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Ariana Grande's 'Eternal Sunshine' isn't her best album, but it's a solid collection of bops

Ariana Grande's 'Eternal Sunshine' isn't her best album, but it's a solid collection of bops
  • Ariana Grande released her seventh studio album, "Eternal Sunshine," on Friday.

  • It doesn't meet the emotional bar set by her previous work, but the songs are fun and expertly made.

  • The best tracks are "Don't Wanna Break Up Again," "Eternal Sunshine," and "We Can't Be Friends."

Ariana Grande unleashed her seventh studio album, "Eternal Sunshine," on Friday.

The follow-up to Grande's breezy 2020 album "Positions" is her first release since divorcing Dalton Gomez. It takes its name from Michel Gondry's 2004 film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," which follows two unlikely lovers in the midst of a painful breakup.

During an interview with Zach Sang, Grande described the album's creation as unexpected and vital to her emotional journey.

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"I didn't have the goal to make an album. I actually was really opposed to coming out with music until after 'Wicked,'" she explained. But when the SAG-AFTRA strike interrupted the movie's filming schedule last summer, Grande spontaneously returned to the studio.

"It all just started pouring out," she added. "I just decided to react and listen to that."

Grande also described "Eternal Sunshine" as "a lovely costume to wear," telling Zane Lowe that she pulled inspiration from characters and stories in addition to her own experiences.

As Business Insider's senior music reporter, I listened to the new album on my own, jotting down my initial thoughts track by track.

Here's what I thought of each song on "Eternal Sunshine" upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album's final score.)

"Intro (End of the World)" is a brief introduction to the album's main conflict.

ariana grande eternal sunshine album cover
"Intro (End of the World)" is the opening track on "Eternal Sunshine."Katia Temkin/Republic Records

"Intro (End of the World)" was one of the first songs Grande wrote for "Eternal Sunshine" last year. It finds our heroine contemplating her reality at the time, questioning her own instincts — and, presumably, her then-husband.

Appropriately, it introduces the album's primary theme: "How can I tell if I'm in the right relationship? Aren't you really supposed to know that shit?" She wonders if her current partner would stick by her side, even if the apocalypse was nigh.

The song also introduces another character: "Then I had this interaction I've been thinkin' 'bout for like five weeks / Wonder if he's thinking 'bout it too and smiling."

Grande draws a distinction between the song's subject, "you," whose devotion she's doubting, and the secondary character, "he," who's been inspiring her lately.

It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that sneakily foreshadows the album's arc, though it wouldn't work as a stand-alone song.

"Bye" is an upbeat farewell to an unfulfilling relationship.

ariana grande yes and music video
"Bye" is the second track on "Eternal Sunshine."Ariana Grande/YouTube

Listen, I know Beyoncé doesn't own the phrase "boy, bye," but I can't help but think of "Sorry" when I hear it — and wish I were listening to that song instead.

Grande's watered-down version ("Bye-bye / Boy, bye / Bye-bye / It's over, it's over, oh yeah") doesn't have enough attitude or venom to justify the phrase — and that's very much by design. During her interview with Sang, Grande said she was careful to avoid making a "fuck you" song for this album.

"Even track No. 2, I tried to make sure it was kind and giving credit for trying and for the goodness that there was," she said. "That was a tricky balance for me."

Honestly, I wish she'd just leaned into the "fuck you" of it all. Middle fingers up!

"Don't Wanna Break Up Again" is a dose of reality made for top-40 radio.

ariana grande we can't be friends (wait for your love) music video
"Don't Wanna Break Up Again" is the third track on "Eternal Sunshine."Ariana Grande/YouTube

"I don't wanna break up again" is a brilliantly succinct description of staying in a relationship for too long, even when you know you're delaying the inevitable.

As kids, many of us believed we'd meet "the one" at the right time and that would be it, clean and simple. Grande herself once sang, "One day I'll walk down the aisle … Only wanna do it once, real bad, gonna make that shit last." But as we get older, many shades and complications come into focus. Breaking up gets more and more arduous. Even when it's not particularly painful, it's tedious.

"Don't Wanna Break Up Again" delivers that sensation in a shiny, bright package. Grande's voice is perfectly sweet and her diction, thank goodness, is crisper than it's ever been. I can actually understand every word.

This is an immediate favorite, like a grown-up version of "Ghostin" from "Thank U, Next" that doesn't make me want to scream-sob.

"Saturn Returns Interlude" alludes to Grande's personal growth without going into specifics.

ariana grande we can't be friends (wait for your love) music video
"Saturn Returns Interlude" is the fourth track on "Eternal Sunshine."Ariana Grande/YouTube

"Saturn Returns Interlude" samples an old YouTube video from Diana Garland, a self-described astrological consultant.

