Review: Ariana Grande – Sweetener (Republic, Aug 17)

I expect a lot from the artists I love, so much so that I am often way too critical of their new creative efforts. And as the lead-up to the release of Ariana Grande’s fourth studio album, Sweetener, began, I went a bit overboard. Despite liking the first single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” a veritable blizzard of complaints would inevitably be uttered whenever Grande was brought up. But I was being ridiculous. Did I think that “The Light Is Coming” was a bad song with bizarre production choices and annoying repetition, and that “God Is a Woman” was overindulgent and had one of the trashiest music videos I’d ever seen? Yes. Was I annoyed that there was to be a song on the new album named after Grande’s latest beau? Yes. Was I completely lying to myself and being melodramatic when I swore to never listen to Sweetener? Absolutely, and I’m glad I was. This record is ambitious, sprawling, and imperfect, but it’s also fantastic. All of my doubts were soothed by the surprisingly well-ordered track list and flow, and I’ve even come around on both of the aforementioned singles. “R.E.M.” and “Sweetener” are new favorites, both instances of the perfect production evolution from the bombastic dance instrumentals of Dangerous Woman to this record’s increased use of electronic music and trap flavors. In my opinion, Sweetener sort of falls apart at the end, with the unneeded “Pete Davidson” and the lengthy closer “Get Well Soon,” but hey, I’ve flip-flopped on basically everything else so who knows how I’ll feel about it in a week. Sweetener is no Dangerous Woman, but I was way too hard on an artist I love and respect when I should have put more faith in her. Thank you Ariana, as always.