eternal sunshine by Ariana Grande album review by Sam Franzini for Northern Transmissions. The artist's full-length is now out via Republic


eternal sunshine

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande doesn’t really care what you think. Last summer, she caused an explosion on the internet by breaking up with her partner, the actor Dalton Gomez, and sparking a relationship with Wicked co-actor Ethan Slater, all seemingly within the same week. Rumors of homewrecking have been debunked, and Grande seems content with her new partner, but her long-waited studio album eternal sunshine promises to both touch on past love and new flames, but faintly delivers on both.

eternal sunshine is, unfortunately, Grande’s weakest lyrical work — and it doesn’t help that she co-wrote every song. thank u, next’s pseudo-trap persona was cringy, and Positions often talked about sex the same way a ninth grader who just learned to curse would, but eternal sunshine is filled with the easily digestible therapy-speak one picks up off a pretentious Instagram infographic about putting yourself first. The words “self-soothe,” “codependency,” and “situationship” are all smashed together in one song; elsewhere, she sits in silence with her “truth”, and languishes, “I’m usually so unproblematic.” The worst offense is the record’s only interlude, where YouTube astrologer Diana Garland speaks of Saturn’s 29-year orbit, which apparently, when it finishes, “hits you over the head and says ‘Wake up.’” (Whatever that means.) The sagest advice actually comes from Grande’s grandmother, credited as Nonna, who ends the album with the often-heard advice to never end a night with your partner without a kiss. But if you don’t feel like it? “You’re in the wrong place,” she says, “Get out.”

Grande did get out. eternal sunshine is part break-up, part new love album — the “situationship” she referred to was actually a 2.5-year marriage. “bye” takes a simplistic, fun angle about the divorce, but its minimally-worded chorus is strengthened, at least, by tight disco strings and a power in Grande’s voice that isn’t used often as it could be on the new record (think of the musculature of Dangerous Woman — it’s absent here). Leaving wasn’t as easy as “bye” makes it seem, though, as “don’t wanna break up again” says — while she was in therapy, her partner was doing nothing. “I’m too much for you / So I gotta do / The thing I don’t wanna do,” she says. At least, on the twinkling “i wish i hated you” does she get some closure — even though she wanted the relationship ending to be more explosive, she can’t bring herself to wish him the worst. “we can’t be friends” is another lyrical clunker about her and her ex, with rampant Lizzo-isms: “You got me misunderstood, but at least I look this good.” Co-written by Max Martin, the pulsing beat is reminiscent of Robyn’s 2010 masterpiece Body Talk — but at least her music makes you feel something. “we can’t be friends”, much like “yes, and?”, the stomping house banger about her breakup’s aftermath, takes on the sheen of someone forming a persona because they have to, making for a wobbly run on eternal sunshine.

And then there’s Ethan Slater. Grande met her new love on the Wicked set, and, much like the internet, she doesn’t understand what happened. “It’s taking over me,” she admits on the glowing “supernatural”, says he “hits like a green light” when stuck in traffic on the closer (another uncomfortable use of internet-speak), and on the breathy, awkwardly-paced “the boy is mine,” a riff on Brandy and Monica’s song of the same name, sings, “something about him is made for somebody like me.” But, of course, the ‘something’ in question is unknowable — Grande evades what it is about Slater that makes him special in favor of vague lyricism: “I can’t ignore my heart, boy!” she shrugs. The lilting ballad “imperfect for you” actually does the best at explaining the public stunt she inadvertently caused — “How could we know we’d rearrange all the cosmos?” But finally, we get an answer to why the two are drawn to each other: they’re “fucked up, anxious, too much… messy, completely distressed,” but all goes away when they’re together. No, it’s not a powerful ballad as “pov” was on Positions, but this is, at least, heartfelt.

Grande’s middling lyricism, social media-pulled lyrics, and cheaply made beats signal an unsettling trend in pop, one where its creator vies for virality over anything else. Her mentioning her “self-soothing” and “codependency” acts as nothing more but call-ins for the lowest common denominator of listeners: purveyors of self-care Instagram who, through a jumble of noncommittal lyrics, pick up on a word they’ve surely seen before. What else could be the reason for “yes, and?” a red herring that gained traction as a viral sound as well as a 180-switch from Grande’s previous work. You can practically see someone on TikTok mouthing over “boy, bye,” on the record’s second track, its chorus spaced out for maximum potential. An Ariana update account reported that “the boy is mine” and “we can’t be friends” are going viral on TikTok — is this how we should measure music now? By how many people find a fifteen-second clip of your work deemable as inoffensive background music for a funny quip?

eternal sunshine is a dissatisfying work from someone who has created some of pop’s most iconic moments of the 2010’s. There’s some to pick over here, like the dark, warbly “true story,” the whimsy and joy of “bye” and “yes, and?” but Grande’s seventh album is largely filler that doesn’t comment on any of the (very interesting!) material from her life she could have used. After four of the most turbulent, highly publicized months of Grande’s life, one expects more than the middling pop and forgettable cuts of eternal sunshine.

Order eternal sunshine by Ariana Grande HERE

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