thank u, next by Ariana Grande // 5 Year Anniversary Album Review


thank u, next by Ariana Grande spawned some of the biggest hits, not just in Ariana's discography, but also in the history of pop music. It re-defined pop music in immeasurable ways that we will continue to hear the influences of for years to come. This album It is also widely considered to be a fan-favorite, as well as being a revolutionary record in the streaming era. Looking at it now five years later, thank u, next serves as such a time capsule of pop culture of the late 2018-2019 era. It really does transport me back to those years every time I listen to it. 

thank u, next was released in early 2019, less than six months after her fourth album Sweetener, which was another career-defining record that came after a period of deep, all-encompassing loves and heartbreaks. Those two albums really do go in tandem, there is no way to talk about one without referencing the profound impact the other had on her artistic journey. Even visually, both are connected through the recurring upside-down album covers. "There were a couple of months straight where I felt so upside down," she detailed in an interview with Elle before Sweetener was released. That sentiment carried through into her next album, where she went through many deeply traumatic events in her personal life very publicly. The creation of thank u, next in a lot of ways represented the beginning of the healing process for her. "It turned everything around in my life. It sounds really corny, but it was the most beautiful,” she said in an interview with Zach Sang, "I don't think life has ever been as bad as it was when we started."

The creation of this album really did seem to come out of a deep necessity for Ariana at the time, as it was created during a very dark and tumultuous period of her life. Some of the messy or chaotic elements of this album are a perfect representation of what her life really seemed like at this time. The creation of thank u, next came at the tail end of a media storm that she was the center of for much of 2018. If you recall, Ariana was everywhere at this time. Not only her music, but also the subsequent media coverage of her life and relationships were inescapable. There is no room for speculation as to who this album is about because she really does lay it all out in the music and also literally names exactly who she is singing about in the album's title track. For a few months of that year, she was in a brief, but widely publicized, relationship with comedian Pete Davidson, who she was also engaged to at the time. While they were together, her longtime friend, collaborator and ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller tragically passed away. In short, that is how this album came to be, in the wake of her dear friend's passing and the ending of her engagement. She is very open about her grieving and heartache throughout this record, making it one of her most personal releases yet. 

With this album, Ariana completely changed the game when it comes to the frequency of which pop stars release music now. Before thank u, next, there was always a certain universal formula that was followed by major artists for decades when it comes to the standard album cycle. Usually, it used to take about two years like clockwork for some artists to come back and put out new music again. I mean, can you imagine at this point having to wait for two years for someone like Taylor Swift to put out a new album again? The one who has put out nine new albums (and counting) between 2019 and 2024? With the close succession of Sweetener and thank u, nextAriana really did redefine the art of a successful album cycle and proved it can be done without the same patterns of promotion again and again. She is the driving force that allows record labels to even consider that a viable option of releasing music in the age of streaming. "My dream has always been to be - obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does. I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren't. We have to do the teaser before the single, then do the single, and wait to do the preorder, and radio has to impact before the video, and we have to do the discount on this day, and all this shit," she told Billboard in 2018. "It's just like, 'Bruh, I just want to fucking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do. Why do they get to make records like that and I don't?' So I do and I did and I am, and I will continue to."

This album was made in just over a month, which for an artist, can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the quality of the output. It does seem that this has become the norm for Ari in the album creation process in the releases that have followed thank u, next. While some of the songs on this album are among the best she has ever made and are full of sharp, emotional lyricism and vibrant production, other songs kind of feel like a mashup of a bunch of different half-baked ideas pieced together to make a song. However, at the time it was released, I did like the way that much of the stories and emotions expressed were still fresh and being told in the present tense, instead of singing about something that happened a year+ ago. I think that is part of what made the song "thank u, next" such a big hit, the events she was opening up about were still very much relevant and at the forefront of the media. We could hear exactly what she was going through in real-time. It's also important to mention though how unfortunate the timing was that the peak of success in her career coincided with what was likely one of the lowest and most emotional times in her life. 

"I made it with my best friends over the course of a really small period of time, and it kind of saved my life," she said in an interview with Zach Sang. "It was kind of this super challenging chapter that sucked, and then my friends made it amazing and special." During this trying time, she worked with many of her long-time friends and collaborators on this project, including Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx, and Tommy Brown, whose work draws from a range of influences and played with experimental production elements throughout. She also collaborated with pop music titans Max Martin, Ilya Salmanzadeh, and Savan Kotecha on a number of songs too, which are mostly the tracks that I personally think have aged the best and are the most timeless pieces of pop perfection. 


