Thank U, Next (stylized in all lowercase) is the fifth studio album by American singer Ariana Grande, released on February 8, 2019, by Republic Records. Following the release of her previous studio album Sweetener (2018), Grande found herself in the midst of personal matters, including the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and breaking up with fiancé Pete Davidson. Grande recorded the album in October 2018 in the matter of two weeks, enlisting writers and producers such as Tommy Brown, Max Martin, Ilya Salmanzadeh and Andrew "Pop" Wansel.
The title track was released as the album's lead single on November 3, 2018 and became a commercial success, peaking atop of the charts of 12 countries and becoming Grande's first number-one single on the US Billboard Hot 100. The track also broke a string of records, including the record for the most plays in a single day by a female artist on Spotify. Its second single, "7 Rings", was released on January 18, 2019 and also performed well internationally, peaking at number one in 15 countries and making Grande the third female artist to have two or more songs debuting atop of the Billboard Hot 100. "Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored" was released as the third single on the day of the album's release. In support of both Sweetener and Thank U, Next, Grande will embark on the Sweetener World Tour, beginning in March 2019.
In September 2018, Grande's ex-boyfriend, rapper Mac Miller, died from a drug overdose. The following month, Grande announced that she would take a break from music. That same month, however, Grande revealed that she had been in the studio working on new music, and she announced the Sweetener World Tour (2019). She stated that the tour would support both her fourth studio album, Sweetener (2018), and her upcoming fifth studio album. Later in October 2018, Grande broke off her engagement with comedian Pete Davidson. Without prior announcement, Grande released the title track of the album as the lead single on November 3, 2018.
"Thank U, Next" was released as the lead single from the album on November 3, 2018. She performed the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on November 7.
The second single, "7 Rings", was released on January 18, 2019. "Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored" was released as the third single on February 8, 2019.
A promotional single, "Imagine", was released on December 14, 2018. Grande performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on December 18, 2018.
User Album Review
One criticism levelled at Ariana Grande is that while her gymnastic, Mariah Carey-level vocal is impressive, it also acts like a gilded cage. On her first three albums, peppered as they were with gold-plated bangers, Grande acted more as an athlete, flexing her vocal muscles on songs precision-tooled by the likes of producer Max Martin for chart dominance, while revealing very little about the artist behind them. If Taylor Swift’s lyrics demanded to be decoded, Grande’s faded into the background, not helped by her notorious problems with enunciation.
All that changed on last year’s Sweetener, an album streaked with hard-worn positivity while haunted by a terrorist attack at Grande’s 2017 Manchester concert that killed 23 people. “Here is my bleeding heart, and here is a trap beat behind it,” is how she described it to Fader.
Sweetener’s album cover art – Grande, staring into the middle distance, flipped upside down – was an instantly meme-able representation of her mindset; attempted stoicism tinged with chaos. That battle also rules over follow-up Thank U, Next, the artwork to which is, as Grande put it on Twitter, “still upside-down, but this time she kinda fucks w it lol.” While its predecessor touched on a more universal suffering, Thank U, Next picks over personal tragedy following the death of Grande’s ex-boyfriend, rapper Mac Miller, and the subsequent dissolution of her relationship with fiance Pete Davidson. Both are name-checked on the album’s title track, a glorious, heartfelt flip of the typical break-up song that favours self-care over spite.
Miller also permeates album opener Imagine, a yearning ballad, steeped in denial, in which Grande details mundane relationship goals (“Stayin’ up all night, order me pad thai”) before crashing back down to earth; “Why can’t you imagine a world like that?” she sings with a heartbreaking thud. While Sweetener fantasised a utopia Grande hadn’t quite reached, much of Thank U, Next digs deeper into the aftermath. “I won’t say I’m feeling fine / after what I’ve been through I can’t lie” she sings on Fake Smile, a low-slung R&B throwback that hinges on a sample of Wendy Rene’s 1964 single After Laughter (Comes Tears) and covers press intrusion, social anxiety and the pressures of stan culture. The minimal Needy, meanwhile, unravels like a series of confessional, self-aware text messages, the sort that aren’t necessarily asking for a reply. “Sorry if I’m up and down a lot,” she sings sweetly, “sorry if I say sorry way too much.”
Watch the video for Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored
The album’s emotional centrepiece can be found on the double whammy of Ghostin and In My Head, with both songs, you’d imagine, making uneasy listening for Davidson. The former is a gorgeous, featherlight Max Martin production that seems to levitate on a pillow-soft blend of eerie backwards synths and big syrupy strings. Lyrically it details the pain that comes with staying in a relationship despite loving someone else, or even the memory of someone else. Just as she sings: “You’ve been so understanding, you’ve been so good” the melody flutters slightly, like eyelids blinking away tears. The darker, trap-infused In My Head, meanwhile, focuses on the swirl of lust and confusion created after you fall for the idea of someone, not the reality. “Yeah, look at you, boy, I invented you,” she sighs at one point.
The themes of self-confession and self-care run throughout the album but there are playful moments, too. The springy, joyous NASA, which harks back to her debut, 2013’s Yours Truly, takes the theme of planetary exploration and turns it into a plea for space (geddit?), while the dancehall-tinged Bloodline, which opens with a quote from her grandma, posits the idea that maybe it’s best to just see how things go relationship-wise and getting engaged after a few months isn’t essential. The closing Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored, meanwhile, marries a subterranean click beat and an ’N Sync sample with a cheeky lyric about, well, impatiently waiting to hook up with someone who isn’t single.
Arriving less than six months after Sweetener, Thank U, Next could have felt hurried, a dashed-off cash-in to secure Grande’s status as the world’s biggest pop star. Instead, the braggadocious, ice-cold low point 7 Rings aside, it feels more cohesive, the result of a burst of creativity and a prevailing mood as opposed to Sweetener’s crude split down the middle between Pharrell’s trademark sinewy sound and the more pop leanings of Max Martin and his team. While here the production is shared between the likes of Martin, Tommy Brown and Happy Perez, there’s a through line sonically – a kind of off-kilter, metallic eeriness – that ties it together.
Crucially, at the centre of it all, perhaps for the first time, is Grande. As with Rihanna’s Anti, this feels like the work of a pop star previously happy to act as conduit for other people, finally working out who they are and what they want to say. Here, Grande finds her voice.
External Album Reviews