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Who’s Afraid of Ariana Grande?

2024 / Republic / R&B
Cover by Katia Temkin.
Cover by Katia Temkin.

To the chagrin of any chronically online X user, dwelling the cesspits of Pop Base or Pop Crave, Ariana Grande has been dating actor Ethan Slater. With that revelation, back in July of 2023, came a flood of tabloids claiming foul play at hand, conflating their rendezvous to a home-wrecking affair! In mid-January of this year, Grande fired back with the often cocky, Madonna-interpolating “yes, and?” Yet the queer ethos which envelopes “Vogue”—in which Madonna cites 80s ballroom culture—is diluted by Grande’s aloof braggadocio and posing of a bluntly-delivered question: yes, and? Why do you care?

She rehashes the age-old debate regarding the relationship between artist and listener. In the track’s music video, she does not make a fleeting attempt to humanize herself [why does she have to anyway?]—instead, she subordinates herself to chiseled-Roman-effigy status. Subsequently, when she released the cover for her heavily anticipated eternal sunshine—a blurry candid of herself—on the surface, it felt warm and personal. Yet look closer and one can discern the subtle ripples in Ariana’s otherwise porcelain façade, revealing a sort of ambiguity. Is this really Ariana Grande? An industry consummate?

This impersonality sets the precedent for Grande’s new era and what is, frankly, Grande’s most middling collection of songs yet. Loosely based off the 2004 cult-classic film of the same name, eternal sunshine chronicles her falling-out with ex-fiancé Dalton Gomez, and more obliquely, the media-saturated relationship with Ethan Slater. Instead of relying on the presence of A-list pop royalty such as Doja Cat and The Weeknd [see 2020’s positions], she confides in the mantras of high school besties, astrologists, and her Nonna with little semblance of continuity.

Stills from Ariana Grande’s “yes, and?” music video, directed by Christian Breslauer.

“bye” kicks off the record with a breakup-twixt-powerhouse anthem accompanied by saccharine, synth-heavy production from Max Martin. Otherwise, some of the record’s punchiest moments channel late 90s R&B such as on the hedonistic, Janet Jackson-lite “true story” or her captivating spin on Brandy and Monica’s hit “the boy is mine.” However, this is not exactly unmarked territory for Grande– these R&B inclinations can be traced all the way back to the pre-Nickelodeon departure days of Yours Truly (2013). Moreover, the pastel trap stylings which litter tracks such as “imperfect for you” and the title track “eternal sunshine” sound obsolete. Keep the trap [and the lowercase track titles…] in 2019, Ari!

Manifested in bite-sized fragments suited for a soundbite-scavenging audience, she simply plays it too safe on this record. There are sincere moments of introspection, like on the simplistic yet devastating “i wish i hated you,” with post-breakup memories triggered by “clothes in the closet you made / your shoes still in boxes.” Nonetheless, she despairs just a little more over a meandering situationship on “don’t wanna break up again.” Her vocals are pristine as always [especially ahead of her lead role in the theatrical adaptation of Wicked], but for all the controversy pending the album’s release, Ariana Grande has never sounded quite so unaffecting.

Listen to: yes, and?, bye, we can’t be friends (wait for your love)

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Jack DeBoyace
Jack DeBoyace, Staff Writer

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