The song that started it all is the album's title track, "thank u, next". It was surprise released in November of 2018 and truly changed pop music forever. It became an iconic anthem of self-love and new-found independence after facing hardships in life, thanking all of the people that made her into who she is today. The world stopped when I heard those opening lines for the first time, I don't think I have ever been so floored by a verse in a song ever! This entire song is the definition of a cultural reset and one of the greatest she has ever made. "Thought I'd end up with Sean, but he wasn't a match, wrote some songs about Ricky, now I listen and laugh, even almost got married and for Pete, I'm so thankful, wish I could say, 'Thank you' to Malcolm, 'cause he was an angel," she sings. The bold and confessional lyricism of this song is one of the key reasons why it turned into the cultural phenomenon that it did. As the song goes on, she details what she learned from each of her exes, "One taught me love, one taught me patience and one taught me pain, now, I'm so amazing," and in the midst of her heartbreak she found herself. "Say I've loved and I've lost, but that's not what I see, so, look what I got look what you taught me, and for that, I say, thank you, next ... I'm so fuckin grateful for my ex". "thank u, next" became the mantra that would define so much of the next couple of years.

"We had like three different versions of the song," she told Zach Sang of the creation of the iconic hit, which included at least one version that doesn't name any names. "In that variant of the song that still lives on someone’s hard drive somewhere, I think I said, 'They say I’m too young.' 'I've got so many boyfriends,'" she said. "I was just talking about what people say about me, still. It still was like, OK, I’m embracing my mistakes and what I’ve done and everything that's contributing to who I am but it was just less direct. Everyone kind of - including me - was kind of like, 'This is not the version'. But I was also trying to be protective." She continued, "In my relationship, by that time, things were like up and down and on and off, so I didn’t know what was gonna happen. And then, you know, we got back together so I had to make a different version of it, and then we broke up again we ended up going with that version. There’s a version where I was getting married. There’s a version where I’m not getting married. There’s a version with nothing, we’re not talking about anything."

Somehow, she was still able to find herself in the midst of all this, which is the most important lesson of all. I love that so much of this song revolves around the importance of self-love and self-discovery, a theme that would carry through into the rest of this album. "Plus, I met someone else, we havin' better discussions, I know they say I move on too fast, but this one gon' last, 'cause her name is Ari and I'm so good with that," she sings in the second verse. It is such a beautiful moment of reflection for her. I also absolutely love the bridge of this song, simultaneously looking into the future with her hopes to get married, as well as forgiving her dad for things that have happened in the past. She sings, "One day I'll walk down the aisle, holding hands with my mama, I'll be thanking my dad, 'cause she grew from the drama, only wanna do it once, real bad, gon' make that shit last, God forbid something happens, least this song is a smash". Well, that last part maybe didn't age the best, but if she was right about one thing, at least this song is a smash! It is such an important lesson to learn from the pain that others gave you, and not let it define you, but to let it fuel you and help you grow. For better or worse, all of the people mentioned in this song helped to make her into the person she is today and "thank u, next" is a celebration of that journey.

"thank u, next" was met with widespread global acclaim and became her first song to debut at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was actually the first song by a female artist to reach the top of the charts since Adele's "Hello" in 2015 - which is insane that there is over a three-year gap between those songs! Both the song and the accompanying music video for "thank u, next" broke dozens of records in the first 24 hours alone. The music video is also one of the greatest of all time, a true celebration of her friends, influences, and feminine energy. All of her music videos from this time, Sweetener era included, were on another level and brought the songs to life in such an iconic way. 

 I do often wonder if this would have turned into a full album if it wasn't for the overwhelming success that the album's title track had at this time, surely it had to have at least accelerated the delivery of the rest of the record. 

In early 2019, to follow up the massive success of "thank u, next", Ariana released the second single off of her forthcoming album, titled "7 rings". If "thank u, next" wasn't already big enough, somehow "7 rings" was even bigger. Upon it's release, "7 rings" broke even more streaming records. It debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming her second consecutive number-one in the United States for eight weeks. It spent 33 weeks on the chart overall and became one of the highest selling singles in digital history. 

"7 rings" is an absolute classic, the number of times I played this song in 2019 is insane. The opening chords are among some of the most iconic and recognizable in the history of pop music at this point. She samples Julie Andrews' "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, but instead of "Brown paper packages tied up with strings", Ariana swaps out the original lyrics a little bit more opulence. "Breakfast at Tiffany's and bottles of bubbles, girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble, lashes and diamonds, ATM machines, buy myself all of my favorite things," she sings in the opening lines. On Twitter, she wrote, "Seven rings is just like.....a flex. Friendship anthem. How the homies WANT you to feel. What the ‘thank u next’ energy evolves into while embracing a new chapter (even though both moods /energies are very present)." 

