With her remarkably assured new album, thank u next, Ariana Grande has delivered one of the most impressive, honest and certainly boldest vocalizations ever about the true power of female resilience and survival. But instead of stomping through a personal victory parade about being a queen who won in the end, what’s admirable about Grande’s effort is she chose to go introspective, to lay down the armor and share the intimate cray-cray with her audience—all the emotions, deep battle scars and ingrained insecurities that go along with the journey. This is a young woman, after all, whose life was irrevocably scarred by extreme loss of the highest order—not just love, but the loss of life, and not just one life, either. She chose to rebound against such adversity, however, by saying ‘thank you,’ not ‘fuck you.’

This sentiment is such a powerful teachable moment for young girls at this particular time in American culture, and Ariana is going to ignite a zeitgeist tapping into that undercurrent.  After all, we are now in an era where a historic number of women were just elected to Congress, in tide of national voter outcry about diversity and representation at the highest levels.  An era where those same congresswomen showed up to a televised SOTU speech in unity last week, wearing all white to not only remind the world about the history of suffrage, but reminding their patriarchal peers about their very presence in the chamber now. 

 Grande actually got the unexpected opportunity to demonstrate her commitment to a hard-earned lesson of empowerment in real time, when she took a public stand amid a dispute over exactly why she declined to perform at the Grammy Awards. Ari’s tweets were Pelosi-level savagery swathed in sincerity. 

The themes of taking charge extend behind the boards on this record as well—while her collaborators continue to be the same inner circle of Max Martin & ILYA, “Pop” Wansel and Tommy Brown, it’s notable that for the first time, she has no features, and she co-wrote every track. It’s also striking that two incredibly talented female songwriters, Tayla Parx and Victoria Monet, have a strong presence and pen in these songs.

It should be added that few producers are more adept at helping women channel their battle cries than Max, who has manifested empowerment anthems with many of our most iconic female voices, including Taylor Swift, Adele, P!nk, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry.

Ariana astutely reflects the inner courage her whole peer group must also wade through at some point in lives, and leads them by example with fortitude, intellect and attitude.

And Grande’s music here is on the same level of giant, hit-record excellence. There’s no filler and every song is strong.  Take “Needy,” about craving attention but also acknowledging that you’re leaning in hard for a reason: you need to. Or the ever-important reminder about protecting your space and being wary of the energy suckers with the song “NASA” which includes this potent lyric: “You don’t wanna leave me, but I’m tryna self-discover/Keep me in your orbit and you know you’ll drag me under.” Or the raw truth about standing up for one’s own mental health in “Fake Smile.” Doing what’s best for you in “In My Head.” And how about that on-point Fenty Beauty shout-out in “Makeup.” Pure pop perfection.

The standouts. however, are definitely “Ghostin” and “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored.”  “Ghostin” is a deeply emotive confessional backed by a lush tapestry of sound, reminiscent of Mariah’s very best ’90s ballads. And if you’re enough of a fan to connect the dots that this song may have sampled the Mac Miller track “2009,” that’s when you just start crying. 

“break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored,” on the other hand, is just an unstoppable earworm, which is probably why it’s already ensconced as the third single from this album with a video already racking up massive views. “I added a fun one (lol) to replace one that i decided i don’t think i wanna share with the world,” Ari wrote on Twitter.

thank u, next follows the tenets of classically great songwriting: a story that’s true, told with emotions that are real, with creativity and flair and fun. Ariana astutely reflects the inner courage her whole peer group must also wade through at some point in their lives, and leads them by example with fortitude, intellect and attitude.  After all, laying your soul bare about the struggle involved to maintain optimism and joy in the face of life’s unexpected body slams is no easy task. It’s actually astounding bravery. Well done, girl. You fucking killed this.

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