After releasing numerous singles, it’s finally here: Ariana Grande’s long-awaited fourth studio album, Sweetener.
Teaming up with Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliot in a few songs, Grande does at times embrace her lighter, sweeter side as she combines pop, R&B and her incredible vocal range. She dives into real life issues, too, opening up about love, loss and the respect she has for her fans.
But not everything on this album’s 15-song effort is as innocently tasty as this album’s title perhaps implies.
Grande encourages people to pursue physical and mental health in “Get Well Soon.” She reminds fans, “You can work your way to the top,” but you may still face low moments. The best course of action? “Unfollow fear and just say, ‘You are blocked.’”
Similarly in “No Tears Left to Cry,” Grande reaches out to her fan base (especially those affected by last year’s Manchester shooting), telling them she is “in a state of mind/I wanna be in, like, all the time” and that they should be as well: “We’re way too fly to partake in all this hate/We’re out here vibin’…” And in her version of The Four Seasons’ “Raindrops (An Angel Cried),” Grande pays tribute to those who lost their lives during her concert there: “When raindrops fell down from the sky/The day you left me, an angel cried.”
Grande shares how happy she is in “Pete Davidson.” She says that her fiancé “fell from the sky into my lap/And I know you know that you’re my soulmate and all that/I’m like ooh, ooh/ Got me happy.” The song “R.E.M.” likewise gushes over Davidson and how she can’t seem to get him off her mind: “I love you’/…But I just want to stand and yell/I will never dare to tell/Think I heard some wedding bells.” A similar theme is heard in “Blazed,” as Grande seems awestruck to have met the one she’s longed for. And in her rendition of Imogen Heap’s “Goodnight N Go,” Grande says of a crush, “Oh, why’d you have to be so cute?/It’s impossible to ignore you, ah/Why must you make me laugh so much?” A similar sentiment is heard on “Borderline,” where Ariana wants to stay faithful to only one man.
“Breathin” deals with the singer’s struggle with anxiety and praises the people who’ve helped her to overcome it: “I look up and the whole room’s spinning/You take my cares away/I can so overcomplicate, people tell me to medicate/ … Don’t know what else to try, but you tell me every time/Just keep breathin’.” Likewise, in “Sweetener” someone (likely Davidson) cheers her up when life gets difficult: “When life deals us cards/Make everything taste like it is salt/Then you come through like the sweetener you are/To bring the bitter taste to a halt.” In “Better Off,” Grande confesses that she’s better without a certain toxic ex in her life.
“God Is a Woman,” despite its theological faults, does encourage women to persevere even when they’re mistreated: “When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing.” In “The Light Is Coming” Grande declares that those who threaten to silence the innocent will not do so for long: “The light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole.”
Sex is a pretty frequent topic on this album. Songs such as “Successful,” “Goodnight N Go,” “Borderline,” “Sweetener,” “God Is a Woman,” “R.E.M.,” “Blazed” and “Everytime” all dive into sexually intimate moments. In the first, Grande suggestively says “Lately, all I want is you on top of me/You know where your hands should be/So baby, won’t you come show me?” And on “Borderline,” she crudely quips “Once you tastin’ my ice cream, I bet you won’t ever leave.”
“God Is a Woman” equates Grande’s sexual prowess to a supernatural experience: “You love it how I touch you/My one, when all is said and done/You’ll believe God is a woman.”
“Better Off” and “Eveything” are Grande’s confessions of an unhealthy realtionship that she stayed in for too long. In the former she says “Nah, I’d rather just watch you smoke and drink/Steering clear of any headaches to start/And if we’re being honest/I’d rather your body than half of your heart.”And in the latter, we hear, “You get high and call on the regular/I get weak and fall like a teenager/… I get drunk, pretend I’m over it/Self-destruct, show up like an idiot.”
“Sweetener” jokes about someone’s mom sending horoscopes.
S-words are regularly scattered throughout the album, with the f-word turning up once (in a sexual context). Additonally, one song uses a violent metaphor to make a point.
On the online Zach Sang Show, Ariana Grande shared her current feelings about her album and about her life, saying “Life’s too short. …Be grateful and be happy. … Have pure intentions, want good for other people. That’s it.”
You can hear her happiness and positivity on many of her songs as she sings about her fiancé, Pete Davidson, as well as her love for her fans and those who have weathered storms. She’s also quick to encourage others and to find common ground with those who’ve shared similar experiences.
But that doesn’t make this entire album sweet. We hear harsh profanity. Lyrics talk about getting high and drinking to excess. And despite the album’s many romantic moments, Grande has no problem embracing her raunchy side, too.
The overall result? Anyone who listens to Sweetener will have to sift through some salt to get to the sugar.
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).