Up until now, we haven’t known a ton about Ariana Grande’s upcoming album, the follow-up to 2016’s great Dangerous Woman and her first LP since her Manchester concert last year became the site of a deadly terrorist bombing. Last year she revealed the album is basically a 50/50 split between Pharrell and Max Martin productions, and in recent months we’ve seen the video for its incredible lead single “No Tears Left To Cry” and learned the album is called Sweetener. Today, in a new Fader cover story, many more details emerge.
The album is 15 tracks long. Up until recently it was supposed to be 10 songs with production duties split between Martin and Pharrell, but after hitting an “emotional rock bottom,” Grande decided to add five more emotionally raw tracks she had initially decided to cut: three recorded with Pharrell, one with Martin, and one with longtime collaborator Tommy Brown.
Grande began working on Sweetener with Pharrell in 2016, telling him, “Take me somewhere completely new — let’s just go.” They reportedly recorded “a million” songs together, focusing on unconventional structures and plot twists while also aiming for new levels of emotional honesty. Pharrell describes his role as “part listener, part therapist, part stenographer.” He also says that unfortunately Grande’s label Republic Records didn’t understand their vision for the album until the Manchester attack: “In all honesty, I feel like [after Manchester] was when different people from the record company actually started to understand what we were trying to do. It’s unfortunate that that situation is what gave it context, but they were able to really see it then. And that’s the truth.”
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) May 27, 2018
Among Grande’s collaborations with Pharrell is the newly teased Nicki Minaj duet “The Light Is Coming,” for which Grande auditioned eight other rappers before returning to her longtime collaborator Minaj. Pharrell also produced “Borderline,” which features Missy Elliott.
Grande’s work after Manchester was mostly with Max Martin, the legendary songwriter-producer behind many of her biggest hits including “Problem,” “Break Free,” “Love Me Harder,” “Dangerous Woman,” “Side To Side,” and “Into You.” Their new material together includes “Get Well Soon,” on which Grande talks herself through an anxiety attack. Another Martin production is “God Is A Woman,” about which The Fader’s Myles Tanzer writes, “a choir backs her over a beat you could probably get excommunicated for dancing the right way to.” Martin also helmed “No Tears Left To Cry.”
Early on in the feature, Grande addresses the emotional fallout from the violence in Manchester: “I guess I thought with time, and therapy, and writing, and pouring my heart out, and talking to my friends and family that it would be easier to talk about, but it’s still so hard to find the words. When you’re so close to something so tragic and terrifying and opposite of what music and concerts are supposed to be, it kind of leaves you without any ground beneath your feet.”
It sounds like she’s finding her expression through the music. She explains, “I’ve always just been like a shiny, singing, 5-6-7-8, sexy-dance…sexy thing. But now it’s like, ‘OK … issa bop — but issa message. Issa bop but also has chunks of my soul in it. Here you go. Also, I cried 10 hundred times in the session writing it for you. Here is my bleeding heart, and here is a trap beat behind it.’ There’s definitely some crying-on-the-dancefloor stuff on this one.”