Is ‘Eternal Sunshine’ Ariana Grande’s Best Album? Two ELLE Editors Discuss

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Two ELLE Editors Break Down ‘Eternal Sunshine’Katia Temkin

On Friday, we welcomed Ariana Grande’s new album, Eternal Sunshine, into our lives and our playlists. Arriving four years after Positions, and in the midst of filming two Wicked movies, the record—a concept album—marks a new era for the pop star. There’s so much to dig into on the album (which already has a slightly-deluxe edition out), from the Jim Carrey film references to the bad-girl anthems to what might or might not mirror the singer’s real life. Plus, there are fun sonic elements: disco and house inspirations, the Brandy and Monica sample in “The Boy Is Mine” (and that tempo drop!), and the Robyn references in “We Can’t Be Friends.”

Here, ELLE Editors and Ari fans Erica Gonzales and Samuel Maude dissect the new album at length.

First Impressions

Erica: Okay. I’ll start with how you listened to the album. What were some initial impressions you had?

Sam: So, I was accidentally up at midnight. And I did start it, but then I totally got four songs in and was like, “I have to go to bed.” My Friday mornings are like sacred ground, because my morning routine feels soundtracked by new music. I finished my first listen and immediately listened again, and then I listened again.

I always know a song is a good song if, even when I’m multi-tasking, I’m still like, “Oh, this is a banger.” It’s like you can feel the energy of the song, and I actually felt that way with this album. I was there, and I was with her. What was your first listening experience like?

Erica: Well, due to my work schedule, it was at 12 A.M. on the dot. But I actually appreciate listening to music in that type of way where it’s late at night by myself. I live by myself so there are no distractions, and I just have my headphones on, absorbing the whole thing. I got to really soak in all of the sounds, production decisions, certain melodies or lyrics that stuck out to me. And I was just so impressed. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was very happy with what I heard.

Sam: This might get the Arianators in my DMs, but I was not the biggest fan of Positions. I like some of the songs on it, but it was not my cup of tea. I remember being so excited before it came out, because I was a big Sweetener and Thank U, Next fan. So coming into Eternal Sunshine, I was cautious. She really blew my expectations out of the water. I liked “Yes, And?” a lot, but it also didn’t give me complete faith that this was going to be an album that I loved. This has been such a wonderful breath of fresh air to me.

Erica: Vocally, Ariana’s always on it, but I feel like Eternal Sunshine maybe seemed a little more cohesive than Positions? Maybe because it’s a concept album as a whole. And you can trace the thematic changes. Positions was very sensual, very just-married, honeymoon phase, very bedroom-y. And then this is a lot of the opposite—the fallout, the aftermath of that going wrong, but also her finding hope and some happiness, it seems, with the next stage of her life.

On Positions, I feel like she was still leaning into a lot of the low-key R&B sound, like with the Ty Dolla $ign and the Weeknd collaborations. So I think there was a little more, maybe, energy to this current album.

Sam: I’ve already listened to this one front to back three times. I am going to say: a no-skip album from Miss Grande.

Experimenting With Genre

Sam: I really feel she does a little bit of genre exploring here.

Erica: Yes!

Sam: It’s really cool. There are some really fascinating musical moments in this album. I think she has her R&B elements, she has pop elements, but she also has some, dare I say, musical theater elements. Of course, she’s in Wicked world, so that makes sense for where she is in her career.

For instance, on “Imperfect For You,” she has this great minor moment that really gives the imperfection to the song. That is such a musical theater choice to make a minor moment happen in a major song to really emphasize a point you’re trying to get across and tell a story. I’m obsessed with that choice. And then she’s also bringing in house with “Yes, And?” And there’s like coming-of-age pop, Robyn pop with “We Can’t Be Friends.”

Erica: I got big Robyn vibes, big “Dancing On My Own” vibes from “We Can’t Be Friends.”

Sam: I think with Eternal Sunshine, Ariana Grande is saying, “Hey, I’m not just a pop artist. I can do R&B, I can do MT [musical theater], I can do house, I can do this, I can do that.” And it works as a cohesive album, which is really impressive.

Erica: Do we think her being immersed in musical theater has altered her songwriting a little bit? She always had elements of that, as you know, in her music. And out of all of her pop contemporaries, I think she has such an ear for arrangements and harmonies, and she knows how to layer her voice and how to work with chords to really emphasize certain feelings or sounds.

Sam: I feel like it did. I think it’s for sure affected the visuals. Honestly, without Wicked, we don’t have this album for a myriad of reasons. I do hear the MT influence, but you’re right. She did “Popular Song” on Yours Truly, and she’s done other MT-ish songs in the past.

Erica: “7 Rings.”

