Ain’t no stoppin’ Ariana. Just last year Ariana Grande dropped her fifth studio album, Sweetener, and fewer than six months later she’s already reaching for the top of the charts with her sixth: thank u, next.
This explicit 12-track effort veers from the lightness of her previous work to deal with a wide variety of topics, including sex, intimacy, love, vulnerability, healthy relationhips and brutal honesty. And it’s filled with personal stories that are both inviting and cautionary.
The song “ghostin” is about a supportive man who treats Ariana tenderly as she’s healing from a past relationship: “Baby, you do it so well/You been so understanding, you been so good/And I’m puttin’ you through more than one ever should.” And in “imagine,” she wishes for an anonymous, normal night in with the man she loves: “Step up the two of us, nobody knows us/ … This is a pleasure, feel like we never/Act this regular.”
In “thank u, next,” Ariana expresses gratitude for previous relationships that taught her about herself and caused her to grow as an individual: “One taught me love/One taught me patience/And one taught me pain/Now, I’m so amazing.” She also confesses her desire to marry just once.
And in “NASA,” she says that a healthy relationship starts with space and alone time: “Give you the whole world, I’ma need space/ … It ain’t nothing wrong with saying I need me time.” Meanwhile, in “needy” she opens up about really needing the man she loves: “I can be needy, tell me how good it feels to be needed.”
“in my head” confessionally reflects on the difference between loving a version of someone you create in your mind, instead of loving a person as he really is: “Yeah, look at you boy, I invented you/Your Gucci tennis shoes runnin’ from your issues/ … I saw your potential without seein’ credentials/Maybe that’s the issue.”
Ariana says (albeit, explicitly) that she’s done with the superficial façade in “fake smile.”
Explicit one-night stands, make-up sex, seducing other women’s boyfriends and various intimate moments are big themes on more than half of the songs on this album, including “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” “7 Rings,” “make up,” “bad idea,” “bloodline” and “imagine.”
In “bloodline,” Ariana’s only interested in a one-time fling with a man she knows is bad for her: “Get it like you love me/ … Don’t want you in my bloodline/Just wanna have a good time.” And in “make up,” we hear Grande sing, “‘Cause the way you be screamin’ my name/Make me wanna make love to you.”
In “in my head,” Ariana admits that sex in a previous relationship has blurred her better judgement: “Caught in the moment, tangled in your sheets/When you broke my heart; I said you only wanted half of me.” And in “ghostin,” she hangs on to a previous love while in a relationship with someone else: “Though I wish he were here instead/Don’t want that in your head.”
Nearly every song on the album is explicit, including uses of the f-word and s-word, as well as “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” We also hear a few references to drinking champagne and other liquor.
The album cover—which we’ve cropped in the image above—is also suggestive.
Thank u, next is making its ah, ahem, grand entrance. Though final numbers for the album’s first week aren’t in yet, we know that it’ll be No. 1, and we know those numbers are going to be big. Billboard reports that thank u, next might have “the biggest streaming week ever for an album by a woman, the largest streaming week for a pop album, and one of the top 10 biggest streaming weeks ever for an album of any genre.”
Which says a lot. Let’s be honest: Ariana has huge fan following. So huge, in fact, that her fans are working to boycott one of her top songs to guarantee room for another at the top of the charts. Talk about a devoted fan base! She obviously has extraordinary influence over the millions of fans—many of them undoubtedly young teens and tweens—who adore her.
This time around, what they’ll hear on nearly every song is explicit stuff, both in language and content. Yes, Ariana’s extremely vulnerable as she opens up about her former loves, her personal pain and how she’s trying to take care of herself. But the intimacy and connection she’s clearly craving with a man also comes with a hefty emotional price tag for her.
And that’s a price that parents of her youngest fans won’t want their children to pay if they should follow their idol’s reckless lead when it comes to sex, love and relationships.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).