97-Hour Review: On “eternal sunshine,” Ariana Grande proves herself

Vincent Anthony
6 Min Read

Upon the release of the lead single “yes, and?,” I wrote that Ariana Grande was selling herself short by successfully emulating her inspirations but failing to fuse them to form a distinct artistic identity of her own. But with the arrival of its parent album “eternal sunshine,” Grande has done just that. Finally.

Nearly impeccable from start to finish, “eternal sunshine” is just under 36 minutes long, with infinite replay value. The songs are succinct, pulling from the best of her previous works: the stickiness of 2018’s “sweetener,” the sincerity of 2019’s “thank u next,” and the soulfulness of 2020’s “positions.” In the shadow of “eternal sunshine,” those albums now read like rough drafts from an artist still finding her sound and a woman still finding herself.

Interest in Grande’s relationships has long fueled interest in her music, with her songs becoming increasingly introspective. On “sunshine,” she leans into it completely – out of necessity. Its lyrics read like the notes from a therapy session that document a journey from hurting to healing… or sunset to sunrise.

“eternal sunshine,” the sunset

The album begins with the sunset of her marriage. Grande expresses a range of heartbreak-adjacent emotions across a series of tracks: from the bitter sass of “bye” to the bittersweet shame of “don’t wanna break up again” to the apologetic “eternal sunshine.” While she can deliver soaring vocals, Grande opts for a more muted approach here that complements the pensive disappointment of her words.

Of course, the title track stands out here as the album’s thematic centerpiece. With flawlessly executed production, lyrics, and vocals, Grande opens the album with a showcase of her best assets. She emotively delivers confessional lyrics atop perfect pop production helmed by frequent collaborators like Max Martin and ILYA.

“eternal sunshine,” the late-night

Next, the album’s middle sinks into emotional twilight, shifting its tone from light to dark. She is starry-eyed by the prospect of a magical new love (“supernatural”), reflects upon how she’s been scorned (“true story”), and is unapologetic about pursuing her desires (“the boy is mine,” “yes, and?”). The latter two tracks are R&B-leaning romps that find Grande excelling in her comfort zone.

In the vengeful “true story,” Glinda the Good Witch asserts she can play the villain role, and proceeds to prove just that on the infectious “the boy is mine.” Referencing Brandy and Monica’s 1998 classic, Grande leaves no room for debate and proclaims she will take what she wants. Fittingly, it’s followed by the celebratory sass of “yes, and?” which sounds hollow in a post-Mariah Carey remix timeline without the presence of Grande’s musical “Mother.” Nothing that a lil’ playlist can’t fix, though.

“eternal sunshine,” the sunrise

The album’s final four tracks represent the sunrise, the dawn of a new day. Reflective, insightful, and mature, Grande truly shines here. The second single, “we can’t be friends (wait for your love),” is a quietly anthemic realization that perfectly captures Grande’s essence as an artist. The captivating video, inspired by the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” further elevates the emotional weight of the entrancing track.

The gut-wrenching “i wish i hated you” follows; a sparkling, sprite song that sounds inspired by “Wicked’s” equally tear-jerking final duet, “For Good.” You can hear Grande’s voice break at the end, sniffling as she fights back tears to sing, “I wish I hated you/ I wish that weren’t true/ wish there was worse to you/ I wish you were worse to me.”

Post-Manchester, Grande has not been shy about putting her feelings into her lyrics, but there is a piece of her embedded in each of the “eternal sunshine” songs, especially on these final four tracks. The cleverly titled “imperfect for you” is next, a swaying, put-your-lighters-up, self-aware torch song.

On the album’s closer “ordinary things” Grande shares one more very special piece of herself: a voice note from her Nonna (her Italian grandmother), who answers the question that Grande asks in the intro: “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” The song seemingly holds the answer: in the right relationship, the ordinary things seem extraordinary.

Only Grande knows whether she’s finally found such a love. But, as an artist, she’s no longer ordinary. With “eternal sunshine,” she’s proven herself extraordinary.

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Ariana Grande "eternal sunshine" Amazon exclusive vinyl

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The 97-Hour Review: Our 97-hour reviews offer commentary on new music just over four days after its release. While we generally like to spend a lot of time with the music we love before speaking on it, that’s what retrospectives are for. Until then, enjoy our fresh 97-hour take!

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Vincent is the founder of the magazine and has had a strong passion for popular music since, well, 1997! If it's not obvious, his favorite artists include Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, P!nk, and many more. Vincent lives in New York, where he is a high school English teacher, and currently he is pursuing a Master's in Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.