Falling For Ariana Grande

Over the last few weeks, I think the biggest shift or development in my music tastes has been falling in love with Ariana Grande. I might be the last human on earth arriving to this party, but I'm here now. That's what counts. So I guess I'm writing this to document this turning point in my musical preferences and maybe, if you are like old me, you'll give her a second look.
I'm not sure where my original rift with Ariana started. I guess I was just never really in her lane. I was a Disney kid not a Nickelodeon kid (though I did watch all of iCarly in a few weeks in fifth grade)  and I just have never gravitated to Ariana's R&B-pop type style. I guess she also has musical theatre influenced ballads. Now, though, I feel like she's better situated in a more unique brand of her own kind of pop. I've never turned the radio on her music, but I've also never actually gone and looked for more than what Top 40 wanted to give me.
Funnily enough, my gateway into the world of Arianna was through none other than a former member of a ban I also formerly had no interest in, Harry Styles. When I first got into Harry's fandom, I was introduced to "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart", which I maintain is the most heartbreaking songs about love out there. Harry had written the song for Ariana on one of her earlier albums. It was also through the fandom that I started paying more attention to her. A lot of people on Twitter who rep their fandoms are a part of multiple fandoms. There are accounts that stan all the solo 1D boys, accounts that stan both Taylor Swift and Harry, and there are also a ton that are Harry and Arianna accounts. That meant I wound up seeing a lot of videos from the tail end of her Sweetener tour and her k, bye for now live album release. After enjoying "Thank U, Next" and particularly, "7 Rings", I used k, bye for now as my introduction to her newer stuff, and I fell down the rabbit hole even further (If you want to hear me tentatively diving into the world of Ariana Grande, you can listen to that Empathy Factor episode here). "in my head" immediately grabbed me. Her lyrics blew me a way. On past albums, a lot of her singles haven't been super deep in lyrical content, which is what sells me on songs. This song felt like a whole new side to Ariana. A side I identified with deeply. And, honestly, that might have been part of the problem. While an artist like Taylor lends herself to accessibility to people of all ages, Ariana jumped for a sense of maturity right off the bat that I think sailed over my head when she first got popular.
I also just think that the Thank U, Next era and album is my era with Ariana. I feel a shock of affection for this album that is reminiscent of the Rep era. Original nerves melt into pure love for a body of work. And here is the place where I will wax poetic about tons of songs off of Thank U, Next for the next however many words it takes before discussing a select other few songs that I've thrown on my playlist.
These songs will be discussed in completely random order since I have no ability at the moment to rank them. They're all perfect in their own ways.
I'm starting with "needy" which might be my least favorite from a production standpoint because of the weird sonar bell thing in the background the whole time that sorta sounds like you left your car door open, but I love the lyrics and the concept. Throughout the song, she talks about enjoying getting to be needy and having someone in her life she can unabashedly love. Also, throughout the song, she's talking about her flaws and stumbling points but also celebrating and accepting them which I find really cool. Some of my favorite lines include, "Sorry if I'm up and down a lot/Sorry that I think I'm not enough/And sorry if I say sorry way too much." I also love, "I'ma scream and shout for what I love/Passionate, but I don't give no fucks/I admit that I"m a lil' messed up/But I can hide it when I'm all dressed up."
Next up is the album opener "imagine" which sets the tone of the album perfectly. Nothing is better than when an album can completely nail the opener and closer. In the song, she tells the story of a perfect, anonymous night with her boyfriend that includes pad thai, no make up, and bubbly. She's relishing the idea of something most of us would find boringly normal- take out and a bath. The chorus is also quite telling of the prospective this album comes from. "This is a pleasure/Feels like we never/Act this regular." I feel like super famous musicians do their best work when they finally acknowledge their world is not the normal one and embrace talking about the changes and challenges that come with that. Sure, it's not directly relatable, but the emotions often still hit hard at things we can all relate to more-so than if they try to still feel like normal people. The whole song just has the vibes of a dream sequence with the weight of the world lurking in the corners. It is also (like most of her music) amazing to dance to.
Then, to take it down a notch, is "ghostin" which seems to be seen in the fandom as Ariana's most personal song. It's devastating and quite honest. It certainly endeared me to her more. Her floating, incredibly versatile voice plays well with the tragic ballad that tries to quell the drama of the sadness. This song is so brilliant in its specificity and her storytelling is spectacular here. She talks about how she's with someone who is supportive and wonderful, but it can't fill the hole of grief she's experiencing. She knows it's not fair to him, but she can't just forget her feelings. The end of the first verse is so poetically beautiful. "Look at the cards that we've been dealt/If you were anybody else/Probably wouldn't last a day/Every tear's a rain parade from hell." "A rain parade from hell" is a line that's managed to haunt me for well over the last week. Throughout the chorus and pre-chorus, she feels bad that he has to hide how much her pain hurts him, and she's trying to stay strong. But verse 2 is another deeply confessional turn that clues the listener into how emptily hopeful the chorus is. "Though I wish he were here instead/Don't want that living in your head/He just comes to visit me/When I'm dreaming every now and then." As the song closes, there's such a complex, emotion bending mix of loss and shreds of hope. "We'll get through this, we'll get past this, I'm a girl with/A whole lot of baggage/But I love you, we'll get past this/I'm a girl with a whole lot of baggage." There are plenty of songs where famous mega artists expose their human flaws and admit they're not perfect, but I genuinely don't think I've heard a song so blatantly honest and open to sharing every unveiled, painful shard on a record.
