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Sweetener (album)

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Sweetener
Sweetener album cover.png
Studio album by
ReleasedAugust 17, 2018 (2018-08-17)
RecordedJuly 2016 – May 2018[1][2]
Studio
Genre
Length47:25
LabelRepublic
Producer
Ariana Grande chronology
The Best
(2017)
Sweetener
(2018)
Thank U, Next
(TBA)
Singles from Sweetener
  1. "No Tears Left to Cry"
    Released: April 20, 2018
  2. "God Is a Woman"
    Released: July 13, 2018
  3. "Breathin"
    Released: September 18, 2018

Sweetener is the fourth studio album by American singer Ariana Grande. It was released on August 17, 2018, through Republic Records.[6] The album is the follow-up to her 2016 studio album, Dangerous Woman, and features guest appearances from Pharrell Williams, Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott.

The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 earning 231,000 album-equivalent units in its first week of which 127,000 were from pure sales, thus becoming Grande's third release to reach the top position in the country and subsequently marking the largest opening week numbers of her career. It also topped several international album charts, including in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, earning a gold certification in the latter.

The album has spawned three top-twenty singles in the United States. The lead single, "No Tears Left to Cry", was released on April 20, 2018 alongside its music video, and debuted at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. "The Light Is Coming", featuring Minaj, was released as a promotional single on June 20, 2018, along with the pre-order of the album. "God Is a Woman" was released as the second single on July 13, 2018, and peaked at number eight, while the third single "Breathin" debuted at number 22 following the album release and has since reached number 12.

Background and recording

On November 13, 2016, Grande stated on Snapchat that she had finished her fourth album. She later clarified by saying, "I didn't mean to make an album, and I don't know if it's done at all, but I just have a bunch of songs that I really really like. I've been working a lot and have been creating and feeling inspired."[7][8] In December 2017, she confirmed that she was still working on the album.[9]

Grande's manager Scooter Braun told Variety that the album has a more mature sound: "It's time for [Ariana] to sing the songs that define her ... Whitney, Mariah, Adele – when they sing, that's their song. Ariana has big vocal moments; it's time for her song."[10] Pharrell Williams told Los Angeles Times: "The things that [Ariana] has to say on this album, it's pretty next-level."[11] Producers Max Martin and Savan Kotecha were later confirmed to have collaborated with Grande in the album.[12] On December 28, 2017, Grande shared several pictures of her in the studio throughout the year.[13] The following week, Grande shared a snippet from the album on her Instagram, which was later revealed to be a track titled "Get Well Soon".[14]

On April 16, 2018, it was reported that Grande may move up the lead single release to April 20, 2018, due to labelmate Post Malone's album being released on April 27.[15] On April 17, 2018, Grande announced that the album's lead single, "No Tears Left to Cry", would be released on April 20, 2018.[16]

On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Grande announced that her album would be called Sweetener. She said the meaning behind the title is "It's kind of about like bringing light to a situation, or to someone's life, or somebody else who brings light to your life, or sweetening the situation."[17] A May 2018 cover article in Time magazine by Sam Lansky notes that, for the first time with this album, Grande "took the lead on writing".[18] In late May 2018, she announced that the album would feature 15 tracks and three collaborations, which are Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj and Pharrell Williams.[19]

In early June 2018, Grande announced at Wango Tango that the album would be available for pre-order on June 20, and "The Light Is Coming" would be released along with it.[20] The second single, "God Is a Woman", was initially scheduled to be released on July 20, 2018,[21] however, she later moved the release forward a week to July 13.[22] Prior to the album's release, Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic commented that the first three singles from the album "sparked with a sense of defiance and rattled mortality ... [a] trifecta of pseudo-spiritualism and sneaky innovation. ... Grande's music and videos radiate [intoxicating, unworried confidence]".[23]

Music and composition

"It's definitely more personal. You know, I feel like 'Dangerous Woman' was a grown-up 'My Everything,' and this is a grown-up 'Yours Truly.'"

