Ariana Grande Spins Heartbreak Into Gold on ‘Eternal Sunshine’

Ariana Grande Spins Heartbreak Into Gold on ‘Eternal Sunshine’

“Eternal Sunshine” is Grande’s most sustained collaboration with pop’s own Wizard of Oz, the Swedish hitmaker Max Martin, with whom she wrote or produced 11 of its 13 tracks. (Ilya Salmanzadeh, a longtime collaborator of both Grande and Martin, also helped write and produce much of the album.) Unsurprisingly, this is one of Grande’s most meticulously crafted and texturally consistent releases — it sounds as expensive as the gleaming treasures she sang about on “7 Rings” — though it lacks the whispered asides, rough edges and irreverent humor that made those last two albums so fun. Still, “Eternal Sunshine” is awash in lavish atmosphere, adventurous melodies and an emotional weight that brings a new sophistication to Grande’s songcraft.

On a brief introduction subtitled “End of the World,” Grande expresses doubts about a relationship and pops a burning question in the glowing lower depths of her register: “If it all ended tomorrow, would I be the one on your mind?” The answer lies in the title of the following song: “Bye.”

That track, a disco delicacy as richly layered as a five-tier cake, is one of the album’s finest moments — a showcase for both the belt-it-out power and the stop-on-a-dime agility of Grande’s voice. Martin’s approach to pop structure is famously rigid, but throughout “Eternal Sunshine,” Grande proves that she is a gifted and nimble enough singer to eke out considerable melodic freedom within his bounds. On the title track’s wrenching falsetto chorus, and on the ecstatic bridge of the second single, “We Can’t Be Friends (Wait for Your Love),” she glides effortlessly across the sorts of notes that many of her peers can only gaze at like distant stars.

“Eternal Sunshine” is strongest when it leans hardest into R&B, a genre Grande impressively embraced on her gorgeously sung if somewhat traditionally arranged 2013 debut, “Yours Truly.” Here, and on a particularly strong stretch in the middle of the album, she and Martin coat the genre’s liquid cadences in a retro-futuristic Y2K-era sheen.

A molten-metal bass line warps its way through “True Story,” a slinky song about the finger-pointing stage of a relationship’s demise (“I’ll play the villain if you need me to, I know how this goes,” Grande sings with a resigned shrug). “The Boy Is Mine,” a lusty song about a forbidden crush, name-checks Brandy and Monica’s 1998 hit and features the sort of stuttering percussion that almost demands some stomping boy-band choreography. When you’re working with Martin, the guy who co-wrote “I Want It That Way” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” — why not?

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