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Ariana Grande - Sweetener (Album Review)

Wednesday, 22 August 2018 Written by Milly McMahon

‘Sweetener’ is a 15 track, pop-centric fourth album from Ariana Grande. While no direct reference is made to the events or emotions she experienced following the bombing at her Manchester concert in the spring of last year, here she stands as a mature woman characterised by strength and self-confidence. What resonates is a sense of calm.

Better Off is a perfect example of the 25-year-old reflecting on her life. Remarkably, Ariana drops her first curse word on this track, perhaps acknowledging her audiences are now more adult, as is she. Soulful and sexy with a more discerning style than her previous bubblegum pink pop self, she is expecting fans to invest in this album more than they would  a succession of easy chart bangers.

Tracks like Goodnight n Go and Pete Davidson, named for her fiancé, are personal moments that really allow access to her thoughts, hopes and fears. Grande is ready to be vulnerable, stripping away from the singalong aesthetic she previously mastered.

Where a Broadway performer once projected a character on stage, a very real and sometimes fragile young woman reveals herself proudly here. Aside from the stellar a capella opening Raindrops (An Angel Cried), Grande's introspective lyrical arrangements are spotlighted on 'Sweetener'.

Explaining the meaning behind the name of the album on the Jimmy Fallon show, she said: "It's kind of about like bringing light to a situation, or to someone's life, or somebody else who brings light to your life, or sweetening the situation."

This is the theme of The Light Is Coming, a collaboration with Nicki Minaj and the standout track of the album. Moving quickly, juxtaposing the philosophical impact of the song’s meaning with fidgety, hip-hop style production, the melodies are the kind of clever earworms that just don't quit.

'Sweetener' is peppered with tracks designed for long-term fans of Grande, situated sensitively alongside arrangements aimed at those who are curious about the singer-songwriter. It is destined to be huge, but it suggests that even grander things lie around the corner.

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