When it dropped in August of last year, Sweetener felt like the album Ariana Grande was always meant to make. It’s not just Grande’s best album—it’s her most consistent and conceptually sound release to date. And as Grande reflected on the terror attack at her 2017 concert in Manchester, England, her songs took on a new tenor of vulnerability. With Sweetener, Ariana Grande came into her own both artistically and emotionally, and ascended to a new echelon of international pop stardom.
Now, less than half a year after the release of Sweetener, Ariana Grande is giving us another album. Thank U, Next arrives on February 8. Here’s everything we know about the new album so far.
It bookends a tumultuous five months.
Since Sweetener, Grande has said she’s been through “hell and back.” Just three weeks after the record’s release, Grande’s ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died of a reported accidental overdose. In October, Grande split with then-fiancé Pete Davidson, who served as inspiration for at least one track on Sweetener. After a short break from new music, she came back strong with the single “Thank U, Next,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early November. The album’s opening track, “Imagine,” was released as a promo single in December, while official second single “7 Rings” dropped in January and gave Grande her second No. 1 debut on the Hot 100. With Thank U, Next, Grande is turning tragedy and heartbreak into commercial success.
Thank U, Next deals with love and loss.
It comes as no surprise that Thank U, Next finds Grande coming to terms with the death of Mac Miller, and with her split from Pete Davidson. “7 Rings” deals explicitly with her reaction to the breakup, while “Imagine” was likely inspired by Miller’s passing. Responding to a fan on Twitter, Grande revealed that “Imagine” is about “a simple, beautiful love that is now (and forever) unattainable.” The album’s title track namechecks several high-profile exes, including Big Sean and Ricky Alvarez alongside Miller and Davidson. The album’s newly released tracklist has Grande stans conspiring about which songs correspond to which personal events in the pop star’s life. Grande shed some light on the track “Ghostin” via Twitter: “[‘Ghostin’ is about] feeling badly for the person you’re with bc you love somebody else. feeling badly bc he can tell he can’t compare…. and how i should be ghosting him.” In the same thread, she wrote that “In My Head” has to do with “being in love w a version of somebody you’ve created in your head. falling for someone that they are not.”
Grande is taking more than one approach to recovery.
It’s not yet clear whether Thank U, Next will be more in line with the playful ferocity of “7 Rings” or the reflective determination of its title track. Though both songs maintain the trap influence that made for some great cuts on Sweetener, and the production is typically strong, they adopt radically different perspective on past trauma and divergent ideas about how to move forward. While the title track finds Grande expressing a kind of Zen gratitude, “7 Rings” flirts with bitterness and excess to the tune of Rogers and Hammerstein. The latter song was apparently inspired by a post-breakup shopping trip, during which Grande bought engagement rings for herself and six friends. The antagonistic approach to moving on feels like the complete opposite of “Thank U, Next”: “Been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch / Who woulda thought it’d turn me to a savage?” One thing is clear: The album’s through line is recovery, and a readiness for whatever’s next.
Thank U, Next features songwriting and production from longtime collaborators.
Producers Tommy Brown and Max Martin, both of whom worked closely with Grande on Sweetener, return as featured collaborators on Thank U, Next. If “Thank U, Next,” “Imagine,” and “7 Rings” are any indication, the album will build on Grande’s established fusion of pop and trap; the slick beats and crisp hip hop percussion of Sweetener are likely to make a return. In a recent Billboard cover story, Grande spoke on how happy she was to share the success of “Thank U, Next” with her longtime musical partners: “I can’t believe it but, like, so can. It’s me and my besties tipsy off champagne—and me with a broken heart—just letting it out and having fun. I love this more than any other song I’ve ever put out.”
Grande is credited as a co-writer on all three of the album’s singles. While there are plenty of collaborations on the production and songwriting side, Grande has confirmed that Thank U, Next is her first album with no guest vocalists.
The album may or may not reference the “small charcoal grill” debacle.
Though the album release is just days away, recent Grande news has been dominated by the unfortunate mishap surrounding her latest tattoo. Last week, Grande attempted to get the phrase “7 Rings” tattooed on her palm in Japanese kanji characters. While the characters 七 and 輪 translate to “seven” and “hoop/circle/ring/wheel” individually, when placed together, “七輪” means “small charcoal grill.” After facing ridicule from Twitter users and major news organizations alike, Grande attempted to rectify her mistake by adding a new character, 指 (“finger”), along with a heart. But the tattoo still isn’t quite right: It now reads something like “Japanese BBQ finger.” Grande has since reportedly received a $1 million sponsorship offer from a laser company to remove it altogether. She responded in kind: “I’ll give y’all a million to get off my nuts.”
“Small charcoal grill” is the latest of several tattoos Grande has had to rethink in recent months. Meanwhile, both the Thank U, Next album cover and the “7 Rings” video feature Japanese titling, which has led to fresh accusations of cultural appropriation. “There’s a difference between appropriation and appreciation,” Grande wrote in since-deleted tweets. “My Japanese fans were always excited when I wrote in Japanese or wore Japanese sayings on my clothing.”
Thank U, Next is out February 8 on Republic.