Ariana Grande has been enchanting listeners with her Mariah-Carey-esque vocals since she came onto the music scene in 2013. It wasn't until her fourth album, however, that she truly found her voice. Released on August 17, Sweetener is forty-seven minutes of Ariana at her realest; she is passionate about what she believes in, yet she acknowledges the mistakes she’s made while navigating the ups and downs of life. Ariana collaborated with Nicki Minaj, Pharrell Williams, and Missy Elliott on some of the tracks, but most consist solely of the artist’s own vocals layered with minimal instrumental background to create the whimsical sound that has become her signature.
Sweetener is Ariana’s third album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200; clearly, she is an enormously successful and talented artist. Nevertheless, she has moments of doubt, which she fights by asserting her worth and validity just the way she is. For instance, “God is a Woman” and “Successful” are two upbeat anthems that celebrate women’s sexuality as a legitimate means of self-expression and the unapologetic profession of self-love. With lyrics like “I can be all the things you told me not to be / When you try to come for me I keep on flourishing” and “It feels so good to be so young and have this fun and be successful / I’m so successful!,” they are the perfect songs to blast when you’re feeling down and need a reminder that all sides of you—smart, sexy, strong—are important and frankly, awesome.
In other tracks, Grande lets herself be vulnerable as she explores her feelings on topics ranging from mental health and addiction to love and relationships. These songs feel just as honest, yet more intimate than the girl-power anthems. Ariana’s stream-of-consciousness style conveys the uncertainty she feels as she navigates her way through difficult parts of life. The final track on the album, “Get Well Soon,” perfectly embodies this with lines such as “My life is so controlled by the what-ifs / Is there anybody else whose mind does this?” countered with the repetition of “Girl what’s wrong with you, come back down.”
This album is full of emotions and truths well beyond the reach of most other young artists. It is by far Ariana’s best work yet and is especially meaningful given the recent struggles Ariana has gone through; the bombing at her concert in Manchester, England on March 22, 2017 is memorialized by the 5:22 run time of “Get Well Soon.” In the course of just a few days this month, she was publicly groped after her performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at Aretha Franklin’s funeral and received an enormous wave of hate on social media following the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller. In the midst of these hardships, there is a new light in Ariana’s life that is the subject and title of the short song, “Pete Davidson.” This just goes to show that the singer is strong beyond belief and capable of finding inspiration and happiness where others would not. The result is Sweetener, and we are grateful for it.