Album Review: “Eternal Sunshine” by Ariana Grande

Pop-icon returns with a moody, breezy and exquisitely produced seventh album

Not many musicians can boast of having a similar meteoric rise to stardom that Ariana Grande has had. For one, there is the voice – chiseled and crystalline, backed with the kind of prowess and control that has rightfully invited comparisons with stalwarts like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. The early albums from the Nickelodeon star-turned-singer were laced with catchy songwriting, bright production, and a hybridized pop and R&B sound that has become a mainstay in Ariana’s sonic palette.

However, with the one-two punch of “Sweetener” (2018) and “Thank U, Next” (2019), her music became markedly more personal, reflective of her struggles and joy, her grief, her relationships and victories.

Suddenly Ariana was not just a contemporary pop heroine anymore. She became something larger: a media and critical darling, a sweetheart to her fanbase, someone whose music commands cultural conversations, someone whose commitment to her craft withstands any resistance (eg: the devastating Manchester Arena bombing, and the ‘One Love’ concert in its aftermath). It seemed Ariana’s persona could not be tainted or tarnished.

Until it did.

“Eternal Sunshine,” Ariana’s seventh studio effort, arrives at an interesting time in her career. This comes four years after “Positions,” making it her longest gap between albums. Within this time, she has been married, divorced and fallen in love with another man. News headlines about her have not been entirely kind, with allegations of cheating and homewrecking, added with speculations about her health courtesy of a visibly skinnier appearance.

Ariana made no secret of her frustration when she directly addressed this on her social media saying “…I have never felt more pride or joy or love while simultaneously feeling so deeply misunderstood by people who don’t know me, who piece whispers together and make what they want out of me and their assumptions of my life….” In all honesty, “Eternal Sunshine” was billed as her post-divorce, “kiss-off to the haters” album. The question is: does Ariana come out on top?

I am pleased to say, resoundingly so, yes! This is a slickly produced, cohesive bunch of mostly well-written and expertly executed songs where every song sounds like it could be a single. It mostly follows the Ariana sound we have come to expect but allows room for exciting detours here and there. The best example is the lead single “Yes, And?” with its dancefloor-ready beat reminiscent of “Vogue” by Madonna, it has a relatable message of staying authentic and unapologetically defiant amidst hatred and scrutiny.

I was not that enthusiastic about the second single “We Can’t Be Friends” as it sounds a little too similar to “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn. I have softened up to it after a few listens; however, I would argue that these singles work better in the context of the album.

The record kicks off with the acapella-esque intro, a heady reminder that her voice is still as mesmerizing as ever, which smoothly saddles into the funk-flavored “Bye.” This song is the kind of pristinely-produced, post-break-up disco song that is engineered to be a soundtrack for many of us. “Don’t Wanna Break Up Again” is standard Ariana with layered vocal harmonies crooning about how she feels sad that her situationship must end; it has one of my favorite opening lines in this album, “I fall asleep cryin’/ You turn up the TV/ You don’t wanna hear me/ One more sleepless night.”

“Supernatural” is probably my favorite track on this album, with its pillowy production sounding like a warm hug, where Ariana sings about her feelings of love, sensuality and longing being so overwhelming that it feels supernatural. “True Story” is a thinly veiled jab at the critics and paparazzi who are constantly onto her, where Ariana says that she would be happy to play the villain and the bad girl in their stories if they need her to.

“I Wish I Hated You” continues the streak of good musicianship with twinkling synths pitting against Ariana’s gorgeous vocals that sound sad and uplifting at the same time. The only guest spot on this album is by her grandmother Marjorie (credited as “Nonna”) on the last track, “Ordinary Things,” which is basically an audio excerpt of her talking to Ariana about when the ideal time to get out of a relationship is.

If I had to point out weak spots on the album, I would point toward some of the lyrics which are clunky and weird, the main culprit being the title track with the lyrics, “I showed you all my demons, all my lies/ Yet you played me like Atari/ Now it’s like I’m lookin’ in the mirror/ Hope you feel alright when you’re in her”; or “Ordinary Things” where she sings, “You hit like my biggеst fan when I hear what the critiquеs say/ You hit just like a green light when I’m stuck runnin’ real late.”

These are minor nitpicks in an album that is filled with bops and quotable lyrics. It is a testament to Ariana’s voice that she makes lowkey-cringe lines on paper sound like gospel when she’s singing it.

Long-time Ariana fans might miss her liberally belting out her upper registers and those ‘dolphin whistles’ she pulls off every now and then. By Ariana’s standards, this is indeed a constrained album vocally. However, I’d argue that the underuse of her vocal acrobatics is a strength in this album that deals mostly with conflict and turmoil, both inner and outer.

Overall, “Eternal Sunshine” is a thrilling return to form for Ariana, and a wonderful addition to her already-legendary catalog.

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