By Blake Wedding —

To say that Ariana Grande had a tumultuous 2018 would be an immense understatement. Over the last couple of years, adversity and turmoil have seemed to follow the massively popular 25-year-old vocalist seemingly in every direction.

After a traumatizing terrorist bombing at one of her shows, the tragic death of her ex and fellow musician, Mac Miller, and a short lived engagement and unfortunate break up with Pete Davidson, Ariana has had a lot to process.

The release of “Sweetener” in 2018 seemed to address the Manchester bombing, which occurred several months prior, through catharsis and uplifting sounds.

It was a collection of songs that showcased Grande re-establishing herself as not only a force to be reckoned with in the pop spectrum, but also nothing less than pop music’s most lovable personality, standing out amongst her contemporaries. Obviously, the follow up to such a breakthrough moment for the artist was bound to have high expectations.

Grande’s newest album, “thank u, next” far exceeded my expectations and I’m quite confident in saying that this is Grande’s best work so far.

The song “thank u, next” is the resounding sound of an artist finally finding herself, an artist who has finally hit their stride.

Being the more damaged companion piece to “Sweetener,” “thank u, next” is the sound of the past year and a half of tragedies and traumas that Grande has survived, refusing to bottle themselves up any longer. Grande’s stunningly beautiful four-octave soprano voice sounds both liberated and crushed simultaneously across the album.

Some of the songs on this album are objectively more melancholy and remorseful than others, but all of the songs on “thank u, next” have an undeniable underlying sense of hurt and damage to them. These feelings that Grande has had to hide from herself and from her public image have nowhere left to run.

This allows Grande to be more authentic, honest, raw and reflective than she ever has been before. Furthermore, this impressive authenticity lends itself to what I believe is the album’s central theme: growth.

Grande’s song “thank u, next” showcases her battling and blaming herself for just about everything, while also throwing herself into forms of escapism as some means of feeling okay.

But amidst this inner-turmoil and reflection, Grande rises from the ashes of her pain and her past with more perspective, more maturity and more nuance than many of her contemporaries.

In the end, after listening to this beautiful mess of an album, I’m convinced that Grande is currently one of the best vocalists in pop music.

There’s no one else putting out masterpieces like “fake smile” in pop music at the moment.

And it is songs like “fake smile”, “thank u, next” and “needy,” which portray a woman who has rightfully become an icon for female empowerment and perseverance, for emotional complexity and for reminding herself just as much as her millions of listeners that self-improvement and healing are both very long and arduous processes, but that they are also processes that are worth the pain.

Graphic by Arry Schofield / The Louisville Cardinal