Ariana Grande’s ‘Upbeat’ New Album Stemmed From ‘A Super Sad Chapter’

Scattered throughout Ariana Grande‘s triumphant Billboard Woman of the Year profile are major tidbits for everyone who has diligently read every tweet, checked every Instagram story, and watched every YouTube drop on Ari’s accounts since early October: concrete details on the second new album she promised would be coming by the end of this year.

Thank U, Next — the album, not the song — is almost ready for global consumption. In mid-November, when the interview took place, Ari was in the “polishing” phase of production, having spent one week writing the tracks and two weeks recording them with help from collaborators Tommy Brown, Social House, Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx, and Doug Middlebrook. But as of Tuesday (December 4), she was tweeting at Republic Records to “hurry yo ass up” with her final product.

Created in a zen-sounding studio outfitted in white flowers, a candle, and a light that projects rippling water imagery, the tone of the new music is “not particularly uplifting,” Ariana said. “A lot of it sounds really upbeat, but it’s actually a super sad chapter.”

It’s a description that actually makes a lot of sense considering the work was fueled by pink champagne and an unthinkable amount of heartache that the artist has endured in the past few months alone — most notably, that which resulted from the unexpected death of her beloved Mac Miller. At least one song on TUN is about the late rapper, according to the profile.

Another tune — one whose name we already know — has tackles a happier memory. “7 Rings” is about a “challenging fall day in New York” that brought Ari and friends to Tiffany’s for some casual retail therapy. A few glasses of champagne (what else?) later, “we bought seven engagement rings, and when I got back to the studio I gave everybody a friendship ring.”

Billboard writer Natalie Weiner, who got to listen to the tracks, described the album as “defiant — deep, bass-driven bangers with trap beats alternating with airy, sad ballads — and aesthetically more adventurous than anything she has ever released.” Lyrically, Weiner called it “unambiguously personal and gutting.”

But perhaps the best news to come of this interview is that Ari, being the benevolent pop diva she is, is already looking forward to making even more new music when she hits the road for next year’s Sweetener tour, and potentially just teased a third new album.

“Please. [“Thank U, Next” production duo] Social House is my opening act — you don’t think we’re going to have a studio on the bus? That we’re not going to be making records on the road? Of course we are,” she said. “I want to be able to do what is authentic and honest and natural. It’s the only way that I’ve been able to survive.”

It’s a bold approach that’s been working for Ari these past few months, and we are here to support its continuation. Please!

Drake Had Three No. 1s This Year — What Does That Mean For The Future?

As ever, Drake remained inescapable in 2018. His vicious beef with Pusha T ended in an atomic dis track and the revelation of a secret son. He also helped orchestrate four wildly viral music videos with young visionary director Karena Evans. All that matters.

But radio matters, too. As one of music’s steadiest avenues for repeated exposure, it remains a substantial part of the rapper’s lasting dominance over pop culture. Drake has now obliterated enough streaming records to essentially make platforms like Spotify and Apple Music into his playgrounds (e.g. his 2017 album mixtape playlist More Life). But radio? That’s Drake’s old standby. And both radio and streaming factor into chart performance.

“We’ve seen hip-hop have great chart runs before, especially in the early to mid-2000s. Then, American Idol came along and pop had a resurgence,” Gary Trust, Billboard‘s co-director of charts, told MTV News in an email. “Still, this year saw a record 34 consecutive weeks of rap hits at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 – three of those songs by Drake, accounting for 29 of those weeks – and with streaming being a major chart metric, and streaming being dominated by hip-hop, the sound does not seem in danger of disappearing. Plus, many current artists of multiple genres grew up influenced heavily by hip-hop.”

Case in point: Only 19 days into the year, Drake released “God’s Plan,” which you’ve now heard over 600 times (alongside “Diplomatic Immunity,” which you haven’t). “God’s Plan” predictably blew up, bolstered by $996,631.90 of visual philanthropy and relentless radio play. Both quickly helped Drake achieve his first Hot 100 No. 1 of the year. And somehow, that was just the start.

