eternal sunshine by Ariana Grande // Album Review

Ariana Grande's eternal sunshine is in part a concept album based on the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as an insight into the place Ariana is currently at in her life. Sonically it is very pop and R&B inspired, with an emphasis on having a 90's and early 2000's throwback feel. It is also among some of her strongest and most consistent bodies of work yet. The film that the album's title and many of the songs loosely reference is about a couple who agrees to undergo a medical procedure to have each other erased from their memories forever, following a bad breakup. For Ariana, this album represents a final lamentation on her ex-husband and their divorce, as well as looking optimistically into the future with her new relationship. She uses the plotline of that film to portray the downfall of their marriage and how she overcame the heartache that came with her divorce, singing "you're just my eternal sunshine" to her ex-husband on the album's title track. The early days of that relationship were at the center of her previous record positions, which obviously portrayed him in a much better light than what is shown throughout most of eternal sunshine. The stark contrast between the two records is very evident and also quite sad. At the time, that record did spawn some of which I believe were among the best and genuinely happiest songs she has ever made in her career up to this point. 

Following the release of positions, she took quite a long time away from music, especially compared to the frequency at which she was releasing albums between 2018 and 2020. I truly believe that time away from it gave her a clearer approach to her craft and greatly improved the quality of the work she was putting out. The shining star throughout this entire album is, to no one's surprise, Ariana's vocal performance. She has always been such a massively talented singer, but with eternal sunshine she really takes her talents to a new level. This is the first time she is releasing music since starring in the film adaptation of Wicked, which is set to be released later this year. The intensive vocal training that she has talked about having to go through for that movie is on full display throughout this record. The vocal production is so immaculate and her already stunning talents are even more polished on this album. She has really entered a new prime vocally with this music and I can't wait to see where she continues to go from here.

Ari worked on the majority of this album over the span of a few months in mid to late 2023 during the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes. During that time, she returned to New York City to work with her long-time collaborator Max Martin to see what they could come up with. She previously was very adamant about not releasing an album until Wicked was released, as to give her full attention to that project. She has been very vocal over the years about it being her life's dream to play Glinda in the film adaptation, which I am really looking forward to finally see come to fruition! With Wicked: Part Two set to be released at the end of 2025, the idea of writing and releasing her own music was a distant thought for her. I couldn't have imagined waiting several more years for new music from Ariana and am very glad she didn't wait to release something. 

Over the past year, Ariana has also found herself at the center of a media storm with her new relationship, which I won't necessarily be going into specifics over in this review, but the timeline has all been very publicly reported on elsewhere. This album was her first chance to really address it or even set the record straight with this messy "love triangle" she has been involved in - to put it plainly. Regardless of what really happened and whether it has been warranted or not, she has been kind of painted as the villain during the whole coverage of it. This is the first time she has publicly spoken about her new relationship at all and subtly addresses the controversy throughout, but perhaps doesn't really go too into specifics aside from a few lyrics. It kind of goes back and forth between her being the person that people want/expect her to be and really playing into it, while simultaneously being sincere in what her real-life feelings about it are behind the scenes. I think she does do a great job at showing that there is a lot more nuance to the situation than what is reported on in the tabloids, and not everything is always so black and white. Some of these songs do lie in a middle gray area though, which will inevitably lead to more speculation - but that's probably the point of all this anyway. Again, every single song sounds really great, the production and her vocal performance are both stellar and among some of her best yet. I suppose it is better to just appreciate it for what it is, which is a really great pop record and not to really read too much into it because who really cares anyway. 

The first glimpse we got into the eternal sunshine musical universe was with the album's lead single, "yes, and?". The song feels like the big sister of "Be Alright" in its message and sound, while also paying homage to Madonna's "Vogue". It is about spreading light and positivity, while recognizing the power we all hold in ourselves. "Say that shit with your chest and be your own fuckin best friend" is one of my favorite lyrics and does represent the overarching message of eternal sunshine in a really beautiful way. However, I do wish she went with her approach to positions and just dropped the album with no pre-released single. With an album like this it would have been so much better to go in blind and not really know what to expect from it. In a general sense, she does reference some of the speculation surrounding her personal life, as well as the unwarranted comments about her physical appearance. "Don't comment on my body, do not reply," she sings in the song's bridge, "your business is yours and mine is mine, why do you care so much whose d*ck I ride, why?". That final line, as shocking as it may be the first time you hear it, is pretty much the approach she takes with the rest of the record and honestly - good for her!

The album starts with a short track titled "intro (end of the world)" that brings the listener up to speed with where her life is now and the questions that are running through her mind at this point in time. "How can I tell if I'm in the right relationship? Aren't you really supposed to know that shit?" she sings in the opening lines. It also introduces the concept of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, asking if the world were to end tomorrow would the person she's with even care about her and would she care about him. A major theme of this album is her trying to reckon with that truth that she no longer wants to be with this person and is trying to overcome the heartbreak that comes with that. The second track "bye" is her finally acting upon those feelings and fully realizing that she needs to move on and leave that relationship behind. It is pretty much her "thank u, next" moment on this record, which represents the final page in that chapter of her life, but is still able to look back on it knowing that she did the best she could through it all. 

In an interview with Zach Sang for Amazon Music, she talked about how although this is one of the simpler songs on the album, "bye" was actually one of the hardest for her to write. "It was hard for the reason that I desperately didn’t want it to sound like a 'fuck you'. I wanted it to sound like 'I need to leave, so, bye.' I wanted it to be rooted in self-awareness and not 'fuck you, you go', but with love emigrating from the situation," she said. "I think my biggest fear when it comes to songwriting in general is just, kind of, even if the concept is strong, and even if empowerment is important, and I want to empower people, making sure that it is kind and that it leads with empathy and that it has that. It's still fun, but it's like, I just wanted to make sure there wasn't any sort of harshness."

While "bye" is somewhat vague in terms of how she came to that conclusion, she definitely gives a lot more insight into the events that lead to up to her divorce throughout a major portion of the rest of the record. "don't wanna break up again" is basically a reflection of that song and expresses in detail the pain they both caused for each other emotionally during their relationship. Ultimately it came down to her being "too much" for him, as she sings in the chorus of the song. It's also so funny that she calls her marriage a "situationship" too. For how upbeat and catchy "don't wanna break up again" is, the lyrics are among the saddest on the record. "I fall asleep cryin', you turn up the TV, you don't wanna hear me," she sings in the first lines. The bridge of the song calls back to the day that "bye" is about, "Just one kiss goodbye, with tears in our eyes, hope you won't, won't regret me, hope you'll still think fondly of our little life," she sings.

A lot of the theming of this album has to do with the astrological concept of a Saturn return, which refers to when Saturn completes its orbit around the Sun and reverts to the same position in a person’s zodiac sign as it was when they were born. That cycle takes about 29 to 30 years and is viewed as a rebirth of sorts and a time to wake up and take control of your life. It is explained in more detail on the fourth track, which is a short spoken-word interlude of astrologer Diana Garland. It is really interesting that Saturn return has been a prominent theme in a lot of music released just weeks apart by a few other artists recently - most notably with "Deeper Well" by Kacey Musgraves and "Saturn" by SZA. I guess they are all very much on the same wavelength right now! 

The album's title track "eternal sunshine" is absolutely one of the best songs on the album and ties together the theme of the album so perfectly. The "Saturn Return Interlude" prefaces what was about to come with "eternal sunshine" so well in the flow of the track list, as she also talked about in her interview with Amazon Music. "'eternal sunshine' feels like a wake-up moment, sort of like a pivotal moment in the story, and 'Saturn Returns' coming right before it, it tells you to wake up. It just felt like setting up the rest of the album in a way," Ariana said. 

This is where the concept of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really comes into play and blends the events of the film and her personal life in such a perfect way. She is so honest on this song and gives the listener everything they need to know about what she has been going through. She is at her most vulnerable in sharing her deepest feelings of wanting to move on and wipe her mind of her ex. In turn, it also acknowledges that he likely wants to wipe his mind of her as well. In the chorus she sings, "I found a good boy and he's on my side, you're just my eternal sunshine". In her interview with Zach Sang for Amazon Music, she talked about the way the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind concept came together, "I've always loved that movie since I was a little girl. I'm a huge Jim Carrey fan and I always have been, and I was always sort of attracted to the idea of writing a song around that but once I realized that the rest of the songs were kind of forming a story that, well, kinda similar to Eternal Sunshine where there's this cycle that everyone's trying to break, it just fell into place."

The first four songs serve as a preface to the rest of the album in a really interesting way. The flow of eternal sunshine really tells such a clear story and each song builds upon the last. The storytelling is at it's strongest on the title track too, I definitely think it will go down as an all-timer in Ari's discography. The production is also so cool and feels very cinematic too. The double meaning that the term "eternal sunshine" also holds throughout this album is also very prevalent on this song, not just in the context of the film it is based off of, but as a concept of being able to grow and find happiness at the end of a dark period of life. 

While this album does experiment with some throwback production elements, it also does a really good job at staying really true to Ariana's classic style too. "Supernatural" feels like the next potential hit that can come from this record. It is glittering pop perfection, almost as if it could have been on Dangerous Woman or Sweetener. With all of the celestial lyricism and the stunning layered vocals, it just feels so quintessentially Ari to me!