"make up", which is the song that comes right before "ghostin", is a much more upbeat song and sounds a lot more like what I was expecting to find on an Ariana album. It's a sexy dance song that's both campy and down to earth as well as simply a lot of fun. It's less hyped up and stylized than a lot of her singles but much in the same vein. The whole song talks about a passionate make up with a play on words and extended make-up metaphor with lines like, "Promise me that when you kiss my lips, you'll make it stick/That's the way to shut me up after an argument/No eyeliner on, but looking at you is the fix/Highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit." It's super playful and fun but has tons of layers of wit and creativity to layer on.
As a quick shout out to a song in a similar vein, "bloodline" talks about wanting a casual hook up in a super creative, innovative way that I have to give a nod to. For as many songs about sex that Ariana has, they're never gross, flashy, or over the top. I love her metaphors, and they're all over this chorus. "Don't want you in my bloodline, yeah/Just wanna have a good time, yeah/And no and to apologize, no/But you gon' have to let this shit go". This is another of my favorites to dance to because it just has such an expert beat. Even in this fun filled song, she manages to sneak in lingering feelings of doubt and darker feelings like the end of verse 2, "I ain't lookin' for my one true love/Yeah, that ship sailed away."
To wrap up the non-single songs on the album is my favorite one. "in my head" has all my love because it mad me cry. It's not a super sad song, but it stabbed me right in a delicate place in my heart from my personal life. I've related to a lot of songs, but this one is so specific, and I'd never imagined someone could've made the same mistakes I did. The whole song is basically about how she made up this person and put that on the person she was dating and now she realizes that they're not what she thought. It starts with a voicemail which I love. When songs incorporate talking or quotes or interesting samples, I feel like it builds in more layers to the song and more attention grabbing. Her friend Doug Middlebrook says, "Here's the thing: you're in love with a version of a person that you've created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix. The only person you can fix is yourself. I love you, this has gone on way to log. Enough is enough. I'm two blocks away, I'm coming over." And I feel like everyone needs a friend who can recognize that and say it to your face. It's such a vulnerable moment, and, in a way, an extra assurance of authenticity because this was pulled straight from life. The verses also show off her proclivity for poetry on this album. "Painted a picture, I thought I know you well/I got a habit of seeing what isn't there." She also talks about how we have a tendency to romanticize brokenness. "My imagination's too creative/They see demon, I see angel, angel/Without a halo, wingless angel." Again, in the post chorus, she mixes witty wordplay with images. "Yeah, look at you, boy, I invented you/Gucci tennis shoes/Runnin' from your issues." My favorite section, though comes out of the bridge. It's so insightful and self-aware. "Everything you are made you everything you aren't/I saw your potential without seein' credentials/Maybe that's the issue, ah/Can't hold that shit against you, ah/Guess I did it to myself, yeah/Thought you were someone else, you."
That concludes my non-single Thank U, Next thoughts, but, before I end it, I do want to talk about two songs off of Sweetener that I have been playing a lot. Those are "everytime" and "better off". I'm not as big of a fan of the production on this album, or the album as a whole, but I really vibe with these two songs.
"everytime" is one of my favorites for the chorus. It has an infectious quality to it that makes you want to sway and sing along to it. For some reason, it feels like a chocolate fountain to me. There's a rich quality to it but also an incredible flow to it. While the themes are a little more generic than some of the other songs, I love the way she tells the story of a back and forth relationship. The musical changes between the contention in the verses and the bliss in the chorus also show off the push pull in the lyrical content. She builds the picture with some relatable tropes, "You get high and call on the regular/I get weak and fall like a teenager/Why, oh why does God keeping bringing me back to you?/I get drunk, pretend that I'm over it/Self-destruct, show up like an idiot/Why, oh why does God keep bringing me back to you." The way she's framing it really gives it a feeling of no control that's in an interesting conversation with the rest of the song.
The second song that I immediately liked in Sweetener album cuts was "better off" which starts with a spacey vibe that reminds of Halsey's "Ashley". She talks about wanting a casual relationship, but it seems like the one in question is a more serious one that's transitioning out rather than starting a new fling. Throughout the song, she's trying to convince herself that she's "better off without him". She still wants to be with him, but she knows that being in a committed relationship isn't sustainable at this point in her life with this person. The pre-chorus is my favorite part lyrically because it's more revealing and discusses why they can't go on in the same way. She wants to avoid all the issues. "Steering clear of any headaches to start/And if we're being honest/I'd rather your body than half of your heart/Or jealous-ridden comments/That come when you let in them feelings that/I don't want/I never let 'em know too much/Hate gettin' too emotional, yeah." I think what hooked me on this song was the "I'd rather your body than half of your heart" because it feeds back to that central idea of "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart" in being willing to take part of someone, but there's growth in moving past being willing to take shreds of someone's love over time or attention.
Since this post is already super long, I think I want to break this into a couple of different posts. This will serve as my sort of introduction to Ariana post and a look at where I'm coming from with her music, but I also want to get into her music videos because that was another major moment that made me appreciate her more. Finally, I want to discuss the Dangerous Woman Diaries along with other documentaries and docu-series about other musicians out there. To wrap up my thoughts on Thank U, Next, I find it to be the perfect capsule of what ideal pop is at the moment. It has touchstones while also offering something unique in the production, and, lyrically, it's deeply emotional and authentic. Interestingly, Ariana and Billie Eilish were the central people in the conversation of many Grammy moments, and Billie took a moment to talk about how much Thank U, Next meant to her. Ariana waving her on and telling her to have her moment was one of the sweetest things I've seen, but it brings up an interesting parallel. I'm a Billie Eilish fan as well, and I can definitely see the threads between the two albums. Honestly, if I hadn't been such a Billie fan, I don't know if I would've taken to Thank U, Next as quickly as I did. I'm glad that they're both major parts of the pop conversation at the moment.
 If you want more Ariana Grande centric content, make sure to comment down below, and if you have suggestions of artists you want me to discuss, let me know about that too.

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