While 2018 saw Ariana Grande preemptively vow to wed an SNL comedian who apparently sub–tattoos his exes, 2019 begins with Grande making yet another vow, only this time to her fans. A woman of her word, Grande dropped her explosively candid fifth album, thank u, next, just six months after Sweetener. This departs from the standard industry cycle—album release, promotional stints, world tour, rinse and repeat—in a bold way. 

In other words, Ariana Grande is breaking up with the music industry—and we are here for it.

thank u, next is a fast–fashion album; Grande changes her style with the same tempo and fervor of Forever 21 putting out collections. On her latest release, Grande is everything she wasn’t on Sweetener. She’s stripped–down, comfortable and maybe a even a little bit effortless, with one track bleeding into the next like watercolors. This shift is momentous and hopefully enduring. After years of palatable hits, Grande has found her groove.

It’s one that relaxes. Each track on thank u, next has a bassline you can ride—impactful enough to play at a party’s peak but chill enough to soundtrack a study session. It feels natural, and you can’t help but imagine Ariana Grande recording the album in her signature oversized sweatshirt, bouncing around the studio, eyes closed and feeling carefree. 

The album opens with “imagine,” a decadent slow–burn about a relationship filled with regular guilty pleasures—eating Thai takeout on the floor, soaking in a bubble bath, cuddling. It sounds indulgent, with Grande flexing her whistle tones just because she can. A pleasant lead-in, “imagine” reminds us of thank u, next’s central message: in order to grow, you must put your own needs first.

And for Grande, these needs are especially human, which feels refreshing coming from a celebrity infamous for borderline satirical backstage demands. “needy” has Grande playing a game of Operation on herself, dissecting her flaws with surgeon–like precision. Accompanied by a fuzzy backbeat meant to pantomime unfinished production, Grande sounds most at home surrounded by her insecurities.

That being said, Grande is strongest when she’s decisive and braggadocious. Songs like “NASA” and “bloodline” carry the album, elevating it to something more than well–intended radio pop. “NASA,” is an introspective banger, something to blast in your bedroom before sending that dreaded “I think we need space” text. In it, her voice is like a wink, enticing yet unapproachable. Grande’s confidence is admirable because it’s not of this stratosphere. 

Meanwhile, “bloodline” is a scathing clapback. The song, read through the eyes of someone who cares about celebrity romances, is a watershed moment for Grande. She’s playing into every stereotype the media flings at her—that she’s capricious, non–committal, and conceited. Basically, Grande is claiming her persona as just another part of her, turning her liberation into a sexy rebound anthem. 

Still, the middle of the album is unremarkable, another cog in the Billboard 200 machine. Grande’s voice is one that would that could catapult the Oxford English Dictionary to platinum status, so she has a knack for creating songs you can cherry–pick. Tracks like “makeup” and “bad idea” are cheeky at best and white noise at their worst. But ultimately, these null tracks are the appetizer. thank u, next’s entree is its closer, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”

“break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” embodies Grande’s essence masterfully. Reminiscent of the now–iconic Tiffany Pollard meme, Grande asserts her role as a playmaker. She can shift a relationship status, a mood, a whole industry in the blink of an eye. "b.u.w.y.g.i.b." is so much more than an anthem for boss bitches everywhere. It’s a State of the Union of sorts, showcasing exactly where Ariana stands. 

And where is that? Predictably at the top of the charts, unbothered, and primed to go double platinum without features.