Theoretically, I'm very into this — and not just because I'm an astrology enthusiast who once published an article about this very phenomenon. I'm glad to see Grande is taking risks with her conceptual work (especially after the play-it-safe album "Positions") and Saturn Return makes a lot of sense for her to invoke. According to star buffs, it's a period defined by change, confrontation, and self-discovery. That definitely seems to suit Grande's recent life events.

In practice, however, "Saturn Returns Interlude" left me disappointed. It introduces an interesting framework for Grande's journey and then she completely abandons it. We never hear about Saturn on this album again, nor do we hear much about self-discovery. Did she wake up and smell the coffee? Did she get real about life and sort out who she really is? It's still a mystery.

"Eternal Sunshine" is an album highlight that directly references the movie that inspired it.

eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."Focus Features

Grande isn't the first pop star to use "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" as inspiration.

Back in 2020, Halsey released her third album "Manic," which probes and subverts the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" trope. The opening track "Ashley" samples a piece of dialogue from the cult-classic film, delivered by Kate Winslet as Clementine: "Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them 'alive.' I'm just a fucked up girl who's looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours."

The next track, "Clementine," further aligns Halsey with the shrewd heroine and draws a parallel between their quirks, conflicts, and vices.

By contrast, Grande focuses less on character study and far more on consequences. The "Eternal Sunshine" title track doesn't attempt to unpack why she can't make love last or find her own peace of mind. It simply captures a snapshot of a relationship in the rearview mirror — and gives us a glimpse at Grande's coping mechanisms.

"I try to wipe my mind / Just so I feel less insane / Rather feel painless / I'd rather forget than know, know for sure," she sings in the second verse, a reference to the memory-erasure process that Clementine impulsively opts for.

Unfortunately, much like the film, Grande's song belies a tragic fate. Despite hints of closure and new love ("I found a good boy and he's on my side"), she dooms herself to future pain by refusing to face her past. The first sound in the song is Grande's laughter; the final word is "death." Similarly, Grande's airy falsetto is juxtaposed with an ominous, heavy trap beat. The tension this creates is exquisite and gripping, making "Eternal Sunshine" one of the richest songs on the album.

"Supernatural" is a catchy song about finding new love, though it feels misplaced in this tracklist.

ariana grande yes and music video
"Yes, And?" was released as the album's lead single on January 12, 2024.Ariana Grande/YouTube

The euphoric, lustful lyrics in "Supernatural" feel very abrupt. Just a minute ago, we were listening to Grande sing about "demons" and "lies," her struggle to make peace with heartbreak.

Now, one song later, she's singing about being so in love that she's possessed by its whims: "Need your hands all up on my body / Like the moon needs the stars." Huh? How did this happen?

"Supernatural" tries to assume the role that "Safety Net" played on "Positions," creating a bridge between grief and hope. Unfortunately, in this context, the attempt rings hollow.

This song would be better suited as a stand-alone single with a feature from The Weeknd. It's begging to complete the "Die For You" and "Save Your Tears" trilogy.

"True Story" is a satirical ode to Grande's worst critics.

ariana grande we can't be friends (wait for your love) music video
"We Can't Be Friends (Wait For Your Love)" was released as the album's second single on March 8, 2024.Ariana Grande/YouTube

Grande told Lowe that "True Story" is actually "an untrue story based on all untrue events."

"I'll play the bad girl if you need me to / If it makes you feel better," she sneers in the second verse. "I'll be the one you love to hate, can't relate / Too much on my plate."

I have to hand it to her. Making a song where she derisively adopts a "villain" persona — poking fun at everyone who's called her a villain in earnest — is a stroke of genius. "True Story" renders it useless to criticize Grande's source material, speculate about her muses, or assign sincerity to any of her lyrics. Fans can simply point to this song and claim she's in on the joke. It's all a performance! She's self-aware! The backlash is defanged before it even has a chance to bite.

For the final flourish, Grande made sure the villain song slaps. "True Story" is early-aughts diva pop by way of Timbaland, sprinkled with a hint of Ginuwine's "Pony" and topped with a hypnotic chant that could summarize her whole career ("Gimme love, love! Gimme love, love!"). It works.

"The Boy Is Mine" was partially inspired by Brandy and Monica's hit song of the same name.

brandy monica the boy is mine music video
Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" was released in 1998.Brandy/YouTube

"True Story" sets the scene for "The Boy Is Mine," a modernized take on Brandy and Monica's 1998 single that Grande described as a "bad girl anthem."

"It's kind of like, 'OK, I'll play the bad girl. Now here's your bad girl anthem,'" she told Lowe. "That's why they're in that order on the tracklist."

