Pop superstar Ariana Grande kicked off her year with a quintessentially springtime album Eternal Sunshine. The singer’s latest project is a departure from her past work and a poignant way to round out her 20s. Grande’s seventh studio album, replete with smooth vocals, synths and crisp songwriting, deserves all of the critical acclaim it’s garnered in the past weeks.

Eternal Sunshine reflects on events from the last few years of Grande’s life, including her marriage and subsequent divorce to realtor Dalton Gomez, and her experience in the spotlight following the release of possibly her biggest hit: 2019’s thank u, next.

Grande grapples with the pain and upheaval caused by a failed relationship. Songs like “don’t wanna break up again” see her fighting to save a crumbling marriage and learning to put herself first. She also highlights the exhilaration of a new relationship, most notably in the fan favorite “the boy is mine” and refreshingly smooth and upbeat “supernatural.”

It’s no secret that celebrity breakups historically make for popular songs. Grande’s own discography is evidence of this trend. In 2014, hits from her sophomore album My Everything, like “Break Your Heart Right Back” and “One Last Time” put Grande on the map. Her next project, 2016’s Dangerous Woman saw the singer growing up and taking a more powerful role in her relationships and sexuality through dynamic pop ballads. thank u, next featured pop, R&B and trap elements and Grande’s most popular work to date. She  focused on moving on and saying “thank u, next” to her past relationships.

But Grande does so much more than anatomize her high-profile divorce on Eternal Sunshine. The album combines everything that Grande does best. Production-wise, it eschews the Pharrell Williams-produced tracks common on 2018’s Sweetener that polarized her fans. The production is smooth, bouncy and chock-full of synths; Grande’s trademark attention to detail is on stunning display. Some tracks, particularly “the boy is mine” and “true story,” are equipped with catchy R&B tones and soft vocals, while others offer a more retro vibe, including disco-like elements and orchestral instruments. Grande, known more for her quips and clever rhymes than poeticism, offers some of the rawest reflections of her career.

Of course, vocals have never been an obstacle for Grande. This album finds the singer more restrained than ever before; the whistle notes and belting of the past are exchanged for a mellifluous, more understated sound. This use of vocal restraint showcases Grande’s versatility  and better suits the rawness of the lyrics. “Eternal Sunshine,” both vocally and sonically shows a maturity that Grande has been working towards for years.

With Eternal Sunshine, Grande also marks a turning point, both in her life and in her musical career. She discusses her “Saturn Return,” an astrological milestone that occurs around one’s 30th birthday, most notably in “Saturn Returns Interlude.” Not only is Grande looking back at her past, she is also looking forward to a new chapter of her life, one where she is strong enough to process past suffering and smart enough to prioritize her self worth.

This message, all packed into 35 minutes, seems to resonate with many people, who have noted their support for the project on social media. According to Pitchfork, Grande’s seventh studio album is the “a-ha! moment of her discography.”

The album’s message culminates with the tenth track, “we can’t be friends (wait for your love).” Grande’s voice begins soft and delicate but grows in its power as the pop ballad builds. It’s Grande at her best, with vulnerable delivery, sharp lyricism and eventually a dance pop beat.

Eternal Sunshine cements Grande’s already formidable legacy in the industry and finds her moving forward with newfound independence. She said (or sang) it best herself: “so for now it’s only me, and maybe that’s all I need.”

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