I don't love every song on Ariana Grande's Sweetener, but I'm behind her all the way
Eighteen months ago my feelings towards Ariana Grande were neutral at best, sitting somewhere between ’yeah she can sing’ and ‘didn’t she once lick a doughnut and put it back tho?’ Even now, I just had to Google what album release she was on (four! when and how!?). Fast forward to Sweetener release day and I’m sending the group chat an excited screenshot of her latest record before we begin to discuss our faves.
Obviously that ‘fast forward’ is immensely loaded, and painfully slow for so many. Last summer’s Manchester bombing was one of the most shocking tragedies the UK has endured in recent times. It was an outright attack on young people, many of whom belong to Ariana Grande’s huge LGBTQ+ fanbase. In the weeks that followed, few of us expected a 23-year-old pop star to be the one to step up, acknowledge the public grief, and start the healing process first hand.
In her decision to fly back to Manchester and sing again in the very same venue that was the site of so much tragedy, Ariana seemed to represent strength and hope in the face of terror. Her fame reached stratospheric new heights, and the world began to watch her deal with the tragedy in real time. Even now, public interest in her experience is so strong that her recent interview with Beats 1 in which she discusses the attack made headline BBC News.
In the clip she apologises for “falling apart” after playing ‘get well soon’, which includes 40 seconds of silence to make the run time 5:22, the date of the attack. She distances herself from anyone ‘reading it on the news, tweeting condolences and moving on’, painfully focusing on how ‘Christmas comes around and you’re reminded… permanently affected’ through tears. In that moment, she’s not just an insanely famous pop star giving an interview about her new record. She’s one person out of many left devastated by what happened.
Soooo, I feel a different kinda way about Ariana Grande this year. I don’t love all of her music, but I’m not alone in developing huge respect for her and an interest in what she does next. I guess it could be distilled into the fact that I *care* about how she’s coping, aware that her actions after Manchester really matter to those directly affected and to the rest of us still processing what happened.
As a result, it’s impossible to listen to Sweetener without bias or expectation. Playing the pop diva while still working through the trauma of a terror attack is an impossible duality for one person, but with this new release she’s trying to bridge the gap.
‘no tears left to cry’ (all lower caps an aesthetic choice of hers FYI) was the ideal first release. It’s a bop in it’s own right, whilst acknowledging the seismic changes that have shaken her life and the lives of so many others since her last release. Second single ‘God is a woman’ had more breathing space, and makes no allusion to Manchester. This is also a Good Thing. She’ll never be able to leave behind what happened, but she can be Ariana Grande *the singer* again, and there’s huge value in that to her fans.
Her return to something like the ‘old Ariana’ gives grieving families and the injured a chance to be the primary focus again. By embracing her pop diva persona once more, Ariana takes on the challenge of using her music to spread love. She readily admits some lyrics are corny, but her assertion that she creates songs as a way of giving people a ‘hug’ rings true. She’s found her most powerful tool and, to join her in her corniness, it’s joy.
How do you feel about Sweetener? Let us know in the comments below?