Sam: I do think Eternal Sunshine feels theatrical. She’s telling a clear story here about her divorce and finding new love in a very musical theater way. I don’t know if I feel like this is a huge departure for Ariana Grande. I mean maybe that’s because she’s working with similar collaborators like Max Martin, but I think it feels like an Ariana Grande album, but also like an important evolution. This has not been the take I’ve been seeing on the internet, but I really love “Supernatural.”

Erica: I do too! I’m so happy you said that.

Sam: I really love it. It’s fun. What do you think of it?

Erica: Coming a track or two after “Saturn Returns Interlude,” I feel like there’s something a little celestial about it. It feels a little twinkly, and I love the way that she works in her harmonies and the way that the production sounds very full and rich, which I think is throughout the whole album, but I can really hear it in parts of this song specifically. I just thought it worked so well. And then her little vocal climb, that riff at the end, I was like, “Oh, that’s so smart.” Because most people would just stop before that, but then you wanted to add a little drama, take it to the next level, and also show, “Remember, I’m a vocalist.”

Sam: Right. Something an ex-boyfriend, who’s also a music journalist, said to me is he didn’t think a singer’s best track should be the lead single. Because if it is, and you get the album and that was the best track, that leads to disappointment.

Erica: That’s so true.

Sam: The rest of this album doesn’t really sound like “Yes, And?” It still works in context, but this whole album became a really great surprise while I was listening to it. I was expecting Eternal Sunshine to be the gay bar album, essentially, let’s go dance. It’s so much more, though there are some songs here that do that. “We Can’t Be Friends” makes me want to be in a gay bar, like when “Dancing On My Own” comes on. I think it’s so similar that it fills that same void.

There’s this pop genre that I would call coming-of-age pop where it makes you feel you’re 17 again with your high school friends driving down the highway, windows down, music blasting, like the scene from Perks of Being A Wallflower. That song makes me feel that way.

Erica: Yeah. And it’s also funny you bring up the comparisons between “We Can’t Be Friends” and “Dancing On My Own,” because that genre you mentioned of coming-of-age pop, I did feel there was something a little nostalgic about the way that it sounded, the kind of electro-pop vibe of it. The beat sounded like it could have come out 10 years ago. It could have been like 2011 Katy Perry or something.

Sam: Ooh!

Erica: But also, thematically, they’re very similar. It makes you want to dance but cry at the same time. It has introspective, sadder themes.

On the topic of different sounds, I loved “Bye.” Any kind of disco influence, I’m going to be a little biased, because that’s just what my mom kept playing for me growing up. But I think she really delivered on this one.

Sam: No, I love “Bye.” That was a great way to start the album and the intro worked for me too. I’m like, I have a boy I could send this to! You want that from any album. You want to find the personal in this incredibly famous person’s life.

Erica: Totally. She’s no stranger to getting super personal in her music either. She has songs about Pete Davidson and Mac Miller and past relationships. So I feel this was an extension of that approach.


Erica: I was also curious what you thought about this being a “concept album.” I guess I wasn’t sure how to interpret that, because I was like, “Oh, okay, maybe she’ll be just writing from a character’s perspective, or we’ll have to try harder to really pull truths out of this.” But it does seem very self-referential.

Sam: I don’t think you put your grandmother on an album if it doesn’t have something [to say]. What does she mean by a concept album? Because Taylor Swift’s Folklore has fictional characters, and Hadestown, honestly, was a concept album.

Is it a concept album in the sense that it’s telling this concept of love and acceptance and of getting over someone through someone new or getting over someone and finding someone new? To me, that isn’t necessarily a concept album.

Erica: That’s just an album with a common theme—which is how they should all be? I don’t know. That’s why I was interested about how we should interpret and how she has interpreted “concept.”

Sam: You have “Yes, And?” here where she’s also saying, “I don’t care what people say.” So you’re immediately making this somewhat personal.

I also can’t help but think, is Ariana Grande saying that this experience and this album and this moment in her life is kind of her coming of age? With “Saturn Returns” and then this very nostalgic track and the music video where she’s erasing the memories of her ex, which I know is a reference to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but she walks out with those memories gone, and I’m like, is this her saying, “I’m in this new time in my life. I finally made it.” Is that the concept?

Erica: And also is the concept just that all of the references come from this one movie and you’re in conversation with it or reinterpreting it in your own way? I don’t know.

Sam: On the video for “We Can’t Be Friends,” she signs the form as Peaches. [In a play on Kate Winslet’s character Clementine from the original film.] I guess that also helps this being a concept album. Like is she playing a character here? We’ve seen artists with characters, like Nicki’s Megatron.

Erica: Sasha Fierce too.

Villain Anthems

Erica: I did want to talk about this little trio of tracks, which are kind of like her villain era, maybe honestly but maybe as a character: “True Story,” “The Boy Is Mine,” and then “Yes, And?” Did that resonate with you at all?