 — Ariana Grande on the album's sound.[24]

Sweetener consists mostly of pop, R&B, and trap songs that include elements of house, funk, neo soul and hip hop music on its beats and productions.[3][4][25] The melodies and harmonies on the album are diverse and include uptempo songs and many different down tempo sentimental ballads.[26] It explores a diversity of other music genres, including tropical house, EDM, synthpop and minimalist urban influences.[27] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic stated that the album "deepens the R&B inclinations of 2016's Dangerous Woman."[26] In an interview with Zach Sang she said: "Listen, the thing that I love most about this project sonically, is that all I really did was sing in my sweet lower register".[28]

Production and lyrics

The album begins with 38-second a cappella intro, "Raindrops (An Angel Cried)",[29] written by Bob Gaudio and performed by The Four Seasons. The song is known to completely show Grande's vocals.[30] "Blazed" is a high tempo funk-influenced song.[31] It features vocals and background vocals by Pharrell Williams, who also produced the track.[32] She first admitted the name of the song on her Twitter account.[33] Lyrically, it is about "loving someone and being with them."[citation needed] "The Light Is Coming" merges hip hop and R&B elements.[34] Grande sings the lyrics "The light is coming / to give back everything the darkness stole". Which is sung over a "jittery beat" that is used with quick drums and synths.[35][36] It samples a CNN archive clip of a man who is shouting at former senator Arlen Specter at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania in 2009 concerning healthcare ("You wouldn't let anybody speak for this and instead!").[37][38] Israel Daramola described the song as a "glitchy, thumping" dance record with a sample that highlights Grande's "nursery rhyme-style melody"[39] "R.E.M" is an R&B song that is built over a smooth doo-wop beat.[3] The song's title stands for "rapid eye movement", which is where memorable and vivid dreams occur.[40] In an interview with Jimmy Fallon for the Tonight Show, she admitted that "R.E.M" was her favourite song.[41] She later confirmed on Twitter that "R.E.M." is a song based on Beyoncé's demo titled "Wake Up", a leftover from the singer's 2013 self-titled album.[42]

Missy Elliott (left), Nicki Minaj (center) and Pharrell Williams (right) all perform on the album, with Williams producing multiple tracks.

The track "God Is a Woman" contains lyrics about female sexual empowerment[43] and spirituality;[44] Time described the song as "an anthemic, sultry banger".[45] a trap-pop song,[46] "God Is a Woman" contains influences of reggae.[47][48] and is performed in the key of E minor with a tempo of 72–76 beats per minute.[49] "Sweetener" (which is the title track) was the first song that Grande recorded for the album, and it features Williams vocals in the background similar to "R.E.M". Being a trap-inspired song,[26] the chorus contains the lyrics "When life deals us cards / Make everything taste like it is salt / Then you come through like the sweetener you are."[50] which symbolises empowerment.[51] "Successful" is a 90s-inspired neo soul song, that has elements of gospel and trap.[26] Lyrically, it's about "girls feeling good about their own individual success."[52] "Everytime" is a "trap-pop" song that contains a pop-rap chorus.[25] "Breathin" is a dance-pop song that contains influences of synthpop.[51][53][54] The Independent called the song an "emotional highlight" and that it is a "mental health bop over a good, solid pop beat."[55] Lyrically, it is about Grande's overcoming growth from anxiety.[56]

"No Tears Left To Cry" is a dance-pop and disco song with a UK garage beat.[57][58][3] and was served as the first official single for the album.[59] Lyrically, it is about the Manchester Arena bombing.[60] "Borderline" is a 90s contemporary R&B song features American rapper Missy Elliott.[26] It's one of Grande's favourites on the album.[61] "Better Off" is a power ballad[citation needed] that discusses a toxic relationship.[62] "Goodnight n Go" is an EDM song with deep house and tropical influences.[3][26] It contains a sample of "Goodnight and Go", written and performed by Grande's inspiration Imogen Heap.[63][64] In an interview with Billboard Heap said that "it feels like a gift". She went on saying: "When somebody that famous picks up on a song that has had its day and gives it a second life, it's a real gift. I think she's done a lovely version of it."[65] "Pete Davidson" is an interlude of the album and has a trap and hip hop production. Lyrically, it is about her then-fiancé, Pete Davidson.[26][66][67] "Get Well Soon" is a soul-ballad that has a laid back R&B melody.[3] At the end of the song, 40 seconds of silence are played as a tribute to the twenty-two victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, which took place after her concert on May 22, 2017.[68][69]

