Sweetener alters Grande’s sound for the better

By CLAIRE BEAVER | September 13, 2018

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. (19)

I have never personally been a fan of Ariana Grande, with her sickly-sweet pop sounds not appealing to my rock-loving roots. Her highly publicized romantic life with Pete Davidson pushed me further away. That being said, Sweetener, Grande’s newest album released on Aug. 17, changed my mind.

Sweetener is a 15-song album that is filled with impressive vocal runs — for which Grande is known — as well as positive messages of love and light that don’t come across as superficial, forced to sell more albums, but as genuine hope. She is channeling more of an R&B, hip-hop feel, and this album will no doubt convert others into fans as well.

The second song on the album, “blazed,” features Pharrell Williams, whose smooth, jazzy voice meshes flawlessly with Grande’s. It’s upbeat and playful, seemingly using Ariana’s old, bubblegum sound and running with it, adding interesting harmonies and a back-and-forth between artists that makes it feel, honestly, more grown-up. 

Grande performed a single also released on the album and probably heard by the entire planet, “God is a woman,” at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). She recreated a still inspired by The Last Supper and featured dancers with different body types and ethnicities. 

She was clearly aware that her audience was large, and she chose to highlight diversity in a way that wasn’t self-congratulating or attention-seeking but natural and genuinely beautiful. It seemed to me to be a big step forward in the diversifying of music and performance without trivializing it.

The religious-themed song may have caused controversy among older audiences, but luckily for Grande, older audiences aren’t watching the VMAs. The shimmering gold costumes and flowing movement between Grande and her dancers were breathtaking, and at the end of the song Grande brought out her mother, grandmother and cousin and held their hands as she wailed the last bars of the song. 

This vision of female connection and empowerment is something I wouldn’t have expected to be executed so precisely by the singer, and it impressed me. YouTube now suggests that video to me when I open it up, as it knows I’m likely heading there anyway.

Another highlight of the album is “breathin,” a song that speaks to the need to take a breath and push forward from difficult times, again showcasing Grande’s vocal abilities and strengthening my respect not only for her talents but also for the messages this album takes on. 

Many of Grande’s past singles have turned me off for various reasons, one being my impression that she mainly sang about sex to sell her songs and stir up some controversy. This album has showed me that Grande is more than how the media portray her and has made me look at how I judge things myself before assuming.

No good album would be complete without the addition of features. “the light is coming” featuring Nicki Minaj is one of my favorites on the album, as it sticks out from the others with an alternative hip-hop sort of vibe.

When I saw Missy Elliott featured in “borderline,” my 2000s heart soared. This song is not the best on the album, likely not even in the top five, but the track bops. Nostalgia doesn’t hurt it either.

Sweetener is Grande’s first album cover in color, speaking to her outlook on the world and a new perspective of sorts. 

During a concert of hers at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, U.K., on May 22, 2017 there was a deadly explosion, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. The bombing took the lives of 22 innocent concert-goers, wounded 59 others and caused psychological damage to countless others. The lives lost have not and will not be forgotten.

Grande’s last song on the album “get well soon” ends with 40 seconds of silence — making the song 5 minutes and 22 seconds, the date of the attack. Grande pays her respects to those lives lost and refuses to forget this life-changing event. She urges her fans to heal, as well as attempting to do the same herself. This silence is powerful, and it is a move I personally feel not many artists would make.

Overall, Sweetener is a message of hope. Grande is changing, and she ushers her fans into the next era of her musical journey, one that she seems to wish will bring positivity and new hope. This is a message every single person, fan or not, can relate to. This album is not only fun and upbeat but also important, and it has converted me into a fan.

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