Ariana Grande has been making music for about five years, and for a career so short, her list of hits is impressive. From “Love Me Harder” and “Bang Bang” to “Side to Side” and “No Tears Left to Cry,” her music has been defined by an R&B and pop–dominated sound.  

But in her newest venture, Sweetener, she trades the bright, hit–generating elements that are so characteristic of her past songs for a raw honesty, resulting in her best pop album yet. The meaningful elements and lyrics of the songs tie into Grande’s theme of ‘sweetening’ the lives of those around her—a motif that feeds back into her more girlish, innocent brand. Punctuated with short songs that break up an otherwise unremarkable flow, the album touches on topics such as mental health, relationships and loss.  

In Sweetener, Grande embraces her public image and adds to it with a more honest version of herself. That funny, sweet, smooth–talking girl we all know comes through in “sweetener” and “get well soon,” in which she recognizes and explains her ability to cheer people up. It comes through even in the all–lowercase, twitter–reminiscent titling of her songs.  

But Grande, whose visage of innocence and youth has defined her for so long, has (for the most part) shed it in Sweetener. She’s more sexual and serious, delivering an all–around less bubbly sound than her other albums provide. Her hit “god is a woman” aptly summarizes all the feminism and pure adult power that Grande has come to stand for. Most notably, though, this album draws from Grande’s experience with the bombing at her concert in Manchester. She breathes new life into that innocent facet of her being to create a comforting, loving voice, rather than one of pity or despair. She knows what her fans want, and subtly acknowledged the effect the bombing had on her and her responsibility to address her fans who still deal with the attack.  

Unlike some of her more popular singles (“Break Free,” “Bang Bang,” “Focus”), Grande weaponizes her vocals and centers the entirety of Sweetener around them, embracing the dreaminess of her voice. Her previous songs have included runs and belting, and here she offers a lullaby–like tone, which isn't her shying away from her voice but rather embracing a new side of it. The first track, thirty–eight–second long “raindrops (an angel cried),” is entirely her vocals with no accompaniment. It rings like a cathedral, setting the somber, tragic tone of the album, but still maintains a Disney style melody.  

Where Sweetener falls flat is not in any particular song, but rather in a transition.  

The shift from “raindrops” to “blazed,” is a questionable one, and comes early enough in the record for it to have an impact. Grande’s belting of “she cried” becomes a donkey–kong, elevator music beat with Pharrell Williams convincing you there’s a spark between you and him. Both tracks are easy to listen to, and their lyrics match their tones, but a short track like “raindrops” only really makes sense as a precisely fitting piece of a larger album, a fit which is broken by an aggressive tone and theme shift. But this is just one flaw.  

The body of this album—from “sweetener” to “breathin”—is a sweep of lyric–heavy songs that deviate from the standout hits of “no tears left to cry” and “God is a woman” in their more classical R&B sound. The short “pete davidson” and “raindrops” show Ariana’s more risky side, with the former directly addressing her tabloid–famous fiancé and the latter reminiscent of gospel and cartoons.  

Grande’s Sweetener effectively evolves her image and voice while giving us the comforting sounds we came to love her for. It gives the listener something to dance drunkenly to and something to cry to on repeat. 

Listen to the album here: