Ariana Grande’s latest album Thank U, Next has broken a UK chart record after debuting at number one.
It had the most streams of an album by a female artist in a week – breaking a record she set herself with 2018’s Sweetener.
Grande is also occupying both the top and second spots on the official singles chart.
She’s the first female artist in UK singles chart history to replace herself at number one.
Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored is the new number one, with 7 Rings dropping to two after holding the top spot for the last three weeks.
Grande also becomes only the second female artist to fill the top two spots at the same time.
The last was Madonna, who was at number one and two simultaneously in August 1985 with Into The Groove and Holiday.
Thank U, Next’s pole position is no surprise. According to the Official Charts Company, it had been outselling the rest of the top five albums combined.
Yet the success of Grande’s latest is particularly remarkable given how short the gap has been between her previous album and this one.
Her last record, Sweetener, was released just six months ago, in August 2018.
The intervening months have been turbulent for the 25-year-old.
Her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller died after an accidental overdose. Shortly after, she and her former fiance Pete Davidson broke off their engagement.
Grande took some time out, stopped doing promo for the album and asked her team for a break.
“I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m not doing anything. Please give me some time,” she recalled last week in an interview with Zach Sang, “and they were so respectful of that and wonderfully supportive”.
But she was back in the studio soon enough, and in November released the hugely popular Thank U, Next – a song which referenced not just her split from Davidson, but several of her exes, who she sang she was “so thankful” for.
However, considering she was only three months into the Sweetener album campaign with several songs already on the radio, throwing a brand new one into the mix was highly unusual.
Another new song, Imagine, followed a month later, before the monster hit that was 7 Rings was unleashed in January.
These weren’t necessarily intended to form a whole new record, but, Grande explained: “I was just like, wow, I love all of these so much, this is like an album.”
Recorded in two weeks
The creative team who had worked on Sweetener were accordingly called back to work on the new project.
“I called the same people back, a month-and-a-half later [after completing Sweetener], and they were like, ‘why are we here?’,” Grande explained to Sang.
“And I was like, ‘I wanna play you an album’.”
The rest of Thank U, Next was recorded in just two weeks.
“The first week we already had nine songs or so,” songwriter Victoria Monét told Rolling Stone.
“Then we spent the next week cleaning them up, adding more things, doing production, cutting a few more songs.”
The album was released last Friday, not long after it was completed, and went straight to the top of the download and streaming charts around the world.
All the conventional rules were being broken – her team were nonchalant about crowding the market with two album releases in quick succession, and Grande didn’t do a single press or broadcast interview to promote the new record aside from her YouTube chat with Sang.
And yet, by the end of its first sales week, Billboard reported Thank U, Next was projected to sell 330,000 in the US, having been revised up from its original estimates.
This is a full 100,000 more than Sweetener managed in its first week.
Rather than becoming a victim of audience fatigue or radio burnout, something which often plagues over-exposed pop stars, Grande seemed to have actively become more popular in the short time that passed between albums.
The last singer of equivalent profile to churn out albums at this rate was Rihanna.
She released one album a year for four years while she was enjoying her most popular era between 2009 and 2012.
Some have argued the increased success of Thank U, Next in comparison with Sweetener is down to a subtle change in direction from Grande.
Grande has a songwriting credit on every song on the new album. While there’s no drastic adjustment to the music itself, as the catchy R&B-tinged pop hooks have broadly remained the same, there appears to be a difference in the lyrics.
Many have noticed that the lyrics are far more specific and personal to Grande than any she has previously performed.
“It’s the most Taylor Swift album she’s ever released,” suggested Perez Hilton.
He continued: “She has done for the first time what Taylor Swift has always done, which is turn her life into really personal songs which chronicle certain periods of their lives.”
- Thank U, Next is the most obvious example of this personal touch – literally name checking all of her famous exes one by one.
- Ghostin deals with crying over a previous relationship in front of a new boyfriend. “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again over him,” Grande sings, in what is likely a reference to her relationships with Miller and Davidson. She continues: “I’m putting you through more than one ever should.”
- On Fake Smile, she sings: “I read the things they write about me, hear what they’re sayin’ on the TV, it’s crazy. I know it’s the life that I chose… If I’m hard, I ain’t gon’ lie about it.”
Rather than the slightly more vague or generic lyrics of her previous hits (no shade), these were lines nobody else could sing.
“The singles leading up to her new album aggressively fed the gossip machine,” wrote Jon Caramanica in The New York Times.
“[They] ensured that just as Grande’s music was reaching its peak popularity, she was also the subject of continuous meta-musical conversation.”
Some of her fans are so keen on the newly-released songs, they’ve started a campaign to boycott 7 Rings – which Grande herself has acknowledged.
But it’s not because they don’t like the song or have turned against her – but because fans are mobilising behind Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored, hoping its chart success could match its huge popularity on YouTube.
Break Up With Your Girlfriend is the only one of the new songs that came with its own music video, effectively making it the follow-up single to 7 Rings – not that declaring something an official single matters much any more in the age of streaming.
Even a public spat with the Grammy Awards on the weekend of the album’s release hasn’t dented her popularity.
Grande had been due to perform at the biggest night in the music calendar last Sunday, but she and organisers reportedly fell out over which songs she would sing.
Onwards and upwards
Then, once an agreement had almost been reached, executive producer Ken Ehrlich claimed she had struggled to get a performance together in time for the ceremony.
Grande refuted that, writing on Twitter: “I can pull together a performance overnight and you know that, Ken. It was when my creativity and self expression was stifled by you, that I decided not to attend.”
Many felt it was the ceremony’s loss.
“The Grammys need Ariana Grande more than she needs them,” pointed out Courtney E Smith in Refinery 29.
And it didn’t stop Grande from taking home (or rather, getting delivered) her first ever Grammy – best pop vocal album for Sweetener.
It was a nice, er, sweetener, for the album to receive before the singer embarks on a world tour in support of it later this year.
Considering she now has two albums’ worth of new material, she’s probably struggling with the set list.
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