Song: ‘No Tears Left to Cry’
Artist: Ariana Grande
US chart peak: 3
Release date: April 20, 2018
Writers: Ariana Grande, Max Martin, Ilya, Savan Kotecha
Producers: Max Martin, Ilya
Quintessential Max moment: The little lift into “Oh I just want you to come with me”
Video synopsis: An Escher-inspired Chanel perfume advert.
Escapism and pop go hand in hand, any fool knows that, and yet recently the two have started to drift apart. Pop’s become either too knowing, too bitter, too self-absorbed, too Spotify, too novelty or too nihilistic to really drag us out of the apparently unending awfulness of our current reality. There are signs of the two reconnecting, however, with pop artists starting to create their own utopias, be it Björk calling her latest opus, well, ‘Utopia’, or Lykke Li closing her new album with a track called ‘Utopia’, or myriad artists deciding that rather than tackling the shit show head on and dragging everyone down that bit more, they’d rather build an alternate reality we can all escape to for a bit. It can feel a bit like running away from your problems but at the same time can feel like the only sensible solution.
One popstar who has more reason than most to want to explore this headspace is Ariana Grande. We don’t need to go into the details but suffice to say ‘No More Tears Left to Cry’ is the perfect balance of heartfelt tribute, unwavering defiance and proper pick-yourself-up-we’re-going-dancing banger-dom. Part of its genius is that it often pulls off those three states of mind (reference) simultaneously, elegantly flowing from the stripped back, ecclesiastical opening into a sort of new jack swing/two-step beat that percolates around lyrics such as “Can’t stop so shut your mouth” (which I like to assume is a direct reference to P*ers M*rgan’s fuckwittery) before losing itself in this glorious utopia where awful things are acknowledged but time is spent loving, living, picking it up and indeed vibin’. It sounds basic written down, but on record it’s the sort of profound alchemy only pop can provide.
Everything about the way the song is constructed feels effortless, which, as we all know, is a trick that takes a shitload of effort. While Max’s recent productions for the likes of Taylor and Katy have shown their workings too plainly, ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ feels comfortable in its own skin, swooping elegantly through the myriad gears of the pleasingly-constructed chorus, or into that blissed out middle eight before ending with the perfect riposte to anyone looking to criticise or pass judgement (“we turnin’ it up”). It’s happy enough, too, to let the various intricate melodic moments seep soothingly into your skin rather than tattooing itself to your lower back only for you to regret it when the novelty wears off.
Like the Escher paintings its video references, you notice new little bits on each listen – the “oh yeah” backing vocal that snaps shut suddenly at the 1:37 mark, or the little percussive flourishes that sound like Max having a lovely time with a wood block that underpin the second verse from 2:05 onwards. Then there’s the realisation that “we on another mentality” doesn’t quite work as an English phrase and that it’s fine because it’s another Max-ism; or that actually, like the good old days, nearly every single line is a hook most artists would kill for as their only one (altogether now, “I’m pickin’ it up, pickin’ it up / Lovin’, I’m livin’, so we turnin’ it up”). The best moment, however, is the “Oh I just want you to come with me” line, which feels like the exact moment the twin ideas of unimaginable sadness and impassioned yearning for something better coalesce perfectly.
In last night’s chat with Jimmy Fallon, Grande revealed the title of ‘No Tears Left to Cry”s parent album, Sweetener. Asked why that title she said the album is about “Bringing light to a situation, or to someone’s life”, which is exactly what 2018 needs thank you very much.