Some of my other favorite tracks also come around the mid-point of the record. "true story" and "the boy is mine" reminds me of the classic early 2000's Max Martin hits by artists like Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake. "Cry Me A River" comes to mind as a notable influence on both of these tracks and is sampled on "true story" as well, along with "4 Page Letter" by Aaliyah. I absolutely love this song and her vocals sound insane on it. I love the backing vocals of "gimme love, love, gimme love" too.

"true story" is the first time on the album that she directly alludes to the drama and controversy surrounding her and her new relationship. It also pretty much clears up that there is more to the story than what anyone knows and it has all been blown out of proportion in the media. It also directly comments on the fact that women in the public eye are often held to an unrealistic standard than many of their male peers would be. Also, the media can change their opinion of you at the drop of a dime, regardless of it being true or not. 

In a more abstract sense, this concept is also at the center of the tenth track, "we can't be friends (wait for your love)". Upon first listen, it is kind of disguised as another song of forbidden love, one where she is dealing with the ebbs and flows she and her lover are going through in their relationship. Once I listened closer, it is actually about a different, more complex, relationship in her life, one that is between her and the media. "I didn't think you'd understand me, how could you ever even try?" she sings in the opening verse, "Just wanna let this story die and I'll be alright". She isn't denying anything or even combating the negativity that is being spread about her but is more so just acknowledging the fact that the public's perception of you is an unending swinging pendulum. One day everyone can hate you, the next day everyone loves you again - and that cycle will continue forever. "I wanted it to be something that everyone could relate to. It can be whoever you want it to be about, but I know for me what it’s about," Ari said in her interview with Amazon Music. "I have a hard time going into specifics because I feel like that’s not the point of it. The point is to leave it up for people to make of it what they will."

I also view it as a commentary on the never-ending media cycle as "you cling to your papers and pens, wait until you like me again", as she sings in the chorus. For better or worse at times, she can't really escape from it either. "Know that you made me, I don't like how you paint me, yet I'm still here hanging", she sings in the bridge. At the end of the day, she knows her truth and that's ultimately all she needs, "me and my truth we sit in silence, baby girl it's just me and you", she sings.

Sonically it draws from a Europop style, with a bumping house club beat. I actually didn't really care for this song too much when I first heard it, but the more I listened to it, the more I ended up really loving it. The music video, which is a modern recreation of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is also one of my favorites she has ever done too. 

While I do wish she were more specific in her lyricism and really took this chance to clear everything up, she doesn't really owe anyone anything either and that message is more so what songs like "true story" and "we can't be friends (wait for your love)" focuses on. While she isn't really defending anything, she doesn't really need to either. With that, she is willing to play the part of the villain if that's what everyone wants from her and even says, "I'll be the one you love to hate, can't relate" in the second verse of "true story". 

"the boy is mine" I feel is her playing the part of the villain that everyone has made her out to be and is further feeding into that narrative. There's no other way to interpret it really, she knew exactly what she was doing even having a song titled this considering all of the drama, but thankfully the song is a bop and holds up against all of that. I view "the boy is mine" and "true story" as sister songs, especially the way they are both so provocative in nature and meant to stir up a conversation around them. On "true story" she even says herself, "I'll be the bad girl if you need me to", which she immediately does in the following song, "the boy is mine". "That's gonna be everyone's favorite, unfortunately. I think it’s naughty, it's the version of 'Fantasize' that they wanted to have. It's like a sexier, naughtier one, and I think it's more provocative than the rest, but it’s not about what you think it was about..." she said in her interview with Amazon Music.

Ariana has recently referenced her unreleased song titled "Fantasize", which leaked in June 2023, quite a few times and has been very adamant about it being a song she never intended to release herself. She said that it was written basically as a parody of a pop song for a TV show that was eventually scrapped. When it leaked online it instantly went viral and had everyone obsessed with it ever since. I honestly never understood the hype with "Fantasize" and think that "true story" and "the boy is mine" both do a really great job at reworking the concept of it into a much better finished product.

On "the boy is mine", Ari takes a lot of inspiration from the classic 1998 Brandy and Monica duet of the same name, which she also interpolated on her version as well. I love the production on this one, she just has the coolest vibe on this song. It is absolutely one of the highlights for me. The beat slowing down at the chorus is such an interesting production choice, as it is usually the opposite of the pop song formula, but it really paid off so well. Vocally, this is also one of the strongest moments on the album too. She is totally channeling the spirit of all of the iconic 90's divas and I absolutely can't get enough of it.