Just like "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored," which Grande once described as a "punchline," this song is totally detached from how Grande perceives herself in the real world. And just like "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored," it will inevitably become associated with rumors about her real life — thus proving her original point from "True Story." ("You like to pray for my demise / But I'll play whatever part you need me to / And I'll be good in it, too.")

I can't help but admire the meta layers at play here, even though I much prefer Brandy and Monica's original version.

"Yes, And?" is a decent lead single with diminishing returns.

ariana grande yes and music video
"Yes, And?" was released as the album's lead single on January 12, 2024.Ariana Grande/YouTube

As the album's lead single, this song has been spun and dissected to death, so I don't have much else to add. I'm bored of it. "Yes, And?" does not have the staying power as other singles in Grande's catalog, like "No Tears Left to Cry" or "Positions," which continue to grow on me years later.

That being said, I'm glad "Yes, And?" was our first taste of this era instead of "We Can't Be Friends (Wait For Your Love)." It's always disappointing when the lead single is the best song on the album and there's nowhere to go but down.

"We Can't Be Friends (Wait For Your Love)" is the best song on the album.

ariana grande we can't be friends (wait for your love) music video
"We Can't Be Friends (Wait For Your Love)" was released as the album's second single on March 8, 2024.Ariana Grande/YouTube

"We Can't Be Friends (Wait For Your Love)" is the perfect choice for Grande's next single. Sparkly synth-pop is having a huge moment right now, and thanks to her acrobatic vocal skill, Grande slides into the landscape with ease.

This song is giving MUNA (particularly "Home By Now"), it's giving Carly Rae Jepsen — dare I say it's giving Robyn, the high priestess of crying-on-the-dancefloor pop? "Body Talk" has many spiritual successors, but this is one of her best offspring yet.

This song is destined to be a smash hit. What else is there to say?

"I Wish I Hated You" is a heartfelt meditation on pain and guilt.

ariana grande evan peters we can't be friends (wait for your love) music video
"I Wish I Hated You" is the 11th track on "Eternal Sunshine."Ariana Grande/YouTube

"I Wish I Hated You" feels less like a breakup song and more like an unfinished-business song. There's no closure to be found, only aimless yearning and half-hearted hope for a simpler tomorrow.

Grande grapples with regret in starkly honest ways; "I wish you were worse to me" is a deceptively simple admission that bears so much weight. It immediately reminded me of "The Pain Gap" by Rayne Fisher-Quann, an essay about toxic relationships: "Sometimes, in the small, secret part of myself where I tuck away my worst impulses, I wished they had gone just a little further, wronged me just a little bit more clearly, because maybe then I wouldn't feel quite so crazy about hurting so much."

The production for this song is suitably nostalgic, almost retro, like a video game score. The synth loop somewhat recalls "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," the childlike plinks and dreamy strums from Jon Brion's original music, especially "Collecting Things."

Grande said "Imperfect For You" is an important song that "demands room for nuance and humanness."

ariana grande eternal sunshine press photo
"Imperfect For You" is the 12th track on "Eternal Sunshine."Katia Temkin

Grande told Lowe that "Imperfect For You" is an ode to friends, family, and loved ones who are "accepting and real," no matter what. But it scans as a classic love serenade; it even starts with the line, "My boy, come take my hand."

As with "Supernatural," I find this sequence a bit jarring. "I Wish I Hated You" shows Grande stuck in the past, struggling to move on, but just one song later, she's singing about love that can "rearrange all the cosmos."

"Messy, completely distressed / But I'm not like that since I met you," she sings in the chorus. I feel like I skipped several chapters, because that's not what I've been hearing. I don't buy it.

"Ordinary Things" features a touching contribution from Grande's grandmother, Marjorie Grande.

ariana grande god is a woman performance 2018 vmas
Ariana Grande with her cousin Lani, grandmother Marjorie, and mother Joan at the 2018 VMAs.Noam Galai/WireImage

"Ordinary Things" provides an answer to the question Grande posed in the intro track, the album's very first lyric: "How can I tell if I'm in the right relationship?

The album ends with a voice recording from Grande's grandmother, Marjorie Grande, whom she calls Nonna.

"Never go to bed without kissing goodnight," she says. "That's the worst thing to do, don't ever, ever do that. And if you can't, and if you don't feel comfortable doing it, you're in the wrong place. Get out."

Despite the album's confusing story arc, Nonna's tender advice offers the perfect conclusion. I finished the album with a warm feeling in my chest.

Final Grade: 8.8/10

ariana grande eternal sunshine album cover
"Eternal Sunshine" consists of 13 tracks.Katia Temkin/Republic Records

There are two types of music lovers: those who are enchanted by melody and those who care foremost about lyrics.

