"Thank U, Next" Album Full Analysis Part 1
Released on February 8th, Ariana Grande’s newest album, “Thank U, Next” has been nothing but groundbreaking. Through its twelve songs, Ariana communicates a lot of personal messages to the listener, and it’s shaping up be an amazing release for 2019.
Starting off with the album’s first song, “imagine”, Ariana uses trap-inspired elements, such as hi-hats and rattles, that turn out to be prevalent throughout the whole album. In the first verse alone, Ariana describes what an ideal relationship would be like for her. The first few lines of the song involve her bringing attention to the pain of fame, saying she would prefer to be anonymous in public. The next lines start a depiction of Ariana’s dream relationship by describing her emotions as “bubbly”, making use of “cleansing” diction- she chooses to use words connotated with cleanliness such as “bathtub” and “bubbles” to characterize the relationship as being clean. This is also conveyed through the preceding phrase “Me with no makeup”, meaning that there is nothing to hide in this ideal relationship. In the pre-chorus, Ariana says “Kiss me and take off your clothes” to emphasize the importance of honesty in a relationship, as being naked has arguably been a universal symbol of transparency and honesty. The importance of transparency is seen again in the second verse when Ariana says “Tell me all your secrets.” Sadly, Ariana implies that she is only describing an impractical relationship when she starts off the chorus with “imagine a world like that.” What makes this agonizing is that she says “Why can’t you imagine a world like that?”, implying that the reason why she can’t have her dream relationship is because her partner doesn’t share the same vision as her. However, the chorus ends up being ironic because Ariana uses visual imagery to depict that the two are perfect for each other when she says “love how my face fits so good in your neck.” The irony here is that although her partner may be perfect physically, his personality is what makes the relationship fall short of being perfect. Ariana purposefully uses irony here in the chorus to provide her main message, which is that a relationship founded on physical attraction is less ideal than a relationship founded on trust and transparency.
The second song of the album, “needy”, focuses on the importance of companionship for Ariana over the past few years. The context for this song (and possibly the whole album) is the Manchester Bombing at her concert in May 2017, the death of rapper and ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, and her breakup with ex-fiancé Pete Davidson. The central metaphor used throughout the song is a rollercoaster, which Ariana uses to represent her emotional well-being over the past few years. The rollercoaster metaphor also appears in the form of a melody as Ariana uses slow ascending notes to build up to a sudden drop when she says “And I’ma scream and shout for what I love,” -screaming and shouting at a rollercoaster drop falls in line with the metaphor lyrically. In the pre-chorus, Ariana is self-aware of her emotional instability by acknowledging herself as a “lil’ messed up.” The following line, “But I can hide it when I’m all dressed up” refers back to the metaphor made in “imagine”, that being naked represents transparency. In “needy”, Ariana uses this metaphor to say that she can easily cover her true emotions by dressing herself up with success and money. Right after this line, the tone becomes very self-critical, when she says “I’m obsessive and I love too hard. Good at overthinking with my heart.” By exposing her weaknesses as a romantic, she stresses the importance of transparency again when picking friends and relationship partners. This list of weaknesses continues in the chorus when she says “And I can be needy, way too damn needy.” She goes on to say (presumably to whoever is her emotional support) “tell me how good it feels to be needed.” By saying “tell me”, Ariana creates a demanding tone, which further characterizes herself as needy in this song. In the second verse, Ariana exposes her insecurities with a tone shift. By apologizing 3 times so quickly, she establishes a new anxious tone and personality. With over three different tones used by the second verse, Ariana portrays herself as emotionally unstable, which communicates her feeling of being helpless and needy. This clearly sends her message, which is simply to help those in need emotionally. Later on, in the second verse, Ariana mentions that she needs a torch, which metaphorically means that she needs her emotional support to be the light that guides her through her dark times. This song extends people’s needs to include companionship, and it’s important for listeners to fully recognize that and provide companionship to those without it.
Up next is one of the more eye-catching titles, “NASA”. The song opens up with a sample of Neil Armstrong’s famous quote, but slightly changed to say “One small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind.” This is Ariana’s way of acknowledging that it takes a “giant leap” of courage for women to ask for space in a relationship. If this song is about a man, it can be most reasonably inferred that it’s directed towards ex-fiance Pete Davidson. The first verse is unique because every line ends with “tonight”, possibly prolonging the time her and Pete spend together in one night. This intro establishes the message that Ariana wants space in her relationship with lines such as “Really don’t wanna be in your arms tonight,” “Think I’m better off here all alone tonight”, and “I’d rather be alone tonight.” She ends the verse by saying “Even though there isn’t nothin’ wrong tonight,” making it clear that Pete wasn’t part of the problem, but rather proposing that the problem lies out of his control. This problem is identified in the chorus, where she says “I’ma need space.” The pre-chorus perfectly depicts the importance of space in a relationship with lines including “I can’t really miss you if I’m with you” and “And when I miss you, it’ll change the way I kiss you.” This change in kissing portrays that having space would benefit the relationship on a physical level. To underline the importance of space, Ariana directly says “Baby, you know time apart is beneficial.” At the end of the pre-chorus, Ariana creates a metaphor that illustrates Pete to be exploring her like NASA does with the universe. What brings this metaphor together is the line “Give you the whole world, I’ma need space,” where Ariana recalls that she’s given Pete her world (a symbol for Ariana’s everything) through engagement, and it would be respectful of him to give her space when she needs it. She says “You know I’m a star” to explain her need for alone time because she’s bombarded with attention as a celebrity star. Although a stretch, this need for alone time can be seen when she claimed she “had the day off” and “played Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee for fifteen hours” on Twitter. The second verse is full of cosmic diction, which is used to emphasize Ariana’s need for space. One case of this is where she purposefully says “Usually I would orbit around you,” and in using the word “orbit” she intensifies the cosmic diction used throughout the song. In the following line, Ariana identifies her lack of love when she says the only thing “pulling” her to Pete is “gravity” (or in other words, nothing). The last line of the second verse continues the cosmic diction to illustrate the truth that Ariana will love Pete when “the stars align” (in other words, never). The bridge of the song conveys Ariana’s struggle to “self-discover” when there’s lack of space in her relationship. This struggle is brought home when she sings “Keep me in your orbit and you know you’ll drag me under.” If Pete keeps her close, he is bringing her to his demand, which significantly intensifies the central theme, the importance of space in a relationship. Ariana ends the song by saying “You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight” to emphasize the idea that she still wants to be loved by him, but wants to keep some distance at the same time.
In just the first three songs, Ariana brings many important messages towards romance and good beats at the same time. At essence, this is what music is about: sending important messages with aesthetic. Ariana does this perfectly. I personally believe that this album strays away from Ariana’s pop career and is the beginning of the rebirth of Ariana in mainstream music. This move doesn’t work for every pop singer however- we saw this in 2017 with Taylor Swift, who most say her 2017 album, “Reputation”, was a total flop in comparison to her successful 2014 album, “1989”.