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No Tears Left To Cry

by Ariana Grande

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard such poor lyric intelligibility on an ostensibly pop production. Honestly, it took me a half-dozen listens to guess three quarters of the lyrics, and the other quarter are still a mystery! But I don’t think I really blame the engineers here, because I reckon Grande herself should be carrying the can on this one. There’s a limit to what you can do at mixdown to salvage a performance with negligible diction, and I think that’s the root of the problem here. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that slightly reticent diction can be quite stylish in the right hands, but I just think she’s misjudged it here. There’s a fine line between ‘sultry’ and ‘medicated’.

Leaving that aside, though, the first chorus entry is a brilliant piece of smoke and mirrors, as far as the song’s long-term dynamics is concerned. Although the arrangement at that point is, if anything, sparser than that of the preceding verse, it somehow makes drama out of this via simple contrast, setting the verse’s muscular, dry, choppy texture against the chorus’s muted, woody riff-synth timbre and those wonderfully open-sounding delay/reverb effects. (An even more dramatic example of ‘reverse’ verse-chorus dynamics can be heard in Taylor Swift’s 'Look What You Made Me Do'.) Showing such restraint early in the song means there’s masses of room for manoeuvre in terms of building the chorus texture over subsequent iterations, in this instance by adding a glacial pad in chorus two, and then doubling that with backing vocals in verse three, as well as lengthening the formerly well-punctuated bass part into a fully sustained line.