On ‘Eternal Sunshine,’ Ariana Grande finds the light

Her first album in almost four years, Grande jam-packs 35 minutes of love, light and heartbreak into one of her most cohesive albums
The album cover for Eternal Sunshine shows Grande leaning on her own shoulder. The album was a rollercoaster of emotions, showcasing the ups and downs of love and loss in a truly memorable fashion.
The album cover for “Eternal Sunshine” shows Grande leaning on her own shoulder. The album was a rollercoaster of emotions, showcasing the ups and downs of love and loss in a truly memorable fashion.
photo by Republic Records

In the past four years, Ariana Grande has been through a lot. Between getting married, then divorced two years later, preparing to be Glinda in the movie adaptation of Wicked, and running a successful makeup brand, the last thing on Grande’s mind was a follow-up to her 2020 effort, Positions

However, the stars aligned. 

On July 13, 2023, with just ten days left for filming Wicked, the SAG-AFTRA strike commenced, which would last five months before it ended. Once September rolled around, Grande found herself in the studio again, working with renowned producer Max Martin until December, when recording for the album would come to a close. 

The album was preceded with only one single, “Yes, and?” released on Jan. 12. On the three-minute track, Grande dismisses critics on a bouncy house beat reminiscent of “Vogue” by Madonna. The song is fresh, and unlike anything we’ve heard from Grande before. The song debuted at the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Grande’s eighth song to do so, and a remix with pop legend Mariah Carey was released a month later on Feb. 16. The era was off to an amazing start. 

The album, Eternal Sunshine, is a concept album, and its main themes are derived from the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. The film, which stars Jim Carrey, one of Grande’s favorite actors, is about going through a “medical” procedure to forget an ex-lover.

Let’s get into the album. 

The album starts with “Intro (end of the world),” a minute-and-a-half track kicking off the album. The juxtaposition between the dreamy melody and the unsure lyrics tells a shaky tale of wanting to be sure of a current relationship. The very first line sets the theme for the entire album, asking “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?”

The next two tracks, “Bye” and “Don’t Wanna Break Up Again” show the two sides of ending a relationship. The former song, “Bye,” takes a more positive outlook on the subject, an uptempo disco-esque track about freeing oneself from the shackles of a toxic relationship. The latter song, “Don’t Wanna Break Up Again,” shows Grande’s fear of ending a relationship, but knowing she has to do it. A very solid start to the album, setting the stage for songs to come.

The album takes a brief pause with “Saturn Returns Interlude”, a short but highly significant track sampling astrologist Diana Garland’s discussion of a “Saturn Return”—an astrological event that only occurs every 29.5 years, viewed as many as a wake-up sign to a person as they enter their 30s. This message is especially meaningful considering Grande turned 30 last year, and 2023 was a tumultuous time for her

The title track, “Eternal Sunshine”, seamlessly transitions from the interlude, and it is a scathing track about a manipulative lover. She draws further inspiration from the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, as she sings, “So I try to wipe my mind / Just so I feel less insane / Rather feel painless / I’d rather forget than know,” referencing the brain-wiping procedure in the film. The song is reminiscent of Grande’s 2018 album Sweetener, as the trap-like production contrasts the biting lyricism.

The love song “Supernatural” finds itself sandwiched between the two angriest tracks on the album, providing a beautiful juxtaposition. The sweet R&B-esque tune is one of the shining stars on the album, as it showcases Grande at her best. Production takes the forefront here, as the sound of the song could only be described as galactic, taking notes from songs in her catalog like “Just Like Magic” or “Imagine”. 

Moving into “True Story”, we find Grande going on the offensive towards the tabloids, which have extensively cover her new relationship with Wicked co-star Ethan Slater. Lyrics like “I’ll play the villain if you need me to / I know how this goes, yeah,” serve as a callout to publications who have painted her in a bad light. The production takes a slight backseat in comparison to the previous track, and her talkative vocal delivery is powerfully emotional, taking the reins and making this track a quick fan favorite.

“The Boy is Mine” provides a quick break from all heavy emotion on the album. The song details her relationship with a guy and the pull he has on her. Interpolating the 1998 Brandy & Monica duet of the same name, the song flips the script and provides a fresh take on the ’90s track, turning it into a hoppy club track that is arguably one of the best songs on the album.

The song leads into “Yes, and?” which feels like an ostrich on this album. The song sounds unlike anything on this album, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, the choice for that song as the lead single feels like a red herring. 

 The second single, “We Can’t Be Friends (Wait for Your Love)” is an emotional song about yearning for a deeper connection with a lover while navigating the highs and lows of the relationship. The music video for the song follows the plot of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, finding Grande’s character “Peaches” erasing her memories with her ex-boyfriend Steve, played by Evan Peters. The song shows her fears about the continuation of this relationship, with her saying “I don’t wanna tiptoe, but I don’t wanna hide / But I don’t wanna feed this monstrous fire.” It is an extremely emotional piece as the album nears the end.

“I Wish I Hated You” is the most heartbreaking track on the album. The song details a past relationship where neither party was truly responsible for the end of the relationship. While Grande still wishes the best for her ex-lover, she wishes that she had a true reason to be upset with them. The song references similar themes present on the previous track, with her singing “I rearrange my memories / I try to rewrite our life,” showing Grande trying to move on. The most heart-wrenching part of the song is in the final chorus, when her voice cracks slightly while she sings. The dreamy melody of the song is a stark contrast to its melancholic lyrics.

The penultimate track takes a complete 180-degree turn. “Imperfect for You” is a guitar-laden track about Grande and her lover being themselves around each other and finding the light within the dark. It is a gorgeous love song that shows that “Imperfect” is truly “I’m perfect.”

The final track of the album, “Ordinary Things,” finds Grande tossing materialistic possessions aside in favor of spending time with her lover. The outro, which features Grande’s maternal grandmother Marjorie Grande, (whom she affectionately refers to as Nonna) answers the question first heard in the intro, “How can I tell if I’m in the right relationship?” The answer? “Never go to bed without kissin’ goodnight. That’s the worst thing to do, don’t ever do that.” This song is the most important one on the album, tying the whole project together with a bow. 

While “Yes, and?” threw many listeners for a loop, ultimately, Eternal Sunshine is an album that truly embodies the emotions of love and loss. It is Ariana Grande’s most cohesive project, and while it is very short—only lasting 35 minutes—every song feels handpicked and necessary. While a new Grande project seems far in the future, this album is enough to last a lifetime. (★★★★½)

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