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  • Lauren Nolan

Album Review: "eternal sunshine" - Ariana Grande


"eternal sunshine" by Ariana Grande | Republic Records


Though it's been almost four years since Ariana Grande's last album, Positions, the singer's profile has remained as high as ever. Within that time frame, Grande starred on NBC's The Voice, launched her makeup brand, R.E.M. Beauty, was cast as Glinda in Jon M. Chu's film adaptation of Wicked, got married to real estate agent Dalton Gomez, divorced two years later, and is now in a public relationship with Oz co-star Ethan Slater--the latter of which has been tabloid fodder for months now. She has done a lot, and a lot of people have a lot of things to say about it--and for the first time, she addresses it all head-on in her newest album, eternal sunshine. The title alludes to the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the sci-fi drama about removing the memories of an ex after a breakup, which is a constant reference point in the LP. Though it is not the first time Grande has dealt with her public heartbreaks on record, eternal sunshine takes on a different approach for the singer. It is a quieter, more mature album, and one of her best to date. 


TRACKLIST

intro (end of the world)

bye

don't wanna break up again

Saturn Returns Interlude

eternal sunshine

supernatural

true story

the boy is mine

yes, and?

we can't be friends (wait for your love)

i wish i hated you

imperfect for you

ordinary things (feat. Nonna)


Ariana Grande needs no introduction. The 30-year-old singer, songwriter, and actress has been one of the most prominent pop stars for over a decade now. Though she has been well-known since the early 2010s, her stardom rose to icon status after releasing Sweetener and thank u, next; two critically acclaimed albums within six months of each other in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The records dealt with love, heartbreak, as well as personal trauma and grief, and reached record-breaking heights for the artist. On eternal sunshine, Grande returns to her 2019 form, exploring her darker emotions and life moments, but from an older, more experienced perspective.  


intro (end of the world)

In this brief preface, Ariana asks, "How can I tell if I'm in the right relationship?" It's a simple question, and one she wrestles to answer for the rest of the album. "intro" is short and sweet, with dreamy guitar plucks, and a second half with orchestration and vocal layering that sounds as grand and dramatic as the scenario it's inviting: if the world was ending, would the love of your life be there for you? It's a pillowy introduction from Grande that sets up the album quite beautifully.


bye

"bye," kicks off the record with a sparkly, disco-pop fusion about definitively leaving a relationship. eternal sunshine takes musical inspiration from various decadethroughout its tracklist--and "bye" is a power ballad straight from the seventies. Grande's vocals are as robust as ever, and her lyricism is distinctly sharper--the line where she breaks the recording studio fourth wall by mentioning how "this hook feels too hard to sing" is a particular highlight. It is the eternal sunshine version of "thank u, next;" a self-empowerment breakup track, but one with more nuance that shows the complicated feelings that come with moving on from an ex. Max Martin's production is heavenly (a point that I will try not to mention when reviewing every following track, but, my god, that man is a genius), and Ariana's star power shines. "bye" sounds timeless, and is one of the strongest tracks, not just on the album, but of Grande's entire career.  


don't wanna break up again

"don't wanna break up again" is the perfect follow-up song. If "bye" is the official good riddance, then "don't wanna break up again" is the sadder, weaker reality of ending a relationship. Much like the film, eternal sunshine bounces around chronologically of different stages within this relationship, and in "don't wanna break up again," Grande returns smack dab in the middle of this relationship. There's a strong sense of these two's dynamic with lines like "I fall asleep crying / you turn up the TV / you don't want to hear me / one more sleepless night," as well as Ariana's "messing" (she does not say messing) with his head and breaking his heart. Her storytelling abilities are at her highest on this track, and the chorus is one of the album's catchiest.  


