Ariana Grande Sweetener Republic
It’s been a long year for Ariana Grande. At 25, the singer has long graduated her debut as a Nickelodeon teen sweetheart-turned-pop star, and her third album Sweetener finds the effusive chanteuse at her most adventurous.
Grande’s voice is forever without fault, navigating powerful, stratospheric highs and airy runs effortlessly. But Sweetener sees Grande explore a middle-range voice that was easily lost in the brassy belting of her earlier hits. Love-soaked title track sweetener and classic R&B croon-along get well soon, for example, threaten to build into a full-blown storm before retreating back into a well of runs and ad libs. That’s not to say that Grande’s kept herself restrained: God is a woman burns slowly before giving way for her signature octave-spanning belt. Lead single no tears left to cry treads a similar track, with Grande convincingly pulling herself together over a strut-ready backing track while declaring: “I’m loving, I’m living, I’m picking it up”.
The album’s smokey late-night, lights-dimmed pop-R&B crossover is with just a few mistakes: blazed with Pharrell should have been left on the cutting-room floor, and the Zedd-esque synths in goodnight n go are dull and disappointing. Perhaps it’s because for a hitmaker like Grande, the bar has always been high — for Sweetener especially, which comes just over a year after her concert in Manchester was the site of a bombing. The album is laced with references to the aftermath of the tragedy, but none are more powerful than the album’s stellar centerpiece breathin. “Time goes by and I can’t control my mind,” she sings before launching into a moving refrain: “Just keep breathin’, and breathin’, and breathin’ and breathin’”.