Album Review: Ariana Grande – Eternal Sunshine

[Republic; 2024]

In February, Ariana Grande went on Instagram to publicize to her fans that new song “Yes, and?” would be her only single preceding the release of her seventh studio album. It felt cold to deprive fans of more treats from her long awaited release, especially as we’d been bombarded by so much media other coverage between her Wicked movie teasers and relationship goings-on. Clearly, Grande meant for Eternal Sunshine to be listened to in one fell swoop. Now, in hearing the album, it’s clear patience was needed and now we get to properly appreciate the scope of her story. On her new project, Grande’s raw, unfiltered musical expressions are laid out all on the floor. 

Grande has no fear of a high-school introductory paragraph. Now a decade into her music career, the pop star no longer needs to formulate her thesis in such a manner, but “Intro (end of the world)” is a charming audience guide that works as a vivid cinematic opener. Short, with an emphasis on Grande’s subtle and sultry vocals, she sets the stakes in one stunning violin-led chorus: “And if it all ended tomorrow / Would I be the one on your mind… And if it all ended tomorrow / Would you be the one on mine?”

Eternal Sunshine marks Grande’s return to classic 90s-influenced R&B tracks, something that has been avidly requested by fans, critics, and ex-Nickelodeon watchers. The album is completely laminated with those throwback styles but also features that genre-flexibility that has always served Grande well sonically. “don’t wanna break up again” is a soft story told over an MTV sing-along 808 beat, while “true story” ups the ante a bit. Evolved from long beloved unreleased track “Fantasize”, the track has the same sex appeal Ginuwine has on “Pony”. Marketable horniness is one way to put it, with Grande just singing “Give me love” while we fill in the gaps.

Movie inspired title track “eternal sunshine” is the long-form letter to the editor Grande wishes she could have sent to Page Six. “Hope you feel alright when you’re in her” is a visceral lyric that you’re unlikely to hear from any other mainstream artist, and it’s one Grande sweeps over with no hesitance in her breath. Moving on after infidelity is key her and is one of the album’s core themes. Over a classic soft trap beat, she uses the Jim Carrey movie as a metaphor of using pain as a lesson of appreciation, an ethos she previously loudly proclaimed with “thank u, next”. Of course, Grande doesn’t always have to be that intensely serious – something she may have worked on in her writing sessions with Janelle Monáe . Grande’s playful lyrics are still scattered on the track; she can paint like Picasso in a line like “You played me like Atari.”

She also proves she can still craft her cheesy pop singles for those car moms that mostly still know her as the girl who once licked a donut. “Bye” is nothing but a triumphant disco diva track; one easily crafted in songwriting camp but one Grande knows how to perfect and innovate. It’s a dancing-through-tears hip boogie with chimes stolen from Earth, Wind & Fire. “Supernatural”, meanwhile, is one of those Grande styled songs you can easily imitate as well; the 80s-inspired beat is moving and sounds like a production outtake from her work with Abel Tesafaye (aka The Weeknd).

“Yes, and?” came as a shock to many fans and critics. Being Grande’s first dabble into house and ballroom inspired music, it defied expectations. The track had a lot of room to grow and seems to have grown on listeners quite quickly. “Yes, and?” comes as an even bigger shock when the cold electronic open enters without transition in the middle of Eternal Sunshine. It’s awkwardly squished after “the boy is mine”, an incredible 90s-facing track filled with raunch and lust, and honestly feels like its shown up uninvited to the party Grande has sequenced. 

The album completely transforms post “yes, and?” in a moment of clarity. Though the story of heartbreak, sex, and love was laid out boldly in its first half, the project takes on a precise note during its ‘new love’ chapter. “we can’t be friends (wait for your love)” is a 2024 summer car ride Spotify charter. Banging synths, heavy bass and a glittering electro pop beat. This is the 1989 vault track Taylor Swift wished she had. “I’ll wait for your love” she echoes on the track’s outro as she launches us into the Max Martin violin stratosphere.

Ballet ballad “imperfect for you” is a devastating poke at insecure anxiety with a somber sweetness. “i wish i hated you” is a familiar track in a thematic way; one that may make you wonder ‘hasn’t she done this song already?’, but this time it actually suits her and feels right. “ordinary thing” bookends the album by answering Grande’s question from her intro. The wisdom comes from her Nonna at the very end of the record: it’s excitement that keeps a relationship going on track, whatever that might mean to her at any given moment. 

This is by no means a “divorce album”. This is Ari’s open-hearted talk through it all with her best friend and her Nonna. These are conversations in the mirror where Grande considers the grand scheme of her love life and her career. It’s an honest post-sex pillowtalk cuddle with Ethan Slater. Most importantly, it’s a gallery walk through of her feelings with fans and listeners. The mind, like a bedroom, can be messy. While completely set up with decor and personalized trinkets, the chair in the corner with all your clothes and the trinkets poking out from under the bed are quite obvious. Grande proves again that she is not embarrassed to let it all be seen.