Ahead of the release of her new album Sweetener, which will drop sometime this summer, Ariana Grande sat down with Myles Tanzer of the Fader to chat about the new, more personal direction of her music and how it was shaped by the tragedy of last year’s Manchester Arena bombing during one of her concerts. "At the first mention of the word Manchester during our chat," Tanzer writes, "she begins to tear up and at several points breaks down into sobbing."
The bombing in Manchester happened exactly one year ago, and even though Grande says she figured “time, and therapy, and writing, and pouring my heart out, and talking to my friends and family" would make dealing with that reality easier, “it’s still so hard to find the words.” As a result, she has turned to her music, which is notably more message-driven than it has been in the past.
“I’ve always just been like a shiny, singing, 5-6-7- 8, sexy-dance…sexy thing. But now it’s like, ‘OK … issa bop—but issa message. Issa bop but also has chunks of my soul in it. Here you go. Also, I cried 10 hundred times in the session writing it for you. Here is my bleeding heart, and here is a trap beat behind it.'"
“I’ve never been this vulnerable to myself. I feel like I graduated almost,” she admits. “I feel like for a long time the songs were great, but they weren’t songs that made me feel something the way these songs do.”
Some of the songs on the new album speak directly to a “hard time that [Ariana has] been dealing with for the past year-and-a-half” that fans “deserve to know about.” While Ariana does not mention her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller explicitly in the Fader story, she recently took to her Twitter to call out a fan who was blaming her for Miller’s DUI. She shared new details about the relationship, and Miller’s “inability to keep his shit together.” “I didn’t share how hard or scary it was while it was happening but it was,” she continued. “I will continue to pray from the bottom of my heart that he figures it all out.”
One person who helped Grande take her music somewhere it had never been before is Pharrell, who produced half the tracks on Sweetener. The two started creating new music together sometime in 2016, well before the Manchester attack. Pharrell described his role as “part listener, part therapist, part stenographer.”
“In all honesty, I feel like [after Manchester] was when different people from the record company actually started to understand what we were trying to do,” he told Fader. “It’s unfortunate that that situation is what gave it context, but they were able to really see it then. And that’s the truth.”
Ariana’s recent focus on activism, which included the One Love Manchester benefit concert that raised over $23 million for the victims and families of the attack, has also included meeting the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting, who continue to fight for gun regulation in the U.S, before she headlined the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C.
“We’re in such a trying time and people have been responding with acceptance, love, inclusion, and passion,” she told the Fader. “This generation, they’re standing up and they’re not going to take no for an answer.”