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The Gillnetter

The Gillnetter

Ariana Grande’s “eternal sunshine”: the good, the bad, and the expected

Cyan+Clements+depicts+Grande+with+a+stylized+version+of+the+albums+title.
Cyan Clements
Cyan Clements depicts Grande with a stylized version of the album’s title.

On March 8th, Ariana Grande released her 7th studio album, “eternal sunshine”, a 13-track pop record that takes the listener on a journey through her recent triumphs and low points, for better and for worse.

The album title is a reference to the 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, a sci-fi romantic drama starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Grande is a long-time fan of Carrey, and has expressed a deep admiration for the film and its message. The film follows two lovers who, after they separate, undergo a treatment that erases their memories of each other. Grande uses the film as a point of comparison in her past love life and current goals, and even stages grand recreations of its most iconic scenes in the widely-applauded music video for “we can’t be friends (wait for your love)”. 

Ariana Grande seems to be mired in controversy lately, in light of the complicated nature of her current relationship. Grande has recently gone public with “Wicked” co-star Ethan Slater, a long-time Broadway actor. Slater was previously married to his high school girlfriend, Lilly Jay, with whom he has a baby. 

Grande was previously married to real estate agent Dalton Gomez, with whom her divorce was finalized in October 2023. Allegedly, Grande and Slater were both separated from their respective spouses at the time they started dating. Jay, Slater’s now ex-wife, has called out Grande publicly, implying wrongdoing while not starting anything explicitly. Fans have speculated on the new couple’s infidelity, and on Grande’s moral character, as the discussion rages on and past wrongs are brought to the surface on all sides.

Lyrically, this album may just not be for me. Most of her song concepts are widely relatable to her audience of primarily young women and queer men, and don’t make much of an attempt at subtlety. Grande, it seems, is more interested in expressing a feeling or idea of hers without hiding deeper meaning in metaphor or nuance. There’s value in that – songs like these are certainly more fun to sing along to or use as Instagram captions – but it’s hard to get invested in a song’s emotional journey with lyrics like “I showed you all my demons, all my lies / Yet you played me like Atari”.

While the lyrics may not be anything to write home about, the production stands out in a lot of ways. Perhaps the best feature of this album is what Grande does with her backing vocals, layering and tuning them in a pop-princess version of Billie Eilish’s hit record “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”. It’s over-produced at points, but generally the instrumentation, harmonies, and flourishes work nicely.

My favorites, “don’t wanna break up again” and “we can’t be friends (wait for your love), are Grande at her best: frustratingly catchy, well-produced, and fun to shout along to in the car with your girlfriends. 

Grande makes very minimal usage of her trademark high belting on “eternal sunshine”. On the one hand, I commend her not attempting to distract from the songs with flashy vocal technique. However, if you’re going into this album expecting stunning feats of vocal agility, you will be disappointed. Many times in her musical career, Grande has used her expansive vocal range not as a flashy background feature, but as a real asset to the song – “in my head” from her 5th studio album, “thank u next” comes to mind. Though there’s some of that here, Grande doesn’t quite take full advantage of her vocal agility and impressive technique.

I have very few kind words for the album’s lead single, “yes, and?”. A risky choice for the lead single, this song was clearly meant to generate controversy and attention for “eternal sunshine”. The music video is clumsy and cliche, beginning with a scene of critics making exaggerated jabs at Grande’s music and character. As the music starts, the video transitions into a musical number with Grande at the center, and ends with the critics dancing along, won over by Grande’s performance. The song is brazenly flippant about the Grande-Slater controversy,

This video, and many other songs on this album, attempt to paint Grande as the victim of a witch hunt, a narrative the majority of the public is not ready to accept. Many of the tracks on “eternal sunshine” are fine on their own, but tainted by the controversy surrounding Grande’s love life. 

Grande stays solidly in her comfort zone with “eternal sunshine”. Over her past few albums, she seems to have fallen into a formula: mostly heartbreak and love songs, some powerful “girlboss” anthems, one hyper-vulnerable track to keep it interesting, a tidy resolution, end scene. At its best, this album is unimaginably catchy and fun. At its worst, it’s repetitive, cringe-worthy, and perfect for the speakers at H&M. 

Grande tells Amazon Music about an early concept for this album: “There was, in my head, a version of the album where I was gonna interview Nonna and all of her friends, and my mom and Lani [Crane] and everyone and showcase, as interludes, stories about love and learning and relationships from just women that I love so much, but I didn’t have time to do it. But that existed in my head for a while.” 

Frankly, I mourn this dead concept for “eternal sunshine”. Grande has clearly gotten comfortable musically – she’s figured out what works and what makes her money. The tragedy of this is that she is talented enough to take big risks and have them pay off majorly. Fans have expressed a desire for a true R&B album from her over and over again. After “eternal sunshine”, I sincerely hope Grande breaks out of the box she’s built herself into.

So, does Grande get to hold onto her title of this era’s pop princess after this album? It seems the answer is a tentative yes. Online, public reception seems to be generally favorable, though there are some still skeptical of the singer’s moral character. I can’t disagree with the critics who say that this album feels like damage control on the part of Grande, an attempt to win sympathy back to her side using confessional lyricism. 

There’s a lot to like about “eternal sunshine”, and there’s a lot to criticize. I sincerely hope Grande finds her way out of her comfort zone for her next project, and I hope her career stays intact long enough for her to create something truly excellent.

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About the Contributors
AURELIA HARRISON, Editor in Chief
Aurelia Harrison (they/them) is a senior and Editor in Chief for the Gillnetter. Their interests include writing, thinking about writing, music, and talking. They work at The Bookstore of Gloucester on the weekends, are a member of drama club, and love nature walks and famed Colombian pop star Shakira. They have been published in lit journals such as IAMB Magazine and The Empty Inkwell, and have received awards for their poetry and journalism. If you happen to engage Aurelia in conversation about philosophy, The Hunger Games, or Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album, bring a sleeping mask. You have been warned. Email them at [email protected]  
Cyan Clements, Staff Writer
Cyan Clements is a senior at GHS and is a second year writer for The Gillnetter. She is a honors student and takes pride in being the resident artist for the newspaper. Outside of school, Cyan enjoys drawing, trying new hobbies, and spending time with friends and family. She also enjoys collecting various different things, such as albums and dolls. You can contact her at [email protected]

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