Grande is a harmonic genius, an astonishing vocalist, and a noted Pro Tools expert, so her fans tend to belong to the former category. Many will be delighted with "Eternal Sunshine" because if one thing can be said for this album, in the words of Beyoncé, it's that "all these songs sound good."

This should come as no surprise. Max Martin and ILYA, credited on nearly every track, are two of the most revered pop producers from the last three decades. Other collaborators include Shintaro Yasuda, who did "Off the Table" from "Positions," and Nick Lee, whose jazzy touch can be felt on the album's closer.

This isn't to discredit Grande herself, who's also listed as a coproducer on all 13 tracks. She sounds angelic and discerning throughout the album, always knowing exactly when to deploy her massive pipes and when a subtle whisper will do the trick.

However, Grande did "Eternal Sunshine" a disservice with its title and marketing. There's nothing wrong with pop songs that unpretentiously sound good. In fact, I'd argue they're essential.

But I did expect more substance from a project she pitched as a "concept album" inspired by one of the most nuanced, perceptive, and poignant films of all time. And I expected more from the woman who once had so much courage, so few inhibitions, that she named a love song after her fiancé and then name-dropped him in a breakup song three months later.

Naturally, Grande's personal life has continued to attract curiosity in the years since "Thank U, Next" was released. She's a pop star; it comes with the territory.

But asked if she planned to "address things" with "Eternal Sunshine," Grande demurred.

"It says everything and nothing at the same time," she told Sang of the album. "It's very vague and very specific all at once." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sure, you could say that Grande doesn't owe us honesty or specificity, and you might be right. Fame isn't easy for people who value privacy. However, as a music critic, I value honesty and specificity in songwriting.

As Grande herself has demonstrated, truly great music comes alive in the details, in her ex's Gucci tennis shoes and the bed where she cries every night. They elevate a pop song from "It's a bop" to "I'm going to be listening to this for the rest of my life."

These moments do pop up in "Eternal Sunshine," just more sparingly than I would've liked. "So I grab my stuff / Courtney just pulled up in the driveway," Grande sings in "Bye," paying homage to a lifelong friend whose name is also tattooed on her knee. Her nighttime tears reappear in "Don't Wanna Break Up Again," painting an intimate scene of neglect and dread. I feel like I could be sitting right next to her, watching her weep. Of course, the best example is the voice note in "Ordinary Things," which is easily one of the album's most affecting moments.

But overall, the emotional arc of this album doesn't quite pay off. The conclusion comes abruptly, and to be clear, it's not a length issue. (Let the record show I believe the perfect album length is 13 songs and 35 minutes when executed well.) It's a narrative issue.

"Intro (End of the World)" and "Ordinary Things" work well as bookends, but what happens in between is muddled. Grande begins the story in the midst of her breakup, ready to leave, and there's no clear moment of epiphany or catharsis before we're already introduced to another relationship. The title track alludes to flawed communication, devastating truth, and even infidelity, but there's no time to process any of it. She's already found "a good boy and he's on my side." It's ironic for a song that also includes the lyric, "Get me out of this loop."

I kept waiting for Grande to delve deeper into themes of loss, repetition, self-sabotage, and self-discovery.

Instead, she pulls back. We get "True Story," "The Boy Is Mine," and "Yes, And?" — a sequence designed to deflect public critique and satisfy TikTok fans. Abruptly, the tracklist ends with a love song. It doesn't feel earned because we don't know how she got there.

As a staunch believer in the album as an art form, "Eternal Sunshine" left me wanting. It doesn't meet the soul-baring bar set by "Sweetener" and "Thank U, Next."

But if I reframe "Eternal Sunshine" as a collection of excellent pop songs, I have very few complaints. Even the ones I can't see myself reaching for in the future ("Bye," "Supernatural," "True Story," "Imperfect For You"), I can't label them as "skips" in good conscience. A bop is a bop.

In the end, I'm left to cherry-pick my favorites and drop them into my prettiest, synth-poppiest playlists. And I can't even be mad, because Grande's lead single doubles a warning: "Your business is yours and mine is mine." She won't be taking questions at this time. I foolishly expected a revelation and her response was simply, "Yes, and?"

Worth listening to:

"Bye"

"Don't Wanna Break Up Again"

"Eternal Sunshine"

"Supernatural"

"True Story"

"The Boy Is Mine"

"We Can't Be Friends (Wait for Your Love)"

"I Wish I Hated You"

"Imperfect For You"

"Ordinary Things (feat. Nonna)"

Background music:

"Intro (End of the World)"

"Saturn Returns Interlude"

"Yes, And?"

Press skip:

N/A

*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," 0 for "Press skip").

Read the original article on Business Insider