Ariana Grande Continues to Empower with “thank u, next” Album

Kathleen Mackey, Managing Editor

“I find it interesting that this has been one of the best years of my career and the worst of my life.” As Ariana Grande stood onstage in December to receive the honor of Billboard’s Woman of the Year, she acknowledged the stark contrast between the reality of her personal life and her exponential success in the music industry. In the past six months, Grande has released two albums, both of which followed devastating loss and heartbreak in her life.

While pop music often gets a bad rap for surface-level lyrics and unimaginative production, it has evolved immensely and, with it, its artists. Ariana Grande has always stood out to me as an artist that has not only been innovative with her production, but as someone who has used both her talents and platform to be a catalyst for empowering females everywhere.

Her fourth record, “sweetener,”  released in late August 2018, was her first big project after processing and grieving the Manchester suicide bombing during her Dangerous Woman tour in 2017, which left 22 concert-goers dead. The record heavily focused on healing and celebrating the good in her life. So it was sad, as a longtime fan of hers, to see all of her positive strides come to a jarring halt when just one month later, her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died. Not too long after, her engagement with Pete Davidson was broken off.

Instead of retreating and taking time away from the world as she had done previously, she channeled her pain into creating music. Disregarding the industry standard of a typical album cycle, she released her fifth album “thank u, next” this past Friday, Feb. 8, a swift six months after “sweetener.” It’s a transparent body of work that confronts denial, personal faults and grief while celebrating her independence and efforts to move forward. It’s emotional, uplifting and her most honest album yet.

While the 12-track record came to be in a surprisingly short amount of time, she shared on the Zach Sang Show that she’s been able to work through such a dark time in her life because she worked with her close friends to write, produce and pour out her feelings through her music. She even added that it helped her more than therapy.

When asked if this album-making process was the most she’d seen music heal someone, Grande’s co-writer and close friend Victoria Monet explained, “Her willingness to say things and be herself a million percent is a huge reason why she’s able to heal from it. . . . She didn’t leave anything out of it.”

This statement not only reflects Grande’s process for overcoming her personal troubles, but also how she doesn’t hold back and stands up for herself in an industry that is so heavily dominated by men.

On Feb. 7, Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich told The Associated Press that Grande backed out of her performance at the ceremony because she “felt it was too late for her to pull something together.” Instead of biting her tongue, Grande took to social media to defend herself, saying that time was not a concern. “It was when my creativity & self expression was stifled by [Ehrlich], that I decided not to attend. … I offered 3 different songs. It’s about collaboration. It’s about feeling supported. It’s about art and honesty. Not politics.”

Of course, any type of defiant stance like this comes with backlash and negative press, but she continues to prove to the world that, despite being under harsh public scrutiny, she isn’t afraid to take control of her artistry.

I know that, to many, Ariana Grande is just that singer with the unnecessarily long ponytail who presumptuously licked a donut that one time. However, being a fan of hers since her first album, “Yours Truly,” I’ve been inspired as I’ve watched her grow into an artist that has pushed the boundaries, explored new realms of the pop genre and redefined the negative connotations of being a “diva.”

She told Zach Sang that the making of this album taught her to trust her instincts more, and not to let others supersede her judgement. “I think I have a pretty good idea of what I want to sound like and say to people . . . this has been kind of the like catalyst moment for me, where I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe I should be giving these chances to myself, instead of everybody else again and again and again.”

As someone who is constantly trying to overcome self-doubt, I connected with this deeply and feel like I could learn a lesson or two from her sense of self-assurance and unapologetic attitude.

Overall, Ariana Grande is a reminder of how powerful music can be. It’s impactful when an artist can use their art and influnce to vocalize issues and emotions that any listener is able to connect with, both through lyrics and open conversations.

In the same acceptance speech she gave at the Billboard Women in Music event in December, Grande told the audience that she looks forward to embracing whatever comes her way and focusing on giving herself the love and forgiveness she’s so easily given away in the past. Thanks to her resilience and transparency during such a vulnerable time in her life, she has proven to do just that and, along the way, has empowered myself and her other listeners to do the same.