thank u, next: A track-by-track review

By Sinead Li

imagine 5/10

The last thirty second are an experience: Ariana’s vocals have always been one of the best of her generation of singers, and she proves it with soaring whistle notes against an almost orchestral landscape. Unfortunately, the track lacks replay-ability; there are verses that are a little repetitive and boring compared to how grand the chorus feels. As the introductory track, however, it works so well – Ariana opening her album with her powerful vocals builds excitement for what is to come.

needy 4/10

Not bad. But not a stand-out either. Ariana’s strength has never been her lyrics, and needy is a song that needs good lyrics. On top a minimalist and hollow beat, Ariana doesn’t manage to create a space within its emptiness; there’s something lacking in the song, and that something is genuineness. In this song, Ariana never seems to depart from clichés. She only touches on the surface of her personal insecurities, glossing over them in ambiguous and fanciful terms, and ultimately, she leaves the listener yearning for greater depth.

NASA 5.5/10

This is a fun song, and its bouncy synths reminds me of Pharrell’s production in her last album, sweetener. The verses are smooth, and the way her voice curls around ‘you’ll be my rise and shine / soon as the stars align / mhm’ is gorgeous. Again, however, this track lacks replay-ability; its rather one-note chorus gets grating after a few listens.

bloodline 6.5/10

Ariana brings back the reggae-like style of her smash-hit Side to Side in this track. Ariana’s frequent collaborator Max Martin has his signature all over this track; its production, especially the trumpet-like sounds that blare following the chorus, are distinctly his. The pre-chorus, where Ariana’s more coarser vocals spit rapid-fire accompanied by the hollow kick in the beat, it is easily the track’s greatest moment.

fake smile 7/10

The sample at the beginning is so perfect: After laughter comes tears, it echoes, and then the track fades into a darker sound – it’s a chilling transition. The juxtaposition between the darkness of the verses with the lighter chorus is enthralling; the track lifts you up and you sink right back down. Moreover, the chorus nears the bounciness of her earlier album sweetener, but then crashes back down with the surprisingly hard-hitting woos, as well as the tone of the lyrics that meander between playful and dangerous. The odd, chant-like bridge works surprisingly well especially when following these dark verses.

bad idea 9/10

Ariana should release this as her next single. It is the closest thing this album has to a stand-out track. It is a bop from the beginning; the synths kick in immediately at the beginning with the most interesting progression in this album, and the complex hi-hats mix in trap-like elements to the otherwise pure-pop anthem. Although Ariana has a rather discomforting relationship with Japan*, I admit that the little Ari-chan in the background during the chorus is kind of catchy. Moreover, the orchestral component in the end is everything.

make up 6/10

Ariana called this track one of her favorite off her album, but a lot of people also hate this song. Honestly, this track has to grow on you. Its bounciness is reminiscent of sweetener, and maybe even more so than NASA; but the twinkling in the background is all thank u, next. The playful, quick verses and the slow, stuttering chorus work surprisingly well together. The lyrics are hit-or-miss, and her poor enunciation doesn’t make it any better. I can see it getting obnoxious quickly, but, as of now, I consider it a solid track.

ghostin 10/10

This track is objectively perfect. Many speculate that it involves her recently deceased boyfriend Mac Miller and her ex-fiancé Pete Davidson; according to them, the track is about how Ariana was heartbroken over Miller’s death, and how it greatly pained Davidson to see her in such a state. Whatever the story behind it, this track is not just arguably the best song off this album, it’s one of the best releases this year. I usually never enjoy slow songs; they’re usually far too boring for me, yet I still loved this one. It’s so sentimental and beautiful and heartbreaking. And if bloodline is all Max Martin, this one is all ILYA. The producer brings his usual clean, stream-lined sound to the track, but instead of being packaged inside a pop anthem, the purity of his production lends itself to the beauty of Ariana’s gentle crooning over the twinkly, orchestral instrumental. There is a cello in this track, and it is all I ever dreamed of. Moreover, Ariana presents her best lyrical work yet: ‘I’m hating myself ‘cause you don’t want to.’ She bleeds sincerity in this track, something even the biggest popstars often lack. I cannot stress it enough: there’s almost an atmosphere in this track, the falling synths rounding out a little musical world.

in my head 7/10

Similar to make up, there’s quite a few people out there who absolutely despite this song. Even if it’s messy, and there’s far too many skrt-skrts for me to feel comfortable, I have to applaud Ariana for how freaking weird this song is. First off, the crunchy and coarse synth in the instrumental sounds so good, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t better utilized. However, the way all the instrumental fades away while Ariana’s voice soars up and up and up in the chorus… and then, there’s this momentary deep, deafening bass – it’s addictive. Afterwards, Ariana coos ‘boy, I invented you / Your Gucci tennis shoes, runnin’ from your issues / Cardio good for your heart / I figure we can work it out, hmm’, and her kitschy lyricism finally hits its mark; she’s fun rather than obnoxious. That said, this track does feel a little disjointed – each part (verse, pre-chorus, etc.) seem to be from completely different tracks.   

7 rings 7.5/10

As Ariana’s second #1 hit, I assume that almost everybody has already heard it, and thus already has formed an opinion on it. In the context of the album, it fits surprisingly well; it takes the trap-like elements present in fake smile further, and the darker sound was already introduced with bloodline. It’s come under fire for how materialistic the lyrics are, but I personally think the blatant, shallow hedonism is kind of fun.

thank u, next 8/10

Similarly, more or less everyone has heard this track by now. But back to the album – It feels more like a single, but it works.  

break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored 7/10

Again, as the third single, I imagine that most have already heard the song and formed their own opinion on it. In the context of the album, it feels like a continuation of the themes from 7 rings, and as the conclusion track, I don’t think it works too well. The sample from NSYNC is a genius bridge.

* there is a lot to unpack so bear with me: many critics accuse her of using the Japanese culture and language for commercial aesthetic; she defended herself by saying that she’s appreciating, not exploiting, pointing to the fact that she has been learning Japanese for the past two years. And then she got a tattoo in Japanese that was written incorrectly.