In fact, here at the year’s end, Drake boasts two additional No. 1s — “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” — bringing his career total to six. That means half of them dropped this year alone. Of those three, “God’s Plan” and “In My Feelings” spent double digits at the top of the chart, joining 2017 juggernaut hits like Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”

“Drake has always shown off different sides to his music, from the start, having arrived rapping on ‘Best I Ever Had’ and singing, really nicely, on ‘Find Your Love,'” Trust said. “Almost a decade later, that formula continues to work, for him and others, as ‘God’s Plan’ and ‘In My Feelings’ update the best of ‘Had’ and ‘Find,’ respectively. That combination of rapping and singing helps bridge audiences and, thus, translates to chart success.”

This is a lot of analysis, but it helps elucidate just how influential Drake remains a decade or so into his career. In April, after “God’s Plan” had been No. 1 for 11 weeks, it finally got bumped out of the top spot, naturally by Drake himself and “Nice for What.” The dude’s hits are so big that he can replace himself at the top of the charts, becoming part of an elite class of just 12 other recording acts to have achieved the feat, including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and The Beatles.

A big part of how this happens, as Trust said, is what those songs actually sound like. While the airy “God’s Plan” kept a fundamentally trap skeleton (in line with much contemporary rap), “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” delved into New Orleans bounce; the latter video even acted as a love letter to the city itself.

Drake paired each new song with a dynamic visual, the kind that makes a hell of a case for the continued existence of music videos in general. A major part of his visual identity in 2018 was Evans, the 22-year-old director whose clips with Drake vibrate with life and portraiture. After giving away a million dollars in Miami as part of “God’s Plan,” Drake retreated out of frame so that Evans’s “Nice for What” could come alive as an ode to strong women. By the time “In My Feelings” dropped in August, the song had already blown up thanks to Shiggy’s challenge. All Drake had to do was show up wearing gold grills and charm his way out of a contentious encounter with Phylicia Rashad. Of course, the dude did. And his canny strategizing essentially guaranteed each song’s coronation as an Event instead of just another single.

As if right on cue, Drake’s achievements kept rolling in even as 2018 winded to a close. Tuesday (December 4) brought the news that he was both Spotify’s most-streamed artist of the year — and with 8.2 billion new listens in 2018 alone, also the platform’s most-streamed artist ever — as well as Billboard‘s artist of the year. He also claimed that same title from Apple Music.

Let’s not forget either that, the day before, the rapper had hit No. 1 again, this time as a featured guest on Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” Notably, the song is the first No. 1 for Scott, and Drake’s fourth appearance at the top this year. “Sicko Mode” is one of the biggest songs of the year, so it only makes sense that it dethroned another humongous, year-defining song in Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.”

But there’s something just as potent in “Sicko Mode,” whether it’s Scott’s oblique mention of his maybe-wife Kylie Jenner or, who knows, maybe even Drake’s “I did half a Xan, 13 hours ’til I land.” He’s long been a meme, after all.

That’s just what you have to do. Drake’s known it for years. In 2018, it paid off with three mammoth No. 1s. Next year, however, nothing will be guaranteed. Drake’s reign, Trust stressed, may be short-lived given how cyclical the trends represented on the chart tend to be.

“The end of the year has seen pop and rock make a bit of a comeback, thanks to Panic! at the Disco’s ‘High Hopes’ and Marshmello and Bastille’s ‘Happier,’ among others,” he said. “And, even amid Drake’s dominance, a country/pop hit reached No. 2 on the Hot 100: Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Meant to Be.’ There’s always room for a catchy pop hook.”

Pop Quiz: What’s The Most Iconic Spoken Interlude In A Song?

The TRL Pop Quiz works like this: our editors are posed a music-related question and have only 15 minutes and just 100 words to research, choose and explain their answers. Inspired by Tyler Oakley’s tweet asking his followers for the best mid-song interlude, here’s this week’s question: what’s your favorite spoken interlude in the middle of a song?

