It isn’t often that you can say that 40 seconds of complete and utter silence is the most stunning and emotion filled moment on an album. However, this is the case with Ariana Grande’s latest release, Sweetener. Her fourth full length release (and first since the tragic bombing that claimed the lives of 22 of her fans) and is a sumptuous and intoxicating affair that strikes a near-perfect home run, if it weren’t for the few stumbles along the way.
Sweetener is best described as a love letter. Whether it be to her fiancé, her fans or even herself, Grande’s latest record is nowhere near short on love. Tracks like the dreamy ‘R.E.M’, the catchy ‘Everytime’ and the unsubtle interlude ‘Pete Davidson’ declare her undying love. Second single ‘God is a Woman’ is a seductive and defiant pop song celebrating the sexual liberation of womankind, in particular Grande herself as she brazenly declares “when all is said and done/ you’ll believe God is a Woman”. The same celebration of self is explored on ‘successful’, which doesn’t exactly live up to its title. With messy production, mediocre at best lyricism and nothing overly special happening vocally, ‘successful’ would seem like the most basic filler-track if it wasn’t for its bold and offensively cocky concept. While ‘successful’ isn’t the only filler track, Sweetener does a good job and keeping its filler to a bare minimum, as well as keeping the cuts well spread out across the 15 strong track list, with only Blazed’ featuring Pharell and ‘Borderline’ featuring Missy Elliot falling through the cracks. Both tracks suffer from similar issues, with unnecessary features, weird production that sticks out on the otherwise immaculately cohesive unit and poorly constructed hooks that leave a lot to be desired considering the brilliance of the rest of the record. Luckily for Grande, she was smart enough to place them throughout the album. ‘Blazed’ is followed by arguably the most divisive pop song of the year so far, ‘The Light is Coming’. The fourth collaboration between Grande and Minaj is a quirky, sparse and experimental track that has a lot of issues (lyrics and length), but is saved by its undeniable hook that sticks in your head and Minaj’s unrelenting verse.
The album’s second half is home to more straight forward pop forward fare such as ‘breathin”, which is one of the stronger tracks lyrically on the album that would have been a great summer single, and the absolutely stunningly raw one-two punch that is the combination of ‘Better Off’ and ‘Goodnight n Go’, which both fabulously display how deep her love for her soon to be husband is. ‘Better Off’ explores the insecurities that she has in her relationships, while ‘Goodnight n Go’, lays her feelings bare as she coos about how undeniable their connection is. The latter track, which samples the Imogen Heap track of the same name, is truly a marvel, as Grande’s love is infectious as it seeps through every part – from the vocals to the production.
As for her fans, Grande structures the entire album around them. ‘Raindrops’ is a gut-wrenching and fleeting opener that is gone as fast as it came that provides short but beautiful ode to the fans who Grande lost a little over a year ago. Grande closes the album on ‘Get Well Soon’. The album’s longest track, Grande continues the album’s overall vibe and instead of wallowing, she leaves the record on an uplifting note. ‘Get Well Soon’ sees Grande relate to those suffering, and encouraging them to talk about their feelings, declaring that even at the top of the world there are ups and downs. The track ends with a final 40 seconds of pure, uninterrupted silence, bringing the closer to a final running time of 5:22, a subtle but beautiful final reminder of those whose lives were lost.
This final tribute perfectly encompasses Sweetener. The album is an exquisite reminder that life goes on and while you may be preoccupied with what’s going on those you have lost will always be there. Grande’s Sweetener captures her life right now – engulfed in love and relationship. Sweetener is telling us that Grande is moving on, but will act as a constant reminder that she will never forget.