Promotion

Grande went silent on all social media after sharing a snippet of a song from the album on December 31, 2017.[14] On April 17, 2018, Grande broke her silence by sharing a teaser of the album's lead single, "No Tears Left to Cry", which was released on April 20, 2018, alongside its music video. She first performed the song at Coachella later that night, as a guest during the performance of DJ Kygo. Grande announced the title of the album and several song titles on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on May 1, 2018, shortly before performing "No Tears Left to Cry".[70] She also opened the 2018 Billboard Music Awards with a performance of the song on May 20, 2018.[71] On June 2, 2018, Grande performed at Wango Tango in California, closing her set with a performance of "No Tears Left to Cry" and also sharing a snippet of "The Light Is Coming".[72] On August 8, 2018, three dates were announced for a series of promotional concerts in the United States, titled The Sweetener Sessions, in partnership with American Express.[73]

Grande also announced a world tour in support of the album. The tour, titled Sweetener World Tour is scheduled to begin on March 18, 2019.[74]

Singles

The album's lead single, "No Tears Left to Cry", was released on April 20, 2018 alongside its music video.[16] The track debuted at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming Grande's ninth Hot 100 top 10 and sixth to debut in the top 10, tying Grande with Lady Gaga and Rihanna in sixth among acts with the most top 10 debuts on the chart.[75] The single made Grande the first artist in the chart's 60-year history to debut in the top 10 with lead single from each of her first four albums.[76] In conclusion, the song also topped the Mainstream Top 40 chart in July 2018, reached number one in nine countries and top-ten in twenty others, and was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in July 2018 for shipments exceeding a million equivalent units in the US.[77]

The second single, "God Is a Woman", was released on July 13, 2018, with its music video premiering 12 hours after the song's release.[21][22] The single debuted at number eleven on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number eight, making it Grande's tenth top ten song on the chart and placing her as the twelfth overall artist and seventh female artist with the most Hot 100 top 10s in the 2010s decade.[78][79] The song also became Grande's second single to top the US Mainstream Top 40 airplay chart from Sweetener, and third overall.

"Breathin" was released to US contemporary hit radio as the third and final single from the album on September 18, 2018.[80] The song has debuted number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has since peaked at number 13 there. Its music video, directed by Hannah Lux Davis premiered on November 7, 2018 on her YouTube account.

Promotional singles

A promotional single, "The Light Is Coming", featuring Nicki Minaj, was released on June 20, 2018, along with the pre-order of the album.[20] The song debuted at number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later peaked at number 89, after the release of the album.

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
AnyDecentMusic?7.5/10[81]
Metacritic81/100[82]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[26]
The Daily Telegraph4/5 stars[4]
Entertainment WeeklyA–[83]
The Guardian3/5 stars[66]
The Independent3/5 stars[84]
The Irish Times5/5 stars[85]
NME4/5 stars[51]
Pitchfork8.1/10[3]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[25]
The Times4/5 stars[86]

Sweetener received acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, Sweetener has an average score of 81 based on 20 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[82]

In The New York Times, Jon Pareles wrote that Grande's voice "can be silky, breathy or cutting, swooping through long melismas or jabbing out short R&B phrases; it's always supple and airborne, never forced. … Ms. Grande sails above any fray, past or present. Her aplomb is her triumph."[87] Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone called the album "a refreshing, cohesive package. … [The producers' approach lets] Grande's easy way with trap phrasing find a home next to her flair for Broadway-esque dramatic runs"; it combines "the sensual romance of the album's plentiful love songs and the aching heartbreak of the others." Spanos concludes that it is Grande's "best album yet, and one of 2018's strongest pop releases to date.[25] Kate Solomon of The Independent commented that with music that is "often unexpected, sometimes in a good way, it is an album by an artist in flux – trying to move forward while reluctant to fully relinquish old ideas."[84]

