Ariana Grande, Eternal Sunshine review: Clues and confessions bubble up from the slow-fizz pop

The newly divorced singer seems to address the rumours about her love life on an album of mid-tempo synths, strings and muted guitar

Helen Brown
Friday 08 March 2024 08:19 GMT
Ariana Grande releases her seventh album on International Women’s Day
Ariana Grande releases her seventh album on International Women’s Day (Katia Temkin)

Ariana Grande’s seventh album is full of questions. From the sweetly bewildered “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” to the defiant “Yes, and?” of its lead single, Eternal Sunshine frequently finds the 30-year-old in a palms-up mood as she tries to float like a harp-backed butterfly over the tabloid storm raging around her personal life.

In a recent interview with Zach Sang, Grande admitted she hadn’t planned to release another album until 2027. But then her 2021–2023 marriage to luxury realtor Dalton Gomez fell apart and within two months of filing for divorce she’d hooked up with Ethan Slater – her co-star in the forthcoming film Wicked (Grande plays Glinda, the Good Witch). Slater’s wife, Lilly Jay, who had given birth to their first child in 2022, came out swinging at Grande, claiming that the singer is “not a girl’s girl” and that her family was “collateral damage” in her quest for grand romance. All of which makes Grande’s decision to release this record on International Women’s Day look like an attempted retort, arguing that she does, in fact, see herself as part of the sisterhood.

That’s a lot of gossip for an album review. But – like Taylor Swift’s Swifties – Grande’s Arianators will be combing through every last note of Eternal Sunshine for the inside track, and the singer who famously name-checked her exes on “Thank U, Next” knows that’s part of the lure. Consequently, she throws out confessions and clues like chiffon scarves. They waft – prettily and rather flimsily – around her in mid-tempo, warm thermals of subtle, supple synths, strings, and muted guitar.

Although there’s a gently retro disco-funk sound to “Bye”, its conscious uncoupling vibe can’t quite take the song into pose-striking “I Will Survive” territory. There’s no big hook approaching the tangy squelch of “Yes, And?” And while there’s a moreish quality to the off-key guitar of “Imperfect for You” and an unexpectedly golden flush of brass on “Ordinary Things”, Grande’s delicately conversational tone is often left having to compensate for her lack of strong melodic snags.

“I Wish I Hated You” finds her boxing up the shoes of a departing lover, rearranging her memories along with her closet over a shimmering synth line that stays flat and shiny as a wardrobe rail. “Don’t Wanna Break Up Again” is a little fiercer: the trappy beats snap around lyrics in which Grande notes that her “situationship” has to end because “I spent so much on therapy, but you didn’t even try”.

The solid R&B bounce of “True Story” sees her apparently addressing Jay’s version of events: “I’ll play the villain if you want me to… I’ll play the bad girl if it makes you feel better.” But its candyfloss chorus, which makes breezy use of Grande’s effortless whistle register, finds her hitting back and sighing that’s not what she wants. “The Boy is Mine” (apparently he’s “div-i-i-ine”) stakes a bolder claim to her new lover’s heart. But as Grande confides on the slooshy “Intro”, if people are supposed to be able to tell lasting love from fleeting dalliances in their bones, she herself can’t find that certainty.

Grande often says her big indulgence is baths. “I like to be submerged for as long and as often as possible,” she told Allure magazine last year. And there’s a similar feeling to this album: it’s a space to soak in the questions rather than expecting answers, Grande’s rose petal vocals swirling around in a bath bomb of slow-fizz pop.

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