a hip-hop/trap oriented vibe, but he did help write and produce the lead single “no tears left to cry,” so who knows if those rumors are actually true.
- It’s ‘Whitney,’ Bitch: In terms of vocal production, Grande’s vocals are spot on and impressive, as usual. Listening to some of her older albums like My Everything and comparing it directly to Sweetener shows how much she’s progressed as a vocalist. But, her voice can overwhelm some of the songs, and there are clear instances where it just feels like she’s over-singing. I feel like it’s bound to happen when you’re blessed with golden pipes, and especially when you listen to the whole album straight through. Luckily, it’s not a huge detriment, especially since the album itself is well balanced, and also (thankfully) relatively concise.
- Wheel of Fortune: Remember when Kendrick Lamar came out with DAMN. and it was interesting even as a release because all the song titles were YELLING AT YOU IN CAPS LOCK DEMANDING YOUR ATTENTION? Well, now everybody in the game is doing it in a blatant attempt to grab the attention of browsing listeners to create more streaming plays. Bucking this trend, Grande opted for all lowercase letters in her song titles, save for the ‘G’ in “God is a woman” and “R.E.M.”