“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!” Taylor Swift’s Reputation album marked a brand-new era for Swift, with the spoken interlude in her lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” truly reflecting that change. She shed her softer image for one that embraced and even poked fun at the rumors and scandals associated with her career. The shocking interlude was immediately swept up into meme culture and the sentiment was echoed throughout the music video as we saw various “old Taylors” in their iconic looks being killed by Reputation-era Taylor. Kristen Maldonado

Blood Orange’s album Negro Swan is full of powerful interludes in tracks like “Jewelry,” “Family” and “Runnin’.” The songs are autobiographical for producer/singer Dev Hynes and cover themes of being yourself while being black and queer. The interludes are mostly Janet Mock, a black trans woman, talking about her own experiences. I find particular beauty and vulnerability in “Dagenham Dream,” where Dev sings about being bullied viciously as a child for expressing queerness. Janet Mock adds her own childhood experience of being silenced and forced to conform, commenting on how people have had to do so just to survive. – Landyn Pan

My personal favorite spoken interlude in a song is from “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The simple, folksy track’s chorus, sung by Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, proclaims “home is wherever I’m with you.” The spoken interlude is a little reminiscence about when when Jade fell out of a window and “Alexander” had to drive her to the hospital, all the while falling in love. It’s almost unbearably saccharine, but it’s also goofy and fun. Also, do yourselves a favor and look up Maya Rudolph and Paul F. Tompkins singing this song; it’s a delight. – Leah Williams

As Superfruit‘s Mitch and Scott build a perfect man on “GUY.exe,” the singers pause their always-angelic melodies to let Mitch reflect on his boyfriend-search thus far. “I’ve been looking high and low for a man who’s just right,” Mitch confesses in his perfectly-sensual voice, over the song’s pop synth instrumental. The campiness of the interlude – and of the song in general – is the epitome of what makes the duo’s debut album, Future Friends, the album that queer music needed in 2017. Give Mitch more interludes in 2019, please! – Matt Gehring

Let Robyn’s Warm ‘Honey’ Video Be The ‘Piece Of Heaven’ You Need Today

Robyn‘s excellent new album, Honey, has been out in the world since October 26, and you’ve presumably danced to it approximately every day since then. Its highs, like fizzy opener “Missing U,” are dazzling peaks, while its more experimental and gooey middle (“Send to Robin Immediately”) pumps some air into the moment, letting everything else breathe.

And then there’s the wonderful title track, whose four simple words – “come get your honey” — have become a bit of a rallying cry. There’s something very comforting about the song’s seemingly endless warmth, a key element that director Max Vitali preserved and even bottled for the music video, which dropped on Wednesday (December 5).

In it, Robyn and a crowd of dancers are artfully shot from a multitude of close angles, gradually panning out to reveal the full squad. It’s neat. It also perfectly captures the song’s underlying clubby pulse, its heartbeat and fulcrum, as Robyn’s jetting vocals fill the spaces.

“I want to say thank you to all of you who came from near and far and danced with me,” Robyn wrote on Instagram. “The video is for you and everyone who found a piece of heaven on the [dance floor].”

The clip reminds me most recently of Sam Smith and Calvin Harris together on “Promises” and Dua Lipa’s equally sweaty, equally ecstatic “Electricity” video with Silk City, though Robyn’s long career in dance music likely helped served as inspiration for those relative newcomers. It’s always nice to see how dance celebration takes new shapes.

Watch the delightful “Honey” video above. Let its coziness warm your frigid bones.

Dinah Jane Slayed Her Jingle Ball Performance With Two Brand New Songs

Taking the stage for her first major solo performance on Monday night (December 3), Dinah Jane didn’t make just one statement; she made two, with a pair of new songs she debuted during 101.3 KDWB’s Jingle Ball in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

After slaying her wildly fun debut single, “Bottled Up,” at Xcel Energy Center, Dinah premiered fresh material, keeping the promise she’d made to fans before the show about “new jingle jams.”

One of those new songs, “I Don’t Mind,” showed a more low-key version of Dinah — at least, compared to the party-ready “Bottled Up” — and flaunted the former Fifth Harmony singer’s smooth-as-butter vocals. Unsurprisingly, Dinah had killer body-roll choreography to complement the song’s instrumental.

Closing her set, Dinah turned things up with “Retrograde,” an immediate favorite from fans in the audience and online. Don’t let the song’s astrological title fool you, though, because Dinah totally nailed the high energy that “Retrograde” demands.

As soon as videos of “I Don’t Mind” and “Retrograde,” spread to Twitter, Dinah’s fans learned the lyrics, studied the choreo, and begged for studio versions of both fresh tracks.

No word yet on when to expect new releases from Dinah, but the hype from her Jingle Ball performance proves there’s plenty of fans eagerly awaiting her next move.

