It’s no coincidence that the cover photo for Ariana Grande’s fourth album is her first not in black and white. She told Apple Music’s Ebro Darden that Sweetener is different because, “It’s the first time I feel more present than ever, and I see colors more.” Her new outlook comes just over a year since the devastating attack at her 2017 Manchester concert that killed 22 people and injured over 500, leaving Grande “permanently affected.” She responded with Sweetener, a gorgeous, pastel album about love, happiness, strength, and womanhood. She’s deeply in love, evidenced on the tropical “blazed,” and “R.E.M,” with harmonies described as “rainbow clouds” by Pharrell, who produced over half the album. She exits a toxic relationship in “better off”; “God is a woman” is a feminine, sex-positive anthem that she told Darden is her “favourite thing I’ll probably ever do”. The album closer “get well soon” is a self-care message she wrote immediately following a panic attack. “It's about being there for each other and helping each other through scary times and anxiety,” she told Darden. “I wanted to give people a hug, musically.” Sonically, Sweetener brings some surprises—sparse rhythms and what she calls “dreamier” harmonies replace many of the huge beats and choruses she’s famous for. She said the album is “more like me as a person. And what I’ve been craving to do.”

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