Writing for NME, Douglas Greenwood deemed the album "[a] confident, accomplished, sometimes left-field collection of pop bangers, proving that she's not shy of experimentation." He also commented that "there are a couple of songs on Sweetener that you'd happily leave on the shelf."[51] Similarly, in The Guardian, Alexis Petridis said that "her collaborations with Pharrell really push the boundaries. But they make the rest of this album seem formulaic." He considered the album "uneven", with its attempts to balance out what Grande called a "weird" record. Petridis felt that "the world could use more pop music as imaginative as Sweetener's highlights."[66]

Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph felt that "the quality of the songs is high, although there are moments when they might be trying too hard to demonstrate that the teen queen is all grown up now," and argued, "as modern, branded, blockbuster pop albums go, Sweetener is a delightful confection." He commented less favorably about guest rappers Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott, who "sound like they dialled in clichéd verses for a pay cheque."[4]

Accolades

Year-end lists
Publication Accolade Rank Ref.
Billboard 50 Best Albums of 2018
1
Complex The Best Albums of 2018
4
Entertainment Weekly The 20 Best Albums of 2018
3
Flavorwire The Best Albums of 2018
4
The Line of Best Fit The Best Albums of 2018
13
The New York Times
(Jon Pareles)
The 28 Best Albums of 2018
7
Noisey The 100 Best Albums of 2018
3
NPR The 50 Best Albums Of 2018
22
Uproxx The 50 Best Albums Of 2018
5
Stereogum The 50 Best Albums Of 2018
3
Awards
Year Organization Award Result Ref.
2018 People's Choice Awards Album of The Year Nominated [98]
2019 Grammy Awards Best Pop Vocal Album Pending [99]

Commercial performance

In the United States, Sweetener opened at number one on the US Billboard 200 with 231,000 album-equivalent units, of which 127,000 were from traditional album sales, thus becoming Grande's third number-one album in the United States. It also logged the largest streaming week for a non-hip hop album by a female artist; the songs were streamed 126.7 million times in the album's first week.[100] On the US Billboard Hot 100 chart issue dated September 1, ten songs (nine of which are from Sweetener) appeared simultaneously, placing Grande as the fourth female artist with the most simultaneous entries on the chart by a solo female artist behind Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Cardi B.[101] Grande also topped the Artist 100 chart the same week due to album sales and song streams.[102] In its second week, Sweetener dropped to number four moving 75,000 equivalent album units,[103] while in its third week, it fell one position to number five moving an additional 56,000 equivalent album units.[104]

In the United Kingdom, Sweetener debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, moving 45,000 album-equivalent units.[105] It became her second number-one album in the UK, and her fastest selling album to date.[106] Following its release, two album tracks entered the UK Singles Chart as "Breathin" debuted at number 8, and "Sweetener" landed at number 22, while the single "God Is a Woman" ascended six places to number 6.[107]

In Australia, the album became Grande's third number one on the ARIA Albums Chart,[108] with all 15 of its tracks placing on the ARIA Singles Chart in the same week.[109]

In 2018, Sweetener was ranked as the 38th most popular album of the year on the Billboard 200.[110]

Track listing

Sweetener[111][112]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Raindrops (An Angel Cried)"Bob Gaudio0:37
2."Blazed" (featuring Pharrell Williams)Pharrell WilliamsWilliams3:16
3."The Light Is Coming" (featuring Nicki Minaj)Williams3:48
4."R.E.M"WilliamsWilliams4:05
5."God Is a Woman"Ilya3:17
6."Sweetener"
  • Williams
  • Grande
Williams3:28
7."Successful"WilliamsWilliams3:47
8."Everytime"
  • Grande
  • Salmanzadeh
  • Kotecha
  • Martin
  • Martin
  • Ilya
2:52
9."Breathin"
Ilya3:18
10."No Tears Left to Cry"
  • Grande
  • Martin
  • Kotecha
  • Salmanzadeh
  • Martin
  • Ilya
3:25
11."Borderline" (featuring Missy Elliott)Williams2:57
12."Better Off"
2:51
13."Goodnight n Go"
  • Brown
  • Anderson
  • Foster
3:09
14."Pete Davidson"
  • Grande
  • Brown
  • Anderson
  • McCants
  • Brown
  • Anderson
1:13
15."Get Well Soon"
  • Williams
  • Grande
Williams5:22
Total length:47:25

