Label: Republic Records
Released: August 17

Since the release of her debut album Yours Truly in 2013, Ariana Grande has steadily climbed the pop music ranks and established herself as one of our greatest living vocalists. But while she’s had her fair share of hits, she has struggled to put together a cohesive album with production and songwriting that match her vocal prowess—until now. Though some stans might disagree, Sweetener is Grande’s strongest work to date, thanks in large part to previous collaborator Max Martin and the legendary Pharrell Williams. The opening track, “Raindrops (an Angel Cried),” an interpolation of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons’ “An Angel Cried,” is 38 seconds of chill-inducing bliss, with her pipes on full display. The rest of the album is less about her range and affinity for whistle tones, which is fine. We already know she can sing; on Sweetener, we finally get to hear Grande grow into her voice and give us more memorable work.

The standout track is “R.E.M.,” a saccharine doo-wop number whose chorus was originally written for Beyoncé. The nostalgic instrumental is juxtaposed with a more mature, full-bodied R&B sound from Grande, one that continues into “God is a Woman,” “Sweetener,” and back-half knockout “Better Off.” She incorporates the youthful energy of her previous albums, too, on songs like “Successful,” “No Tears Left to Cry,” and her trappy update of Imogen Heap’s “Goodnight and Go.” The closer, “Get Well Soon,” is an empowering song about Grande’s anxiety. It was our first taste of the album when she posted a snippet of it with the caption “see you next year” on December 31, 2017. One year later, her fourth studio album has solidified her as a true pop diva. Ariana Grande has always made good music, but with Sweetener, she’s finally given us an album that’s really hers. You can feel it, feel it. —Carolyn Bernucca