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Ariana Grande Is Still Unknowable On The Riveting Eternal Sunshine

With Max Martin at her side, the pop star is unbeatable on Eternal Sunshine, even if she’s an enigma.

When a friend who has never once mentioned Ariana Grande heard me listening to her new album Eternal Sunshine, he immediately asked, “Isn’t she a homewrecker?” If that’s what you went into this record believing, that’s one bias you could conceivably confirm. You could read into how she sings, “This is a true story” on the record’s seventh track, a sleek R&B growl about feeling like you’ve lost the trust of your partner. You could also make note that it’s followed by “That Boy Is Mine,” a slinky brag about nabbing a new man (that certainly plays into the catty Brandy and Monica original). So yes, if you already had certain preconceived notions about Grande’s love life, these songs could reinforce those ideas. But do they really?

Eight years after Ariana Grande wished to be caught in a “real adult scandal” on SNL, it seems she now can’t escape them. The double whammy of Sweetener and thank u, next arrived with the flurry of Mac Miller’s passing and her failed rebound with Pete Davidson. But that can’t be compared to what she’s facing now in the tabloids: She was married, then divorced, then, an unspecified amount of time later, began dating a Wicked co-star who had his own family (including a newborn). I’m no publicist, but it seems now would’ve been the time to pull a Taylor and flee — yet, here comes Eternal Sunshine and Grande with her heart on her sleeve, as she puts it.

So is it true? Is that even the right question to be asking? For some (fans or otherwise), it might be, but it’s something I can’t answer, even after five or six listens. What I do know is Eternal Sunshine is absolutely riveting: a poptimist’s dream that is so purely committed to delivering a good time and so strategically shrouded, it almost feels impenetrable.

What actually shouldn’t be overlooked is how great the music of Eternal Sunshine is as a testament to Grande and Martin still being one pop’s most unbeatable duos.

Co-produced by Max Martin, it’s 13 songs of mid- to up-tempo bops that “say everything and nothing at the same time” (Grande’s words, not ours), something that’s easy to overlook when blissed-out synths and a perked-up beat provide plushy cover. What she does say ends up feeling so self-aware it’s almost a tease. The record’s serene, emotional center, “Eternal Sunshine,” mourns a previous relationship while off-handedly mentioning how she’s “found a good boy and he’s on my side.” She’s tied up in a guilty “situationship” on “Don’t Wanna Break Up Again.” The aforementioned “The Boy Is Mine” — which is sure to be a standout — is so devastatingly hot, people will definitely wonder how a man who once played Spongebob on Broadway could be its inspiration. If you were so determined, you could pluck out a narrative among its songs to satisfy your curiosities (which Grande surely prepared for). But shift a few degrees in another direction, and you could just as easily pick out another.

It’s almost like trying to decode a pop star’s life via their music is an endlessly slippery — and futile — endeavor, something I thought was common knowledge but seems increasingly forgotten in an era where people think screens also suggest transparency. I don’t think I know Grande any better by the end of the breezy closer “Ordinary Things,” but I also don’t think I can. What actually shouldn’t be overlooked is how great the music of Eternal Sunshine is as a testament to Grande and Martin still being one pop’s most unbeatable duos, and Grande’s own clever directing. Like its cinematic namesake, Eternal Sunshine is such a sweeping expanse of ecstatic-sounding pop it makes you want to forget about all the noise.

Ariana Grande’s ‘Eternal Sunshine’ is out now.