Along with the sampling of the Sound of Music classic, she also interpolated The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Gimme the Loot", which is such an unexpected mashup of songs, but it works so well. The undeniable hip-hop influences paired with her classic pop sound is such a cool combination for her to be experimenting with. Much like her coining the term, "thank u, next" "7 rings" also brought forth some iconic one liners too, "You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it" and "I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it", are just two of the most memorable lines from the chorus, but literally the entire song is made up of great lines like that.

The backstory of this song is just as extravagant as you'd expect. "It was a challenging fall day in New York,” she told Billboard in 2018, "Me and my friends went to Tiffany's together, just because we needed some retail therapy. You know how when you’re waiting at Tiffany's they give you lots of champagne? They got us very tipsy, so we bought seven engagement rings, and when I got back to the studio I gave everybody a friendship ring. That's why we have these, and that’s where the song idea came from." That day at Tiffany's is also referenced in the second verse of the song, "Wearing a ring, but ain't gon' be no 'Mrs.', bought matching diamonds for six of my bitches, I'd rather spoil all my friends with my riches, think retail therapy my new addiction". 

I can understand how some call this song materialistic and vapid, because it obviously is, but also that is pretty much the entire point of it. It's just meant to be a fun pop song, which is exactly what it excels at. With all of the glamour, champagne, pink, diamonds, and mile long hair extensions - what's not to love! Throughout much of this album, she kind of switches back and forth between portraying an idealized version of the pop star version herself and then showing who she really is underneath that. This song I view now as more of a character that she is playing into. In the context of the rest of the album, I do think the aura around it changes a bit and has an undertone of sadness to it, while trying to mask her problems with material items. Depending on the way you look at it, it's interesting the way the perspective of this song can switch up like that. 

The core of the rest of the album is made up of these two singles, "thank u, next" and "7 rings". "7 rings" represents more of the fun and idealized version of herself and the pop star persona she crafted, while "thank u, next" represents some of the more personal and reflective moments of the record. Both of those sides exist concurrently throughout.

The album opens with one of the best songs Ariana has ever made. It is also one of the most heartbreaking, too. She said it was written about "a simple, beautiful love that is now and forever unattainable". "Feels like forever, baby, I never thought that it would be you" she sings. She continuously asks throughout the song, "Why can't you imagine a world like that?" as she details all of the sweet, small moments of everyday life with this person, but is in denial over it ultimately never being able to work out. Much of this record is made up of those back-and-forth emotions she is facing in the grieving process and wishing things could have been different. It's as if she is daydreaming of what their life could have been like if things were different. "A lot of this album mourns failed yet important, beautiful relationships in my life (as well as celebrates growth/exploring new independence)," she wrote on her Instagram Story. "But for those of you asking about 'imagine': I would say if 'thank u, next’ = acceptance… 'imagine' = denial. Hope that makes sense." It is such a sad and heavy song, especially in context of the fate this relationship ultimately faced. I believe she only ever performed this song live twice because of how emotional it is. It is such a strong and powerful vocal performance from her though, the whistle tones at the end still give me chills when I hear them. She makes it sound so effortless!

The second track, "needy" is one of the most personal and introspective songs she has ever made too. It gives the listener a glimpse into a side of Ariana that I feel that she doesn't often show in her music. It is a relatively simple song where she isn't trying to be anything more than just herself, nothing fancy, not hiding behind any kind of persona or anything. I truly think she shines the most as an artist in these moments. I feel that "needy" is one of the first true glimpses we have ever gotten of who she is underneath it all. It is paired with gorgeous orchestral production too, which enhances this song so much. She takes accountability for her faults and downfalls in a really vulnerable way. It feels like it could have been on Sweetener, as many of these themes are present throughout that record too. "Lately, I've been on a roller coaster, tryna get a hold of my emotions" feels very reminiscent of lyrics from that album's closing track, "get well soon"

"I’ma scream and shout for what I love, passionate, but I don't give no fucks, I admit that I'm a lil' messed up, but I can hide it when I'm all dressed up, I'm obsessive and I love too hard, good at overthinking with my heart," is one of my favorite verses from that song. The act of being able to hide her emotions when she's in public and put on a happy face is also the theme of the fifth track, "fake smile". The intro samples Wendy Rene’s 1964 song "After Laughter (Comes Tears)," which perfectly represents exactly what this song is about. "I can't fake another smile, I can't fake like I'm alright and I won't say I’m feeling fine, after what I been through, I can’t lie," she sings in the pre-chorus. While I do appreciate the sentiment and the honesty she has in this song, I just think structurally it doesn't hit the way some of the other songs on this album or on Sweetener do when opening up about similar topics. While the verses are strong, it sounds like she runs out of steam when she gets to the chorus, and even more so when she gets to the bridge. There was so much more potential with this song and sounds like they just pieced together a few ideas and didn't really complete it. 