Drake’s 2018 Streams Are In The Billions, With A ‘B’

Every December, while we patiently wait for those sweet, automated Spotify year-end playlists to hit our phones, we’re treated to an even larger banquet of number-crunching — namely the granular data that reveals which artists had the best 2018 as far as streaming is concerned. Now we know who ruled, and the answer makes total sense to anyone who’s been following along not just the Hot 100 chart all year, but certainly culture at large.

And the person who ruled, naturally, is Drake.

Spotify revealed Tuesday (December 4) that Drizzy had another gargantuan year on the platform. In addition to becoming its most-streamed artist of all time, he was streamed 8.2 billion times in 2018 alone. It’s fitting, given how three of his singles — “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What,” and “In My Feelings” — hit No. 1 this year; just yesterday, Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” on which Drake features, also hit No. 1. The dude needs to cover Nelly at his next karaoke outing.

“What an amazing way to end off the year,” Drake wrote on Instagram to celebrate the dual achievements.

Following Drake on Spotify’s most-streamed artists lists are Post Malone, XXXTENTACION, J Balvin, and Ed Sheeran. Ariana Grande, whose also had a massive year, overtook Rihanna as the platform’s most-streamed female artist and the most-streamed female artist of 2018, ahead of Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, and Camila Cabello.

The good news didn’t stop there, though. Drake was also chosen as Apple Music’s artist of the year as well. He also had three songs — his three No. 1s, to be precise — in the top five of that platform’s top 100 global songs chart.

Congrats to Drizzy for all these accomplishments, but also for being the object of desire for people looking to raise the profiles of their weak-as-fuck IGs.

Camila Cabello Updates Fans On New Music: ‘I Am Already Peeing Myself’

Camila Cabello is coming off a whirlwind weekend during which she wowed crowds at KIIS FM’s Jingle Ball in Los Angeles and NOW!’s Poptopia in San Jose, California. And now the 21-year-old has a few more reasons to celebrate. Taking to Instagram on Sunday (December 2), she reveled in the news that her debut album, Camila, has gone platinum, “Havana” has gone seven times platinum, and “Never Be the Same” has gone two times platinum.

“THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST SPECIAL, MEANINGFUL THINGS IN THE WORLD,” she captioned a photo of her shiny new plaque. “Numbers and awards don’t drive me, but it is really special that this many people wanted to listen to my music.”

The former Fifth Harmony singer went on to thank fans for their support while gushing about the opportunity to finally create an album of her own. “It was one of the most special, intoxicating, consuming experiences of my life,” she wrote. “I poured every part of myself into it and it really feels like every song is my baby.”

Perhaps most thrillingly, Cabello capped her post with a brief update on the status of her new music — and it definitely sounds promising. “I can’t wait to show you the next chapter soon – it’s already the most special thing I’ve ever worked on and I am already peeing myself.”

As for what we can expect to hear on album No. 2, the opportunities are endless. Producers Brian Lee and Louis Bell, who worked with the singer on Camila, told MTV News earlier this year that “her depth of what she knows musically is huge — she could do whatever she wants.”

Check out Cabello’s full post below.

Beyoncé And Ed Sheeran Finally Performed ‘Perfect Duet’ Together: Watch And Cry

Despite releasing “Perfect Duet” more than a year ago, Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé never linked up for a live performance of the doe-eyed ballad — probably because she’s been off touring with hubby Jay-Z, while he’s been playing stadiums of his own. But that finally changed on Sunday (December 2), when the English crooner and the Lemonade legend took the stage together in South Africa at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, a star-studded event honoring the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

For their inaugural performance of “Perfect Duet,” Sheeran and his trusty guitar joined a fuschia-clad Bey onstage at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, in front of a crowd of nearly 100,000 people. As seen in the footage below, the stripped-back stage design kept the focus entirely on the pair, as fans sang along and lit up the stadium with cell phone lights. Their harmonies were heavenly, their musical chemistry was stunning, and it was simply… perfect.

“Perfect Duet,” a re-recorded version of Sheeran’s lovestruck Divide ballad — and many a couple’s wedding song over the past year — topped the Billboard Hot 100 for five straight weeks beginning in December of last year. It marked Beyoncé and Sheeran’s first collaboration on wax, though the two had previously teamed up for an acoustic performance of “Drunk in Love” at another Global Citizen Festival, in 2015. Judging by the magic they make onstage together, hopefully they’ll treat fans to more joint performances soon.