Ariana Grande processes tragedy, celebrity, and chasing happiness in her latest releases | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Ariana Grande processes tragedy, celebrity, and chasing happiness in her latest releases 

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click to enlarge Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande

Courtesy of Republic Records

Ariana Grande has dominated TMZ headlines and pop charts this year—the latter with a series of confessional singles whose lyric sheets could be pages from her diary. And Grande has had a lot to process lately. In 2017, she survived a deadly terrorist attack at her concert at Britain’s Manchester Arena. In 2018, her long-term love and ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died of an overdose. Soon after, her engagement to Saturday Night Live It Boy Pete Davidson fell apart under intense media scrutiny. Grande knows people are paying attention to her every move, and she’s been harnessing the power of her celebrity in the studio: in August she released her fourth studio album, Sweetener, and in February she followed up with a darker-toned full-length, Thank U, Next. On the hip-hop-influenced hit single from that record, “7 Rings,” a haunting sample of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music provides the backdrop for lyrics about a grim spending spree, with Grande singing that “happiness is the same price as red bottoms.” Though authenticity often feels mutually exclusive with commercial pop, Grande confidently rules this empire built on her own trauma, and due in part to her rapid release schedule, her music has the honesty that comes with producing art while still dealing with that trauma. She also provides a moment of optimism in Sweetener’s “Pete Davidson,” which at 1:12 is almost as long as her relationship with the comedian—and that’s part of its charm! The song embraces the unabashed naivete of new love, ending with a fade-out on a simple promise: “Gonna be happy, happy, yeah.”   v

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