"i wish i hated you" once again brings back the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind concept with wishing she were able to rearrange her memories to make her hate the person she is singing about, even though she doesn't and feels guilty for even thinking that. It is a very emotional and heartfelt song, which kind of reminds me of "ghostin" from thank u, next because of the way she holds nothing back and is very raw in sharing her genuine, unfiltered emotions. So much so, that at the end of the song you can hear her voice break down as she is singing the final lines, "I wish I hated you, I wish that weren't true, wish I was worse to you, I wish you were worse to me, yeah, I wish I hated you". Even though this isn't the last song on the album, in a lot of ways it is the final sendoff to her ex (for now) in her grieving process of this relationship. This album really takes the listener through the rollercoaster of emotions she went through as she was making it. The journey it takes from a song like "bye" all the way through to "i wish i hated you" shows the emotional growth she gained throughout the progression of the album's story. An acknowledgement of the happy times is very necessary for showing the other side of the story. There is a lot more rationality and forgiveness toward the end of the record. "Our shadows dance in a parallel plane, just two different endings, you learn to repair and I learn to keep me in one place" is a lyric that really stood out to me too from that track.

In her interview with Zach Sang for Amazon Music, she talked about how hard it was for her to record this song, but how important this piece of the puzzle was for her to include on the record. "It's one of those that I'm so glad that feeling is captured on this album, but it's one that I won't listen to, probably, or sing live, probably. But I think it's a very important color to exist within the album because it's just an important piece of the puzzle for me. But I'm happy to acknowledge the goodness, I really am, and the efforts, and that it just was not correct and I don't need to pretend that you're a monster to make peace with this ending. That's what that song is. And it would be easier if you were, but it can have not been right and that person can still be a good person and I think that's a really important song to write," she said. "Grieving would be much easier if we hated a person, it's good riddance, but no, it's capturing the complexity of 'What happens if I don't?' is imperative, I think. It's protective as well."

Part of me does wish that the album ended with either "i wish i hated you", "yes, and?", or "we can't be friends (wait for your love)" because those all felt like a better note to end this record on. The last two songs on the album do kind of drag it out a little bit too long and don't really offer much to the album than what has already been said before. Aside from the very end of "ordinary things" featuring Nonna Grande, which is one of the best parts of the entire album, the rest of the final two songs just isn't all that memorable. eternal sunshine ends with a voice note from her grandmother Marjorie Grande, or Nonna, answering the question that Ariana asks in the first song of the album. It is a really sweet ending of her talking about her late husband and how much she loves him. 

Nonna's voice notes are an element that have been incorporated several times in Ariana's music before, starting all the way back to her first album with "Daydreamin'". On "intro (end of the world)", Ari starts the album with asking "How do I know if I'm in the right relationship" and spends the rest of eternal sunshine really grappling with that thought and trying to figure it out for herself. "It’s interesting ‘cause the album starts with a question and ends with an answer from a person that I love and trust so implicitly. I cherish what my family has to share with me." Ari recalled in her interview with Amazon Music. "The funniest thing about that voice memo is that sometimes when I’m with Nonna, I will just record her for like hours because she’s the funniest fucking person on the planet and that tiny thing is in the dead middle of an hour of her and Shirley bitching about men and about feminism. It’s the funniest."

Her feature on this song also made Nonna Grande the oldest person to chart on Billboard Hot 100 and on the Spotify charts at 98 years old. What an icon! It is such a beautiful way to end the album, especially after all of the heavy emotions and heartache that was present throughout much of the album. 

eternal sunshine shines a light on all that Ariana has been going through in her life from where her last album left off. After taking a four-year hiatus from releasing music, she came back with such a refreshed, clear intent behind this record. It is a reminder that you can bring yourself out of a dark place and still be able to find the light within yourself to move onward and create something beautiful from that experience. ☼ ⋆。˚⋆ฺ 𖦹


If you are interested in purchasing a copy of eternal sunshine*, I would really appreciate if you would do so through my affiliate link*. I recently bought the album on vinyl* & CD* myself and have been playing it non-stop ever since, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! Shop more Ariana Grande music here*

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! Check out some of my other Ariana Grande album reviews, they are among my very favorites I have ever written. I'd love for you to read my review of Yours Truly, Sweetener & thank, u, next - plus more are linked below!

-Melissa ♡



Photo Credit: Ariana Grande, Republic Records, Katia Temkin



Comments

Popular Posts

Olivia Rodrigo & Noah Kahan // Stick Season & Lacy Live at the BBC // Record Store Day 2024 Exclusive 7" Vinyl

Re: This Is Why by Paramore // 2024 Record Store Day Exclusive Ruby Red Vinyl

SAFIYA NYGAARD x COLOURPOP COLLECTION REVIEW 🦇♥

The 1975: Live at Gorilla // Record Store Day Exclusive Vinyl 2024

GUTS by Olivia Rodrigo // Album Review