Arts and Entertainment

She’s “Done With Caring,” so She Made a Whole Album About it

Ariana Grande’s meditations on the cyclical nature somewhat pan out on her concept album eternal sunshine.

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By Benson Chen

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), directed by Michel Gondry, is a heartbreaking sci-fi flick set in a world where unwanted memories can be procedurally erased. Miraculously, even after erasing the tumultuous romance from their minds, love forces Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) find their way back to each other. The film paints love as something worth the heartache. Ariana Grande’s seventh studio album, eternal sunshine, explores this same idea but takes a different approach by encouraging listeners to ditch their dysfunctional relationships. Grande’s been disoriented and tossed around by romance throughout six album cycles: from the lovesick lyricism and bubbly Pharrell beats on Sweetener (2018) to the grief and denial atop the sleek R&B musicality of thank u, next (2019), followed by a pivot to lust and passion on her post-marriage record, Positions (2020). In short, Grande’s been through the trenches. eternal sunshine is a concept record, as it chronicles her reawakening and new self-awareness that can only come from her Saturn returning, astrology-speak for turning 29. At its best, she’s introspective, witty, and heartbreaking all at the same time, but at its worst, her lyricism runs dry and trite. The production is inconsistent and nondescript at times, a surprising departure from the oddball creative risks she took on Sweetener and the string-led consistency of Positions. It sadly wouldn’t be too surprising if some of the smooth-yet-soulless R&B beats were AI-generated.

“yes, and?” was the surprise house anthem released as the lead single of eternal sunshine, and it set the internet on fire. It was divisive, revealing a new direction for Grande after her four-year hiatus. Its messaging clearly addressed the rumors placed upon her: about her body, style, and controversial new relationship with fellow actor Ethan Slater, best known for playing Spongebob SquarePants in the Spongebob SquarePants Broadway musical. For months on end, the general public has labeled Grande as some masochistic homewrecker, seeking out perfect families to destroy; “yes, and?” stands up against this assumption, pointing out the absurdity of deriving hatred from rumors and blogs. It’s a valid statement from Grande, but the pandering “Say that [EXPLETIVE] with your chest, and / Be your own [EXPLETIVE] best friend” and downright cringey lyrics fail to paint Grande’s attitude positively. Additionally, the production’s distorted vocal chops and pulsating ballroom beat clash with Grande’s airy vocals. 

Grande theatrically introduces the idea of Saturn’s return as a signifier of great change, and accompanies it with a dramatic fade-out… that leads into the album’s weakest song. The fifth track, “eternal sunshine,” sounds like a Positions leftover, with its synthetic and unmemorable R&B string lead accompanied by clumsy, awkward lyrics. She tries rhyming “I’m sorry” with “sorry,” and describes relationship woes as getting played “like Atari.” She brings the song back loosely on theme with her outro: “Life, death, rewind / won’t break, can’t shake / This fate, rewrite.” But right next to the album’s big interlude about astrology, these lyrics stick out like a sore thumb and lessen the impact of the astrology themes. “Supernatural” luckily picks up momentum with its endearing high-pitched vocal loops and usage of the album’s larger themes of space and astrology, comparing her new romance as out of this world and “supernatural.”

Grande tries her hand at a concept album, framing her divorce and subsequent new love through the “all-knowing” truth of astrology. She cheekily throws in “bye” as the first official track on the album, a subversion that sets up the album’s message of pulling oneself up from a toxic relationship and being able to leave, with lyrical highlights like “This ain’t the first time I’ve been hostage to these tears / I can’t believe I’m finally movin’ through my fears.” The song’s production is sleek yet invigorating, the best kind of Forever 21 or H&M tween pop music. She begins the album asking “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” and allows her nonna (Italian for grandmother), in a crackly voice-memo, to answer on the album’s closer, “ordinary things (feat. Nonna)”: “Never go to bed without kissin’ goodnight … And if you can’t, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing it / You’re in the wrong place, get out.” These intimate details and concepts make even the album’s weakest sentiments at least feel genuine. 

As a concept album, eternal sunshine is lyrically inconsistent and doesn’t spend much time with its intended larger themes of astrology and cycles. The album only begins to become more introspective around the end, with a powerful three-track run of “we can’t be friends (wait for your love),” “i wish i hated you,” and “imperfect for you,”—three regretful and pained meditations on a love she knows she must escape. However, with the runtime only being about thirty-five minutes, its plain and mostly forgettable production, and awkward songwriting, eternal sunshine feels like a rushed response to Grande’s massive hate train, and Grande could have used a few more months of thought before its release to make it truly memorable.