Pop song stands out in a year of mundane music

Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” is remarkable for one reason and one reason only: it matters.  

Pop music in 2018 is almost a nonentity; it’s on the radio, it’s being streamed and promoted, and people are listening to it, but it doesn’t affect the public consciousness at all.  You might be able to tell someone about “that one song on the radio” that you like, but if you’re anything like me, chances are you can’t even identify it by name. The hits of 2018 will not be remembered. In fact, most of them have already been forgotten.

From Jan. 1 through 20, Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” topped the charts, only to be replaced by Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” which was knocked off the No. 1 spot by Drake’s “God’s Plan” just a week later. “God’s Plan” was at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for all of February and March, as well as the majority of April, but … did it exist? Do you remember it? I don’t.

Drake’s “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” hovered at or near No. 1 on the charts from April to September, and they sound virtually the same. During October, Maroon 5 took control with “Girls Like You,” a song whose most redeeming quality was that it was bland enough to forget. During the week of Nov. 17, it was replaced by Grande’s “thank u, next.”

Music does not matter this year. Grande’s “thank u, next,” for better or for worse, does.

The song details Grande’s past relationships and how they helped her to grow as a person. In the first verse, she calls out her exes by name, singing, “Thought I’d end up with Sean/ But he wasn’t a match/ Wrote some songs about Ricky/ Now I listen and laugh.”

These lyrics, and for this matter, the lyrics of the entire song, are nothing special, but they don’t make me want to take a sledgehammer to my radio, so they’re still miles ahead of the rest of the pop charts.

Grande’s defining quality has always been her voice, not because she’s an exceptionally talented vocalist, but because her voice is high-pitched enough to be used as a dog whistle. Throughout the earlier 2010s, she covered everything from the meet-cute to the breakup (and almost nothing outside of that), making her the perfect pop star.

She offered up pop ballads with just enough passion to convince her listeners that she was singing about actual events of her life. In “thank u, next,” what little passion she once had is gone. She doesn’t sound excited about all the personal growth she’s achieved from her numerous breakups; she sounds bored.

In the pre-chorus, she moves from listing off exes to noting what she’s learned from them, stating that, “One taught me love/ One taught me patience/ And one taught me pain.” It’s a refreshing take on the ever-present pop breakup song: she’s learned to love, endure and be patient through navigating the minefield of romantic relationships. Where most singers in her position create angry hit-pieces of songs, she makes a statement about personal growth. It’s an admiral quality, even if she tries her best to ruin it.

The chorus is where this song’s flaws begin to pile up.

A song in which the chorus is just its title repeated ad nauseum until the adequate amount of space has been filled? What a novel idea!

With her voice faded into a monotonous mumble, she says, “Thank you, next (next)/ Thank you, next (next)/ Thank you, next/ I’m so f****** grateful for my ex/ Thank you, next (next)/ Thank you, next (next)/ Thank you, next (next)/ I’m so f******” She sounds like a female version of Drake, and believe me, that’s not something this world needs. One is one too many. A song with the primary goal of communicating pride in one’s personal growth should not waste its chorus sitting on a high horse and staring down at those left in the dust.

If one thing can be said about “thank u, next,” it’s that it’s honest. Everything that she’s saying is believable. Unfortunately, being honest doesn’t make it good.

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