Some Albums Take Years. Ariana Grande Made ‘Thank U, Next’ in 2 Weeks

After personal turmoil, the pop star went to New York with trusted collaborators to make what may be her best, and most surprising, album to date.

Right now, Grande is as close as most stars get to walking on water: Only two other singers in history, Mariah Carey and Drake, have released consecutive Number One singles in the lead-up to an album, according to Billboard. Grande released Thank U, Next on Friday, and the singer will likely set a personal-best for first-week sales even though this album comes less than six months after her last Number One album, Sweetener. Improbably, Thank U, Next also sounds both more urgent and more varied than its predecessor.

This is all the more remarkable considering that Thank U, Next almost didn’t happen. Following the tragic death of Grande’s ex-boyfriend, the rapper Mac Miller, in September 2018, “there was a point where Ariana didn’t want to do anything,” friend and longtime collaborator Victoria Monét says. The songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jameel Roberts was scheduled to go into the studio with Grande to work on the Sweetener follow-up. “When we heard that [Miller died] we weren’t sure those sessions were gonna still be on,” he says.

The resulting album stands out from the rest of Grande’s catalog. “You’re used to hearing her singing pop records, maybe a soul-based record,” Roberts explains. “But some of these are really different. She’s stretching.”

Some of those changes are structural. Most modern big-budget albums, including Sweetener, are front-loaded or fat in the middle before tapering off. But Thank U, Next starts quietly, with a trio of ballads, and ends with thunderstorms: “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings,” steroidal streaming hits, plus “Break up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” which is both mischievous and hammering. Grande has never constructed an album like this before.

Structural idiosyncrasies extend to individual tracks as well. Roberts, who co-wrote “Imagine” and “In My Head” and played instruments, including Alicia Keys’ Fender Rhodes, on “Fake Smile,” expressed surprise that Grande decided to record “Imagine. “It’s in triple meter — you don’t get a lot of those records anymore, especially for a pop singer,” he explains. But Grande made a 6/8 track the first thing you hear on Thank U, Next. “The ‘In My Head’ record, if you put it on, the first thing you hear [a recorded voicemail and a vicious rap beat with a distended bass line], I would never think, ‘this is an Ariana record,’” Roberts continues. “Even on ‘Imagine,’ when she’s singing the whistle tones on the end — she’s growing.”

Thank U, Next is also the rare Event Album to be made by a lot of women. Nine of the album’s 12 songs have two or more female writers, which is a first on a Grande project. (Technically another track, “Break up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” has two female writers too, but Kandi Buruss is credited because she co-wrote the old ‘NSync track Grande samples.) For comparison’s sake, less than a quarter of the 36 writers up for a Record of the Year Grammy on Sunday are women.

“A lot of [Grande’s] songs have been male-driven [in terms of her co-writers], but a lot of these songs really have the female perspective — that’s notable,” says Denisia Andrews, a member of the writer-producer duo Nova Wav with Brittany “Chi” Coney. “Chi and I produce, and we were able to add production on the record we worked on [‘In My Head’] as well.”

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Some Albums Take Years. Ariana Grande Made ‘Thank U, Next’ in 2 Weeks

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