Album Review: Ariana Grande's Sweetener

FILE - In this June 2, 2018 file photo, Ariana Grande performs at Wango Tango in Los Angeles. Grande will perform at the funeral for Aretha Franklin on Friday, Aug. 31. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

It’s become commonplace for artists to do something flashy before they drop an album, but getting engaged to Pete Davidson was a bit much.

It was a choice, but it worked and all eyes were on Nickelodeon-star turned mainstream-crooner Ariana Grande. I had my doubts; although few can deny she’s dropped some stellar pop earworms in the past, I can’t say any of her albums have been consistent in quality. With fellow top artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift delivering mediocre projects last year, Grande had a great chance to climb up the ranks.

I’m happy to say she did: this is a great album. The source of this newfound jolt of quality could be for a few reasons. As mentioned earlier, her quick engagement to Saturday Night Live product, Pete Davidson, has brought structure to her standard lovey-dovey lyrics. There’s even a minute-long interlude called “pete davidson.” Will it be remembered as a testament to her faith in the engagement, or an awkward moment in an otherwise solid track listing? Only time will tell.

Although Grande’s voice soars to familiar sky-high pitches, the lyrical content found in “Sweetener” is refreshingly grounded. This is Grande’s first album since the terrorist attack on her concert last year in England, and cataclysm forces introspection. Because of this, the lighter subjects that were touched on feel more tangible than her previous work, something I greatly appreciate in pop.

The first half of the album contains one hell of a one-two punch in “God is a woman” and “sweetener.” The former is a sultry, powerful feminist track that combines sexual and religious imagery. On top of that, the video is fantastic and one of the better ones I’ve seen this year. The latter contains a gospel chord pattern spun together with poignant lyrics like “When life deals us cards/Make everything taste like it is salt/Then you come through like the sweetener you are/To bring the bitter taste to a halt.” Grande embodies the words she sings. Last year - instead of bowing out of the public eye after a catastrophe, she put a charity show together and raised $23 million to help the victims. If that’s not sweetener, I don’t know what is.

The album peaks at track nine, when the surefire radio hit “breathin” pours through your headphones, complete with a great reflection on how to stay calm in 2018’s hectic times (Feel my blood runnin', swear the sky's fallin' [...] Just keep breathin' and breathin' and breathin' and breathin'). Repetitive, but it’s absolutely true!

Sweetener isn’t a perfect album, however. The second half of the album steps off the pedal a little more than I would have liked. “borderline” is a dud track and Missy Elliott’s contribution doesn’t do much to save it from clashy chords and a dull chorus. Some could see “better off” as a subtle diss at Mac Miller, Grande’s ex, but it’s not really worth replaying. “the light is coming” is a good song completely ruined by a very strange sample choice of a man speaking that repeats through the entire song.

“Sweetener” may have its missteps, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best pop albums I’ve heard so far this year. It’s a grand statement from one of the top divas in music right now. Or should I say, grandé.

Rating: 4/5


Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.