It was a day. It was one of those days that make you want to curl up on the sidewalk, even when you only a few steps from your home. One of those days where the sky feels intentionally cloudy and time moves especially slow. On one of those days when the whole universe is giving you the middle finger, there is only one remedy that I would suggest: Ariana Grande’s Sweetener.
Like its title, the album instantly serves to make any situation a little more palatable. Each song dissolves softly, flowing so easily into each other, flowing so easily into your heart. Each song swirls around you in a glorious cloud of harmonious beats. It is so easy to become absorbed in the album. It is as if Ariana has condensed a little bit of her own happiness into every note. Yet, instead of feeling envious, you welcome the joyous wonder in her voice. After a year of overwhelming cynicism, it is refreshing to have a piece of art that is so distinct from the rest of the climate. The album is hopeful, reveling in the present and anticipatory of a better future.
Even a song that lingers on a failed relationship like better off, acknowledges the mistake as necessity instead of a regret. “I’m better off without him. I’m better off being a wild one”, she sings softly as if to herself. She isn’t accusatory or harsh like many other contemporary break-up songs. No, this is a woman who has come out of a relationship having learned something. There is no anger and the song is more powerful for it. When I listen to the album, I am impressed by the maturity that suffuses it. Yet, unlike her previous album, Dangerous Woman, she doesn’t have to resort to leather or sexual innuendos to express this newfound womanhood. Becoming an adult is not just sex, it is the comfort with oneself, comfort with who they’ve become. While her last attempt had a touch of desperation, this time no one doubts her seriousness. Somehow, Ariana has achieved the ultimate contradiction. She has spun happiness into power, she has transformed sugar into medicine for the soul.
The ultimate testament to Ariana’s new-found tenacity is in her last song, get well soon. It concerns the anxiety and depersonalization she felt after the terrorist attack following her 2017 concert in Manchester. Over and over, she pleads with herself, “Girl, what’s wrong with you? Come back down”. Over and over, it breaks my heart, even as I am drawn to the song again and again. But Ariana is not alone, and she reassures that we aren’t either. She draws her strength from her community, never letting tragedy destroy who she is.
So, even though it has been four months since its official release, even though she has already released another smash hit (which she predicted!), listen to Sweetener. Listen to Ariana, as she stretches for a higher note than you thought was possible. Listen to Ariana and be inspired to do the impossible.