Urban Contemporary, 2018
For all the baggage that comes with Ariana Grande’s antics, there’s no denying that the lady continues to make solid, tightly produced music. Sweetener continues to further her departure from the R&B grooves of her younger days to a more hip-hop, house, and funk sound via collaborations with Ilya, Pharrell Williams, and the ever-present Max Martin, plus a few others here and there.
She starts out reminding people that she was once compared to Mariah Carey in the “Hear me sing clearly to a minimalist for half-a-minute long backing track” raindrops (an angel cried), but after that the gloves are off and the studio magic comes in. Ms Grande can purr like a horny loli kitten in a minute before going into graceful melisma when she’s not belting and speaking-singing, sometimes all in a single track (God is a woman). While there are some tracks in which it’s hard to tell whether Ms Grande or studio shenanigan is the main star of the show, there are also more back-to-basics pop songs such as the title track, so all in all, there is a nice balance of songs to prevent Sweetener from feeling too much like an artificial concoction devised through knob-pushing and button-tweaking in the studio.
What makes this album so good on the ears is how unpredictable the party can be at times. no tears left to cry is a nice example of this: it starts out like a forlorn ballad before seamlessly seguing into an uptempo track about a nihilistic sort of determination to just keep partying even when everything is FUBAR. A song for a now ex-boyfriend is normally embarrassing, but the minute-long interlude pete davidson is a gorgeous hymn-like love song that slowly dissolves into a repetitive chant that feels a lot like blissful post-coital babbling. It’s a shame that this song will always be associated to her insane fans stalking and leaving death threats to poor Mr Davidson for the breakup of his and Ms Grande’s relationship, heh. God is a woman is my favorite track here – it’s simultaneously sexy and stormy, presenting a woman’s sexual awakening as a transformative experience that will have the world convinced that God is indeed female.
The only song that left me feeling cold is the collaboration with Nikki Minaj, the light is coming. It is on the boring side compared to the other tracks here, although Nikki Minaj manages to steal the show easily from Ms Grande. better off is a bit blah too, but the lyrics are pretty interesting at least – the part about “fucking on the roof” is quite amusing for some reason.
At any rate, Ariana Grande is making it very easy for me to publicly admit to being a fan of hers, despite me being neither a teenage girl nor a horny old coot. Just keep making good music, and the world of the Arianators remain one of happy horny kittens, lollypop rainbows, and music that nobody should be ashamed of loving.