thank you, next = Lemonade, but bad.
“Bad” might be too far; “worse” would’ve been an understatement. So Ariana Grande’s latest — her second album in six months! — falls somewhere in between these two pejoratives.
And yet, my naysaying must come with a caveat, in the form of a question: is it fair, or even possible, to evaluate thank you, next — or, for that matter, Ariana Grande the artist — completely separate from her personal life…or, at least the personal life she and her marketing team decide to share with her stans to keep building her brand? As someone less than interested in the art of this sort of identity-creation — social media blurs the line between fame and reality, a relationship much performance art explores — her music needs to work outside of this contextual background, removed from the autofiction of her spotlight-tinted biography.
And nothing about her musical artistry makes her stand out from fellow pop-stars. Sure, there’s some nice producing here, and the sound of her voice successfully channels her stylistic personality — a surprisingly rare commodity — but none of it is standout nor stands out. Heck, a lot of her strongest attributes can be found all over amateur YouTube.
The argument could be made that the album’s not supposed to exist totally detached from her recent drama, an inextricability that could’ve been used as a defense if the lyrics actually probed her life and offered up any profound insights, yet they’re as generic as the rest, proffering arch platitudes.
Put another way: if she had released this exact same album under a pseudonym, there’s nothing here that would’ve piqued anyone’s attention. But in the era of social media accountability, the separation between art and artist has never been smaller, so perhaps I’m being thick by analyzing her music in a vacuum she never intended.