Pete Davidson recently told GQ that he has wanted to marry Ariana Grande since he first met her, and one need only look to the past 48 hours to understand why. The pop star exudes self-confidence and sheer talent, as seen Wednesday night in a “Carpool Karaoke” segment. She showcased her powerhouse vocals Thursday in a moving tribute to Aretha Franklin on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” and again in her latest studio album.
“Sweetener,” which debuted Thursday at midnight, marks Grande’s first album since the fatal bombing at her May 2017 concert in Manchester, England. It serves as Grande’s way of telling listeners that everything is going to be all right, an uplifting message woven through 47 minutes of pop and R&B.
Here’s what to know about the 15-track album:
It branches out from Grande’s previous work.
Grande promised fans that “Sweetener” would be different from her past synth-pop hits, telling the Fader in May, “I’ve always just been like a shiny, singing, 5-6-7-8, sexy-dance . . . sexy thing. But now it’s like, ‘OK . . . issa bop — but issa message.”
She emphasized this Thursday evening on Twitter: “i told y’all i wanted to go somewhere new. i went somewhere new … i feel at home here.”
Producers Max Martin and Ilya contributed a great deal to Grande’s 2016 album “Dangerous Woman,” and they split the task this time with longtime Grande collaborator Tommy Brown, Pharrell Williams, and a few others. Martin and Ilya are responsible for singles “no tears left to cry” (she uses lowercase for her titles) and “God is a woman,” which recall some of Grande’s older dance-pop work. So does the Brown-produced R&B track “better off.” But Pharrell switched things up by bringing his trademark funk and eclectic beats to six tracks, including those featuring Nicki Minaj (“the light is coming”) and Missy Elliott (“borderline”).
It contains a song about Grande’s fiance named, well, “pete davidson.”
We are more aware of Pete Davidson than ever before, which the comedian attributes to his being engaged to “a super-famous person.” He’s right — tabloids have spent the entire summer obsessing over the whirlwind relationship. (Their best couple name is “Grandson,” if you were wondering.) Neither one has shied away from addressing their relationship on social media, but Grande went a step further by literally singing Davidson’s praises in “Sweetener.” She calls him her soulmate and says that the “universe must have my back.”
The track was once just named “Pete,” but Grande tweeted in July that she likes the way “pete davidson” looks better: “music lasts forever. it’ll outlive any tattoo, any memory, any anything, even myself so i want my love for him and how i feel to be a part of that.”
It also contains a reworked Beyoncé demo.
The album’s “R.E.M” sounds like another Pharrell production that first surfaced online last year — a Beyoncé demo called “Wake Up.” A fan asked on Twitter about the connection after Grande teased her song in July, to which the singer responded, “it’s an entirely new song now but the hook was so dreamy . . . it had to find a home i think it’ll be one of your favs.” (The tweet also includes some lovely cloud emoji.)
It is unclear why the song hopped from one diva to another, but the Pharrell connection probably has something to do with it.
“Sweetener” also includes a nod to Grande’s professed idol, Imogen Heap, turning the latter’s “Goodnight and Go” into “goodnight n go,” a radio-friendly, bass-heavy rendition. Grande referred to it as a “remix & a cover” of a song by “the woman who inspired my every move.”
It gives Grande space to open up about her mental health.
The last track, “get well soon,” guides listeners through an anxiety attack and back to stability: “They say my system is overloaded / Girl, what’s wrong with you? Come back down. I’m too much in my head, did you notice?”
Grande tweeted to a fan in May that her anxiety made her feel like she was outside of her body: “i felt like i was floating for like 3 months last year & not in a nice way.” She told the Fader in a piece published the next day that she wrote the lyrics to “get well soon” right after an attack.
“The thing that makes me feel OK with opening up and finally allowing myself to be vulnerable is that I know [my fans] feel the same feelings,” she said. “I have fans that have become friends of mine. . . . I played [the song] for them before I played it for my label. They were like, ‘Thank you,’ when they heard that one.”
It dedicates 40 seconds of silence to the Manchester bombing victims.
The musical portion of “get well soon” ends at the 4:42 mark, but the track includes a moment of silence that brings the full length to 5 minutes and 22 seconds — a nod to May 22, the date of her show at Manchester Arena.