That same thought I have always had for a couple other songs on this record too. Because of how quickly it was made, it seems like she and her collaborators didn't really want to or feel like they needed to go back and refine parts of this album. Of course, thank u, next is full of songs that were instant classics in her discography, but it also has moments that could have benefited from more refining. I think "NASA" is the perfect example of that, it is a fun concept, but it is just mostly just repeating "Ima need space" over and over throughout the whole chorus. I used to really like this song too, and it was cute at the time, but it's one of those that just didn't really age that well and neither the melody or lyricism can carry it. The same goes for "make up" too, which is track 7 on the album and probably the worst she has ever made. It's about a toxic relationship she was in where they were breaking up just to get back together again. The production is the worst part, I know they were going for a wannabe Pharrell sound, but it just falls flat. It's as if they are just looping a junky sound effect board over and over throughout the entire song, I wonder why it even made the final cut honestly. The one redeeming quality this song has is some of the cute play on words and innuendos used, the best being, "highlight of my life just like that Fenty Beauty kit". 

While there were some swings and misses, there are a few album tracks that are among some of the best she has ever made. The fourth track, "bloodline", has always been among one of my favorites ever. I absolutely love the instrumentation on this track, it's a blend of big band trumpets and heavy trap bass lines, creating such a fun and unique blend of genres. The pre-chorus is also so cleverly written and performed. I love the lyric from the bridge, "I know what you looking for, but I'm complete", which feels like the overarching theme of this entire record. The intro also features a cameo from Nonna Grande in the beginning too, which is a cute personal touch. 

Another one of the best and most underrated songs on this album is the sixth track, "bad idea". It's about her trying to move on from a past relationship but is torn on what to do. A lot of this album is made up of moments where it is as if she is kind of spiraling over what's going on in her life and having a back-and-forth inner battle with herself over it. The difference in quality between a song like "make up" and "bad idea" is astronomical, it's hard to believe it actually is on the same album. The perfection of "bad idea" is also further elevated by the live version on the k, bye for now album she released in late 2019. The electro-pop production is absolutely incredible and one of the best songs she has ever released. The orchestral outro is so stunning too!

Among all of the fun tracks, also comes some of the most brutally honest and introspective moments of her discography. "ghostin" is a song that is so hauntingly beautiful and deeply emotional. Her rawest emotions are on full display in this song. At the time, I didn't know if she would address her grief and regret in such specificity. In fact, it was a song that she originally didn't want to include on the album because of how personal it was, but Scooter Braun, her manager at the time, ended up convincing her to include it. It is admirable for her to have released this song because I'm sure there are many people out there listening to it that may be able to relate to the heaviness and specific emotions she was experiencing that inspired this song. It was the first song they made for the album, as well as the longest they took to complete because of the difficulty surrounding the topics it covers. On Twitter, she said "ghostin" is about "Feeling badly for the person you're with because you love somebody else. Feeling badly because he can tell he can't compare....and how I should be ghosting him." 

This is one of the rawest songs on the album that really gives a glimpse into her life at the time and in her mourning of the loss of Mac Miller. She and her fiancé, Pete Davidson, ended up breaking up soon after and this song details this emotional time for them. "I know you hear me when I cry, I try to hold it in at night, while you're sleeping next to me," she sings in the opening lines of the song. It is such a powerful and moving song, but one I don't often return to because of how heavy it is. "ghostin" is brought to life by the most gorgeous and ethereal orchestral production, it is so stunning. "Though I wish he were here instead, don't want that living in your head, he just comes to visit me when I'm dreaming every now and then," she sings, "and after all that we been through, there's so much to look forward to".

Themes connected to "ghostin" were later revisited on her album the following year, positions. "off the table" comes to mind first, which feels like a direct connection to the doubts and insecurities she felt while wondering if she would ever be able to love someone again. "I'll wait for you, even though it always feels like I'll be number two to someone you can't hold anymore," sings The Weeknd in his verse on that song, representing the male perspective of the relationship. So much of that album directly references these exact feelings in her continued pursuit of learning to love again. 