Saturn Returns Interlude

"Saturn Returns Interlude" is a brief transition featuring a soundbite from astrology YouTuber Diana Garland, with glitchy production from Ilya Salmanzade backing. The instrumental is esoteric; the track sound like it's descending. Garland's remarks about needing to "wake up" and "get[ting] real" about life serve as fitting mantras as the rest of the album explores Grande trying to sort out her life. The song acts as a beautiful transition into "eternal sunshine" as well.


eternal sunshine

"eternal sunshine," naturally, is the song most referential of the Kaufman-written film. It shows Ari wishing to "wipe [her] mind," like Clementine in the movie, because she keeps re-remembering all these memories from this toxic relationship, alluding to constant arguments, lies, and even infidelity. She writes this from the perspective of post-breakup while both parties are with other people, and that this man is now her "eternal sunshine,"--someone she wishes she could forget because of how much pain he brings. Sonically, "eternal sunshine" is reminiscent of many tracks from Positions. This is not to say the song sounds bad, but rather is an admittedly familiar sound for Grande that she strays away from with more individual and better tracks throughout the rest of the LP. It is a necessary song, as lyrically, "eternal sunshine" provides the most context and is necessary to glue Ariana's narrative together. It is a track that only works within the context of the album. 


supernatural

"supernatural" is a shimmery ballad about love being an uncontrollable force that is too overpowering to resist. The song is the simplest of the tracklist, remaining low-key even when Ariana hits her highest of belts. The song's structure, especially its chorus, is very 90's Mariah and calls back to some of Grande's best previous works like "POV" or "R.E.M." Out of the entire album, "supernatural" has the best bridge. It's only two lines from the chorus, "I want you to come claim it, I do / You to come name it, I do," but Grande riffs over several harmonies that can only be described as otherworldly. It is so ethereal that it would not be surprising if Ariana Grande was actually floating while singing it. It is a stunning track.


true story

"true story" is an absolute standout song on all fronts. Ariana has previously dabbled in R&B on albums like Positions and Sweetener, but "true story" is her R&B-iest venture to date and a complete career highlight of a track. The late 90s influence is strong, and the production from Max Martin is immaculate. It's by far his best work on the record. From the warbly bassline to its heavy beat, "true story" sounds reminiscent of classics, like Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody." Grande's voice suits R&B well, and she combines her vocal talent with her newly realized Wicked theatricality. The song is about her taking on the role of the 'bad girl,"--and she goes for it. (The way she sings "sneakin' like a creep in the night" is ridiculously fun.) This exaggerated villain persona undoubtedly reads like a tongue-in-cheek retort to her media image, going even further in the following track. Yet she balances never sounding too bitter. Grande has stated that "True Story" was first written alongside her leaked TikTok hit, "Fantasize," as parody R&B tracks for a scrapped comedy project--and this playfulness translates. It's a campy performance of a bad girl. Ariana says it best herself: she's playing the part you need her to. "And I'll be good at it." "true story" is easily one of her bests. 


the boy is mine

"the boy is mine" is Ariana's own version of her leaked hit "Fantasize," a similarly early naughts-influenced R&B-pop cut about taking someone's partner. The song interpolates the Brandy and Monica hit of the same name yet never feels derivative. Seemingly, the only sample taken directly from the 1998 cut is the title. Moreover, it feels like Grande continues to pay homage to that late 90s-early naughts R&B that she has already throughout the record. Martin's production, again, is meticulously early 2000s. But most of all, "the boy is mine" is the most fun song on the album. The lyrics are bold and sassy and do not take themselves seriously. Ariana and her friends shrug it off with a "happens all the time." The song is an elevated version of "break up with ur girlfriend, i'm bored." It's campier and it's catchier-- Grande commands attention. She sounds in her element on the song. "the boy is mine" is up with "bye" and "true story" as the best songs of the album, and of Grande's career.


yes, and?


