Music

Ariana Grande’s Hopeful, Hard-Earned ‘Sweetener’ Is A Once In A Lifetime Pop Album

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The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.

The first time I heard “No Tears Left To Cry” it broke a silence I didn’t know I’d been keeping. Driving down Sunset past midnight, gunning it with no room in the passing lane, I saw him in the passenger seat, dancing next to me in the moonlight. Enveloped in this glittering, dark pop song, we were joyous, silly, recovering. I’d never felt so well. Demon on my back, whatever you may be, a chakra healer banished you. Or was it Ariana Grande? A sort of sob left me, coiled for years. There’s more than just euphoria at rock bottom. If music is medicine, this shit was antibiotics. We vibin’.

After facing down one of the most public terrorist attacks on a pop star in the world, here was Ariana Grande singing about the power of hope with every ounce of her tiny frame. Hearing that bravery felt like walking down a hallway of light, her winged determination gently reeling back anyone on the brink of despair; every skyline a possibility for healing, for dancing. Selfless in her devotion to renewal and fearless in her commitment to face down the evil she and her fans had endured, “Tears” hit like a resolute pop hymn for the post-internet generation. I felt empty, salty. Ready for clean water.

Sometimes the diagnosis hurts as much as the cure. I’ve memorized the acronyms and accepted my history, weathered the panic attacks, grown accustomed to the chill and shake, shut myself off so completely I forgot about my own body. Numbed myself with substances, food, alcohol, drama, television. Cried so long and so easily, I stopped noticing if it was in public. I’ve devoted the last several years to learning the language of trauma. Some things get hurt so bad they never get better — you are one. Thought about leaving altogether. Stayed anyway. Made breathwork my brother. That night I went to bed ready to give something up.

“No Tears Left To Cry” is a pop song with room for all those demons — and for defeating them — which might make it more prayer than song. Some things are so evil only a prayer will keep them away, and this song kept the light on. It doesn’t seek to erase the sadness that came before, instead, it insists on building happiness right there, on top of the pain. Insists. The song debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard chart, and is already double platinum at the time of writing this. There’s no doubt in my mind it will only soar higher as the year draws to a close. We needed something worth the worship.

Ariana proclaims happiness as an act of courage, a stance of determination; happiness as a choice that revokes evil’s power in our lives. Happiness, the last vestige of a patriotic act, a direct rebuttal of life dictated by impetuous, selfish men. The song is a strong reminder that happiness is our choice — an accessible state of mind, circumstances be damned — not a reward bestowed on us for good behavior. Constantly choosing fear can become a vice of its own. If we’re here, let’s be here. Breathe in.

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Last spring I sat at my computer, horrified, and updated the death toll following a terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Today, I sit in the same spot writing about an album I was worried she’d never be able to make. Yes, the Manchester bombing was an attack on girlhood and the overtly feminine, but along with all the things an act of terror comes to symbolize, it’s important to remember it was also an attack on Ariana, the angel-voiced, ponytailed, openly emotional young singer whose resilience in face of the onslaught has been downright astonishing. Try not to erase the individual in the fold of the collective, try to see yourself capable of this kind of courage.

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