There was another song that I assume would have been as deeply personal as "ghostin", or somehow even more so, that ended up getting cut from the album called "remember". The duality of "remember" and "imagine" would have tied the album together really well, but of course I understand the reasoning for ultimately choosing not to release it. On Twitter, she wrote, "Honestly, I just want to feel stable and ok sharing, promoting, performing the songs for you which I wouldn’t. I decided to keep it private for many reasons." She instead replaced it with what she called "a fun one" instead. That song ended up being the closing track for the album, called "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored". While the song itself is actually very well done and excels in the production and her vocal performance, I think I would have liked it a lot more if it had a different placement on the track list. Coming after the perfection that is "thank u, next", "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored" just kind of unnecessarily drags out the album and is a weird note to end this story on. It's about Ari wanting a guy to leave his girlfriend to be with her instead, which honestly having a song out with this sentiment has come back to bite her a few different times, very recently and also very publicly at that. With that being said, I also don't think she, or any other pop star, should be viewed as some kind of moral compass to follow. Some songs are just meant to be light-hearted and mindless like this. However, I think I would have liked it a lot more if it was featured around the mid-point of the record instead. The flow of the track list is a bit jumbled at times and kind of messes with the flow from song to song. For example, listening to this album from beginning to end will give you complete whiplash going from the travesty that is "make up" into the heartbreaking ballad "ghostin". That has to be the strangest placement of all on this track listing. 
 
The complexities of self-perception and reality are at the forefront of the ninth track, "in my head", which feels like the climax so much of this album is building up to. At this point in the album, after expressing so many conflicted feelings, Ariana finally comes to terms with reality and takes off the rose-colored glasses. She has said this song is about "Being in love w a version of somebody you've created in your head. Falling for someone that they are not." It starts with a voicemail that her friend Doug Middlebrook recorded, saying "Here's the thing: you’re in love with a version of a person that you've created in your head, that you are trying to but cannot fix. Uh, the only person you can fix is yourself..." So much of "thank u, next" is building up to this big realization of what is really happening around her and this feels like the climax of the record in a lot of ways. "Painted a picture, I thought I knew you well, I got a habit of seeing what isn't there," she sings in the opening lines, "When you broke my heart, I said you only wanted half of me". 

The connections to the song on Sweetener titled "pete davidson" obviously draws a lot of lyrical parallels to "in my head" and feels like the closing of a chapter in her life. The implications of a lyric like "I thought you into my life, look at my mind," has come full circle with the sentiment behind "in my head" now. 

"in my head" reminds me so much of a deep cut from the Charlie's Angels soundtrack Ari wrote and produced in 2019, called "How I Look On You". I never hear anyone talking about it, but in a lot of ways it feels like the sister song to "in my head". That soundtrack overall is full of songs that sound like they were originally cut from this album, which I say in the best way possible because it is all just as good as what actually made it onto thank u, next

The final pre-chorus and bridge of "in my head" is so incredible, one of the best verses she has ever written, "look at you, boy, I invented you, your Gucci tennis shoes, runnin’ from your issues, cardio good for the heart, I figured we could work it out," she sings. "Wanted you to grow, but, boy, you wasn't budding, everything you are made you everything you aren’t, I saw your potential without seein' credentials, maybe that's the issue, can't hold that shit against you, guess I did it to myself, thought you were somebody else".


Ariana's vulnerability is so admirable on this album, she held nothing back in sharing her true, authentic experience at this time in her life. This album is an anthem of hope and resilience from someone struck with grief and trying her best to overcome the pain. This album will forever serve as a pivotal part of her artistic journey and it's impact will continue to be heard for years to come. The creation of thank u, next is proof of the healing power that music can hold for both the artist and the listener. 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of thank u, next*, I would really appreciate if you would do so through my affiliate link*, which I may earn a commission from. ♡ Check out more of Ariana Grande's music here*. I have also written other album reviews of Ariana Grande's music if you'd like to read them: Yours Truly 10 Year Anniversary Album Review & Sweetener 5 Year Anniversary Album Review ... plus many more linked below and coming soon

¡ƃuᴉpɐǝɹ ɹoɟ sʞuɐɥʇ 

-Melissa ♡


Photo Credit: Alfredo Flores, Ariana Grande, Republic Records


*affiliate links are featured throughout this post. I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. -- Melissa Kacar is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com


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