Sam: I love a bad-girl-energy Ariana Grande song. I’m a “7 Rings” apologist. I believe in that song with my whole chest. And “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”—obsessed.

I do love that run of tracks here, and I also think it’s an important part of a relationship if that is the story she’s telling here about how, unfortunately in our lives, there are going to be moments where someone considers us to be the villain and where someone considers us to be an evil person. Maybe this is me showing too much sympathy for celebrities, but these are situations that happen to real people, and it’s a side effect of human life. So her saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t care as much about this,” I think it’s actually pretty valid.

Erica: Almost inspirational in a way.

Sam: You can be the villain sometimes. Villains might have more fun.

Erica: Also, I listened to the interview she had with Zane Lowe, and she slightly touched on “The Boy Is Mine” and “True Story.” She says “True Story” is “based on all untrue events,” which, okay, and it’s supposed to set up “The Boy Is Mine.” In “True Story,” she’s saying, “Okay, I’ll play the bad girl, and I’ll give you a bad-girl anthem.” And then “The Boy Is Mine” is said bad-girl anthem. And she said that she wanted to release it because she saw how her fans love a bad-girl anthem. I personally love “Bad Idea” and “Dangerous Woman.” But I think she’s also aware of how these songs might come across right now. She was like, “This is a very bad idea, but my fans love this stuff.” So, very generous of you, Ari, to really put yourself on the line for us.

Sam: I really think I could write a defense of Ariana Grande right now, because people are so mad at her right now, and I think she doesn’t necessarily deserve all the hate she’s getting. I feel she is getting an incredible amount of blowback in a way that is sexist, to be honest with you, and it’s been very tough to watch happen.

Rom-com Themes

Sam: You know the song lyrics that did stick out to me? “Ordinary Things.” It’s almost a rom-com. Like, you hit like the first sip of wine after a long day. You hit like my biggest fan when I hear what the critics say. Also, that’s a personal line girl, not a concept line. As ELLE knows, Samuel Maude is a hopeless romantic and a Pisces in every sense of the word. And I think Ariana Grande has this love of true love and rom-coms too. “Thank U, Next” was a tribute to rom-coms. Then to have her grandmother in the end answer the question of, “How do you know if you’re in the right relationship?” It’s so beautiful.

Erica: Also, her grandmother’s choice of words about her man: “It was like God Almighty arrived.” Go off.

Sam: I don’t know, if Ariana Grande and I got put in the same room, we might feed into each other’s delusion so much that we would come out, and we would have a Broadway musical written and be like, “Okay, I’m casting the people I want to fall in love with.” I would actually be scared for myself if I met Ariana Grande, because I think we would just ruin each other’s lives.

Erica: Oh God. I also really like how you pointed out rom-com-y songwriting, because I feel like there’s a cinematic effect to some of the songs, especially “Eternal Sunshine.” It is the biggest reference to the movie that she’s inspired by, but I just remember really liking the feel of listening to that song.

Sam: When we were Slacking this morning, you raised a good point of how it feels fuller. It just feels more produced, and I think that that plays into that cinematic element.

Erica: Yeah. And I don’t know how to describe it, but at first when I first heard “Eternal Sunshine,” I was like, “Oh, this sounds a little funky. This is a little weird.” The way she options down the chorus, and it’s a little minor, and it feels a little eerie at times. But then the more I thought about it, and as I was writing about it, I was like, oh, this mirrors the film in a lot of ways, how there’s an eeriness and a coldness to it sometimes, but it is also very endearing and also about romance. It captures it very well.


Erica: Do you think this album will stand the test of time?

Sam: I think it will. I feel confident saying that.

Erica: I’m hesitant to say that 100 percent, but I think it has potential.

Sam: What I think Ariana Grande has done here is make an album that incorporates all of these genres and all of these sounds that will stand the test of time, because it feels so true to who she is. She has so many things in here that are so beautiful and wonderful and magical that I don’t know if any other artists could do, plus things that I think would have worked in the 1970s that worked today. That’s so interesting to me, when you, as an artist, make an album that has sounds that only you can do. So when people want to feel that nostalgia, they have to come back to it. And that’s how an album like Melodrama by Lorde for me stands the test of time, because it makes you feel a certain way. I think Ari’s done that here.

Erica: I’m very grateful that the album’s here with us. We’ll soak up every second of it, but I also wonder where she will go next from here. And it obviously will depend on where she goes in her life, because whether she will admit it or not, that is the catalyst for a lot of—or all of—her music. But it just makes me excited for what is next.

Sam: I agree with you. I had a friend who was like, “It’s her best album.” And I wanted to sit with it for a while before I place it in my Ariana Grande album rankings. But I feel comfortable saying now that this album is incredible. This could be her best.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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