Sweetener. Ariana Grande’s first album following the tragic attack at the Manchester show of her Dangerous Woman Tour. All eyes were on her to deliver her next move, with many doubting that she would even return to the music scene, the trauma too much for her to bear. And return Grande did, fighting back with help from producer Pharrell Williams, along with a few others, to show the world that she is back and stronger than ever.
Lead single “no tears left to cry” marked Grande’s triumphant return to the music scene, after a short hiatus. The highly R&B-influenced dance-pop song was far from what most expected from her at this point. Both the song and its accompanying music video are upbeat and leave listeners feeling fun and hopeful for what is to come. She then treated the public to her smash hit, “God is a woman”, a song that allows for the singer to showcase her trademark impressive vocals while empowering women everywhere. And on the final awe-inspiring single, “breathin”, Grande bares her soul as she sings about the deep anxiety that has plagued her life. These songs each powerfully encapsulate a moment in her life where music was her solace.
Beyond the singles, the album is littered with gems that give the listener a deeper view of who the songstress really is. The smooth, dreamy vocals of songs such as “R.E.M” leave anyone who listens with the dazed feeling of falling for someone completely. On “everytime”, we hear about the struggle of not truly being able to let someone go and being stuck in a repeating cycle; we also hear some of Grande’s most spectacular vocals yet as she belts the final chorus. On “goodnight n go,” a cover of one of Grande’s favorite singers, Imogen Heap, Ariana pours her heart over someone who has an almost inescapable hold on her heart. And these are only a few of the album’s unsung gems; the entire album is often overshadowed by her more commercially successful album, thank u, next. Despite that, Sweetener is a far more personal—and better—stage in Grande’s career. (Also of note: the era gave us some of her best vocal performances ever, such as this exquisite performance of “better off” for the BBC.)
On Sweetener, Grande manages to capture the peaks and valleys of love and self-discovery, and by the end of it, the listener leaves feeling more connected to the singer, her feelings, and by extension, their own. It was the perfect response to a traumatic time in her life, showcasing her trademark strength and artistry.
You can stream Sweetener below.