Notes

  • All track titles are stylized in all lowercase, except "R.E.M" and the proper noun "God" in tracks 4 and 5 respectively.
  • "Raindrops (An Angel Cried)" is a cover of "An Angel Cried", written by Bob Gaudio and performed by The Four Seasons.[114]
  • "R.E.M" contains a sample elements of Beyoncé's unreleased demo entitled "Wake Up".[115]
  • "Goodnight n Go" contains a sample of and incorporates lyrics from "Goodnight and Go", written and performed by Imogen Heap.

Personnel

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Sweetener.[116]

Performers and musicians

Production

  • Charles Anderson – production (13–14)
  • Brian Malik Baptiste – production (12)
  • Cory Bice – recording engineer assistance (1, 8–10)
  • Scooter Braun – executive production
  • Tommy Brown – production (12–14)
  • Andrew Coleman – recording (2, 4, 6–7, 11), digital editing (2, 4, 6–7, 11), arrangement (2, 4, 6–7, 11)
  • Kris Crawford – recording assistance (3)
  • Thomas Cullison – recording assistance (2, 6–7, 11, 15)
  • Aubrey "Big Juice" Delaine – vocals recording (3)
  • Jacob Dennis – recording engineer assistance (3, 6)
  • Scott Desmarais – mix assistance (3)
  • Corte Ellis – recording (11)
  • Missy Elliott – recording (11)
  • Iain Findlay – recording assistance (6)
  • Robin Florent – mix assistance (3)
  • Michael Foster – production (13)
  • Chris Galland – mix assistance (3)
  • Serban Ghenea – mixing (5, 8–14)
  • Ariana Grande – executive production
  • Hart Gunther – recording assistance (7)
  • John Hanes – mix assistance (5, 8–14)
  • Hit-Boy – production (12)
  • Sam Holland – recording (1, 8–10)
  • Chris Khan – recording assistance (6)
  • David Kim – recording assistance (6)
  • Mike Larson – recording (2–4, 6–7, 11, 15), digital editing (2–4, 6–7, 11, 15), arrangement (2–4, 6–7, 11, 15), additional programming (3–4)
  • Guillermo Lefeld – recording assistance (4)
  • Jeremy Lertola – recording engineer assistance (1, 8–10)
  • Manny Marroquin – mixing (3)
  • Max Martin – production (1, 8, 10), programming (8, 10)
  • Randy Merrill – mastering
  • Brendan Morawski – recording engineer assistance (3)
  • Manny Park – recording assistance (3)
  • Noah Passovoy – recording (9)
  • Ramon Rivas – recording engineer assistance (3)
  • Ilya Salmanzadeh – production (1, 5, 8–10), mixing (1), programming (5, 8–10)
  • Ben "Bengineer" Sedano – recording assistance (2–3, 6, 11)
  • Jon Sher – recording assistance (4)
  • Phil Tan – mixing (2, 4, 6–7, 11, 15)
  • Pharrell Williams – production (2–4, 6–7, 11, 15)
  • Bill Zimmerman – additional engineering (2, 4, 6–7, 11, 15)

Artwork

  • Dave Meyers – photography
  • Jessica Severn – art direction, design

Charts

Certifications

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[145] Platinum 80,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[146] Gold 7,500^
Sweden (GLF)[147] Gold 20,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[148] Gold 100,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Release history

Region Date Format Label Ref.
Various August 17, 2018
  • CD
  • digital download
  • streaming
United Kingdom August 21, 2018 Cassette Island [149]
Various October 15, 2018 Republic [150]
November 2018 LP [151]

See also

References

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