"yes, and?" was the lead single for eternal sunshine, which may be why it is the most sonically distinct from all other tracks. "yes, and?" takes inspiration from 90's house, even interpolating Madonna's "Vogue," and explores similar themes of expressing your individuality and not caring what others say. It's a fun, bouncy track, but within the context of the album, it sounds out of place, as it is much dancier and more electronic than the rest of the songs. It wouldn't be surprising if "yes, and?" was only added to to be a lead single because all other tracks are more subdued than typical big pop star come-back song. Still, though, it might have worked better as an added bonus on the deluxe version. 



we can't be friends (wait for your love)


Continuing this dual theme of heartbreak and public perception, "we can't be friends (wait for your love)" is a track that tackles both at once. It is simultaneously a song about cutting off an ex-lover and shutting yourself off from media spectacle. eternal sunshine is Grande's first album written almost exclusively by herself, and her songwriting skills shine here. Musically, the singer has a strong ear for hooks; the track is instantly catchy, especially the way she sings "love" in the chorus; lyrically, it is one of her most interesting. Grande writes about feeling misunderstood by others and applies this concept to her partner and the public. "You cling to your papers and pens / wait until you like me again" could be divorce papers or newspapers, and both make equal sense. This has been the TikTok hit of the album thus far, under a trend of people erasing their exes from their pictures, which is incredibly depressing, but also shows how many have resonated with the song. "we can't be friends (wait for your love)" showcases Grande's talents as a performer and proves why she is at the level of stardom that she is


i wish i hated you

"i wish i hated you" is a chillingly raw ballad from Grande. Ilya produces a twinkling spacey instrumental that lets Ariana take the forefront. Her vocals are the most impressive here, not necessarily because of any singing acrobatics. If anything, Grande's performance is less technically polished compared to other E.S. songs, like "supernatural" or "imperfect for you." But her singing is so intimate and emotionally unrestrained that it does not matter. In a devastatingly beautiful moment, her voice cracks from tearing up as she sings about wanting to hate her partner so that leaving him would be easier. The way Grande mixes her vocals as well is chilling. She adds these haunting, repetitive harmonies over lines like "rearrange my memories" and "if only we had known from the start"--two more allusions to Spotless Mind. There is no bridge, and the song is on the shorter end of the album, but "i wish i hated you" is one of the album's highest and most artistically crafted moments. 


imperfect for you

Ariana Grande said The Beatles' Rubber Soul was the main inspiration for "imperfect for you," and the influence shines through. The naturalistic simple guitar ballad with that slightly psychedelic vocal layering Grande mixes projects that 60s soft-rock aesthetic. The lyrics are equally melancholy and romantic. Grande has previously explored her anxiety and trauma in tracks like "breathin" or "needy," but here, she tackles it from a more optimistic perspective. She recognizes that her mental health problems can make it difficult in relationships---there is a callback to "don't wanna break up again" as she describes herself as 'too much'--but writes about a person who understands her and makes her feel loved anyway. The splitting of the word imperfect also makes it have a double meaning of "imperfect" and "I'm perfect for you." It is another low-key moment on the album, but one that is emotionally resonant through its simplicity. 


ordinary things (feat. Nonna)

"ordinary things" sets out to finally answer the question Ariana asks in the beginning: how do I know if I'm in the right relationship? If eternal sunshine was a movie (well, if it was another movie), "ordinary things" would be the song over the credits. It is a quiet, sweet ballad about not needing the more luxurious things in life, as long as you are with your partner, because anything feels extraordinary when they are around. The album's last words come from Grande's grandmother, whom she calls Nonna, advising to never go to bed without kissing goodnight, and that, "if you can't, and if you don't feel comfortable doing it, you're in the wrong place." It's an uplifting ending to an often somber album; it's a delicate lace ribbon tying the entire work together.



eternal sunshine is a new chapter for Grande. The album takes some of the best aspects of her previous work, like her masterful vocal mixing, lyrical themes, and general aesthetics, but pushes it to a more mature sound. It is her most sonically cohesive work and a more quaint output from the artist. In that sense, the biggest issue with the record comes from this cohesiveness, which makes for an album whose high points are less high than on works like Sweetener but at the same, whose lows are not nearly as low. It is a smaller work, but one that's just as detailed if listened to closely. eternal sunshine is a fitting title--the album sounds like liquid gold; it is gorgeous and lush. The record feels like a definitive beginning point to a new phase of Ariana Grande's musical journey and is a wonderful return after all these years.



Written By Lauren Nolan



*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.

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