Sweetener Review

[I was rummaging through my SKEW articles scratched pieces and found this Sweetener album review, rather than leave it in the cloud unreleased I decided to post it here. It’s obviously a little out of date, but I think it is addressing a still relevant album.]

Ariana Grande has been through a series of unfortunate events. Due to no fault of her own, a lot of very awful things have happened to her over the last year or so that really shapes the way I’ve listened to her most recent album sweetener. I think that in Western cultures we try to separate artists from their art, especially in the #MeToo Age, it makes sense to want to distance the producer/process from the production; but sweetener invites listeners to reverse course.

The album opens with Ariana doing what she does best, singing a ballad. Her voice has no effects on besides some reverb, making it sound like she’s in cathedral lighting 23 candles for the people whose lives were stolen from them at her concert in Manchester. “When raindrops fell, down from the sky, the day you left me, an angel cried.” Even after the second track begins the lines and the notes she hits echo in the mind of listener. Pharrell tries to snap the audience immediately into pop with his production on track 2. But the playing field has been set. This album is Grande’s search for meaning, and like other artists before her she’s taking the world on the journey with her.

To the untrained ear, it may appear that Ariana Grande is showing the audience “Look bad stuff happened to me, I didn’t know what to do, then I found a man and now everything is great. Pete Davidson has set me free from my troubles.” And if one only focuses on the track listing, one would gain some probable cause for this argument, however if one scratches the surface of the message – takes time to admire the artistic growth, and simply listens to the lyrics; the album’s central message becomes clear. Pete Davidson isn’t the sweetener referenced by the title and the titular track, rather Ariana Grande herself is the sweetener.

“God is a woman” isn’t just a fun Instagram post that got her likes, or just a song with a controversial (?) music video, the feminine energy this good Catholic young woman found in her Creator empowered her to love her body. Early in her career she spoke at length about the shame she felt around her hair and her body, but now she proclaims, ‘You love it when I move you, you love it when I touch you…” When she performed the song live, she made a point to bring out her mother, her grandmother, women who have used their own divine femininity to bring light and love into the world. The feminine energy of the divine isn’t meant to be hidden away or kept to oneself but shared with others.

And we can’t talk about The Divine Feminine, without talking about the loss of Mac Miller. Grande and Miller were once an item, and his overdose was blamed on Grande by toxic people online with little to no understanding about how addiction works. In a world lorded over by patriarchy, even a man’s own decisions can be blamed on a woman, ever since Adam pointed to Eve before pointing to God and saying “It’s your fault, you created this woman”, men have been looking for ways to blame women and femmes for their shortcomings, for their anger, for their unhappiness, for everything. Of course, it is Ariana Grande’s fault, she’s a woman, she must done something to Mac Miller by simply existing. “She wasn’t there for him” the Men’s Right’s Activists of Reddit and 4Chan exclaim; which completely ignores that last track “get well soon”.  “When you need someone to pull you out the bubble, I'll be right there just to hug you, I'll be there. Where are you? Are you home? Call me right on the phone. I'll be there…I don't care who is gone, you shouldn't be alone.”

First, they needed to break up, they weren’t good for each other. Second, it’s no one’s job to free someone else from a personal struggle. No amount of romantic love and affection can magically cure addiction. Addiction will never see a wedding ring and say, “Oh darn they’re married better go find someone single to torture.” At some point (hopefully soon), men must be held accountable for their own thoughts, words, and deeds. I know sexism is fun and easy, but it’s also evil so perhaps we should all consider cutting it the eff out.

Nothing is more sexist than male entitlement to women’s bodies. Before she was groped and insulted on live television by Charles H. Ellis III at Aretha Franklin’s Homegoing, Grande was…ummm critiqued for her wardrobe choices. I admit, I most certainly participated in the Black Twitter dragging. As a Black funeral frequent flyer, I know the dress code of typical Black events; and I would have presumed as a White woman who has dated some Black men and who has surrounded herself with Black women like Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj, that Grande would at least have access enough to answer the question, “How do I as a White woman dress in a way that respects my Black friends and their culture at this once in a lifetime event of burying one of Black America’s most precious icons?” “I’m one of two White people that was invited to sing here, it’s the season of Black Lives Matter, I’ve already seen Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift get got, how do I turn around and not drown?” My presumption was incorrect, and Grande showed up in what I would describe as a cute dress for the club, or a dress “new gospel” artists would wear on tour but not on Sunday. Many perceived the critique of dress choice as sexism, and of course sexism is always at play. But in my feed, before the Woke Industrial Complex began think-piecing they started think-tweeting about how the jokes about her dress choice were steeped in misogyny and purity culture. Before I could even tweet a reply I saw a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ not just brush her chest, but fondle it, while he told a racial joke about Taco Bell.

How does the album speak to this, this all happened after the album dropped? Who is to say, but I will say this the album seemed to be pointing to Pete Davidson as the sweetener, but it accidently reveals that Ariana is the sweetener she was searching for all along.

What are your thoughts on the album?