In “Eternal Sunshine,” Ariana Grande doesn't name names

In Michael Gondry's long-running 2004 sci-fi romcom “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Jim Carrey played Joel Parrish as Skull. “Is there a risk of brain damage?” Joel asks the doctor before the big shoot, genuinely interested in maintaining his relationship. “Well, technically speaking,” the doctor replied, “the procedure There is Brain damage.”

Listening to pop music in 2024 might feel the same way. In the age of streaming, we're overwhelmed by choice, and often the easiest forms of engagement feel like surrender. That's why super fans now refer to their favorite singers as “mom” while imagining them as their hero or their queen or some kind of god. Here's the tricky part that we should all forget: Pop superstars are just people, deserving of pity, but rich, deserving of scrutiny. In an increasingly unequal world, capitalism's promise of limitless growth flows like a polluted river through today's pop, and as we continue to cheer our ultra-wealthy megastars for even higher tax brackets, the brain is starting to feel like a point of vulnerability.

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And now here comes Ariana Grande with a beautiful new album that will squeeze your brain in a stealthy way you won't even realize. He named it “Eternal Sunshine,” a nod to Gondry's film that makes the whole thing a kind of enigma. Yes, Grande's latest romantic turmoil has been completely cobbled together into click piles of digital gossip, but unlike her signature, 2019 breakup anthem, “Thank you, next,” she chose to keep the lyrics in these new songs ambiguous, using the sheer silkiness of her voice to hide the details of a broken heart. Has our hero experienced the memory dump she talks about in the title track? Or does she perform the procedure on us?

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Let's start with what Grande wants us to remember. ” while hearing her falsetto hydroplane across the beatThe boy is mine,” you remember Brandi and Monica singing Same words Back in 1998. When you hear Grande sing along to the disco ballad “We Can't Be Friends (Wait For Your Love),” Robin's “You'll Remember Your Own DanceMy own danceIn 2010Yes and?,” and you'll be brought back to Madonna's undying frissonVogue” circa 1990 (and looking at Grande's music video, its inspiration Paula Abdul)A cold heart,” from a year ago). If you check the credits, you'll see Max Martin, which means you'll remember the Swedish songwriter Colossus penned thousands of megahits for Britney Spears, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and others.

They all qualify as low-hanging influences, but Grande sings through them in a way that blurs time, the soft edges of her voice giving everything on “Eternal Sunshine” a pillowy softness or bathtub warmth. The music is very welcoming, with melodies that follow the general contours of R&B, but without any agony and messy human catharsis to clean up later. Instead, Grande's elegant vocal staccato is a musical mechanism that deserves more attention—a beautiful breathless technique that prompts you to slam on the brakes. As Grande repeatedly asks, stop now to taste it, or better yet. During the expert hook of “The Boy Is Mine,” listen to how she inserts tiny lines of silence between the words: “Take my time.” It's like she's making time.

If Here Now is how Grande wants to forget the past, “Eternal Sunshine” makes good on its conceit. While blurring the line between music and listener, she affirms the line between person and personality. Unless you want to bang your head against this album's hidden paradox, you won't feel any headaches: when it feels so easy to get into the music, it's also easy to get out. Every beat feels frictionless, every melody feels smooth, every note feels deeply familiar, and when it's over, you won't remember a thing.

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