Pop princess Ariana Grande has finally released her long-awaited fourth studio album, ‘Sweetener’. Clocking in at 15 tracks long, Sweetener acts as the follow-up to Grande’s 2016 LP ‘Dangerous Woman’, which saw the pint-size mega star in a more mature & evolved stance.
Execute produced by Grande herself and manager Scooter Braun, the duo enlists mega-producers Max Martin & Pharrell Williams to create and sculpt a pop, trap-infused body of work, a switch up from Grande’s previous EDM-laced discography.
Her first record since the tragic event that took place after her concert in Manchester, the album sees Grande at her most honest and mellow. This is reflected in the title of the record, with Grande stating ‘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’. The album artwork also sees the singer switching it up, with the cover shot in colour – a departure from the previous black & white aesthetic that adorned her previous three records.
Months before its release, Grande teased the album with lead single ‘No Tears Left to Cry’, followed up by ‘God is a Woman’. Both produced by Ilya Salmanzadeh, with additional production from pop-God Max Martin, the rhythmic & smooth energy that flows throughout the singles is maintained throughout the whole record.
Less focused on sexual liberation and upbeat love songs (although not completely without), Ariana champions through the record with a more established outlook on life – triumphant positivity, strength & self-care are front and centre of this piece.
The album opens with a cover of The Four Seasons’ ‘An Angel Cried’ – sung entirely a cappella, only lasting half a minute. An intriguing way to open an album such as the one that follows – but Grande’s strong & soulful vocals pack a punch, resulting in a strong introduction. The production-less element to the track gently reminds us of the darkness the singer has been through, and serves as potent inspiration for the rest of the album.
The record holds nothing back, officially jumping into motion with the Pharrell-produced ‘Blazed’. A sugary, upbeat track, lead by the iconic producer’s famous four-count intro, Grande’s airy vocals muse about love and the initial magnetism between two lovers. This same energy is kept throughout most of Pharrell’s creations, recapturing that early 2000’s Neptunes vibe on most of the tracks.
Pharrell’s discography is incredibly impressive, and he has proven he can go in many different directions. However, his contributions are rather hit or miss – while those synths are unmistakable, his work on Sweetener is incredibly two-toned. He barely switches it up on the 7 tracks he produced, only really stepping out of the box with a piano ballad on the album’s closing track ‘Get Well Soon’.
To Grande’s credit, she manages to make each track uniquely her own despite the rollercoaster of production styles. She sounds most at home, however, on long-time collaborator & pop-behemoth Max Martin’s creations. Their collaborations include ‘Everytime’ and lead single ‘No Tears Left to Cry’, trap-infused & synth-pop heavy tracks, respectively. On both songs, Grande ruminates on releasing negative energy, with ‘Everytime’ musing about Grande not being able to leave a toxic relationship (a possible explanation of her well-publicized relationship with rapper Mac Miller).
Most of the record is helmed by Grande – after all, it is an inimitably personal body of work. But three collaborations pop up on the track list, with those being Pharrell, as well as rappers Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott. Minaj’s contribution marks her fifth collaboration with Grande; with their previous work including 2016’s reggae-pop hit ‘Side to Side’, and ‘Bed’ for Minaj’s recently released effort, ‘Queen’. Unfortunately, neither rapper (as iconic as they are) really contributes much to each song, with Elliott’s measly 2-bar, 20-second verse being a waste from the highly acclaimed rapper.
Nevertheless, even with its pitfalls, Grande has come through with a strong body of work. The album’s lyrics do a good job of matching the production and overall dreamy aesthetic the artist was gunning for. Daring to switch it up is respectable in this stance, as Grande could just as easily have relied on her tried-and-true method of huge beats & choruses and called it a day. What makes Grande stand out from the crowd, however, is her soaring 4 octave vocal range. This allows her to reach heights her other pop peers aren’t able to – which allows her to offer something deeper in the mainstream. Sweetener was just that, a sugarcoated treat to keep everyone happy, but enough honesty and soul to keep everyone going.