The sleek, carefree party jam of the spring… as inspired by the Manchester bombing of last spring? That’s not a contradictory notion, at least not in the intent behind Ariana Grande’s new “No Tears Left to Cry,” which premiered on digital music and video services at the stroke of Friday. The single was rumored to be an “emotional” response to the 2017 tragedy — and maybe it is, in a manner of thinking — but its real aim is to not leave a wet eye in the house.
There’s a fake-out at the beginning, as Grande starts the highly anticipated tune in ballad mode… following in tradition of Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer’s similarly titled oldie “No More Tears,” which segued from a potentially weepy intro into pure disco. Here, Grande spends all of 35 seconds in deceptively choral mode, before a mid-tempo dance beat kicks in to announce the real message: Salt water sucks.
The verses offer some slow-mo house-music synth triplets right out of the ‘80s over that beat. When the chorus kicks in, it’s divided between Grade lifting her voice, pleadingly, for positivity — “Oh, I just want you to come with me / We’re on another mentality” — before lowering it to nearly spoken-word mode for a rhythmically chanted “I’m lovin’, I’m livin’, I’m pickin’ it up.”
The track reunites Swedes Max Martin and Ilya, two of the writer-producers behind Grande’s previous “Problems,” now with Grande listed as co-writer (as she is for the first time on all of the tracks from her upcoming full-length release, according to sources). It’s not likely to ever be inducted into the Max Martin Hall of Fame, but it does serve its purpose, as an enjoyable teaser in advance of an album that’s probably going to have some grander emotional moments. It announces that Grande is at once affected and not affected by last year’s bombing. If there’s an element of doth-protest-too-much to the tune’s determination to push past and move on, maybe that’s as it should be.
The music video (watch it below), which offers Dave Meyers an unusual directing credit right up front, is a combination of “Inception” and Fred Astaire’s old dancing-on-the-ceiling movie musical routine: Nighttime cityscapes spread out overhead and sideways as well as underfoot (romantically, not menacingly, as in the Christopher Nolan movie). Grande doesn’t quite dance upside down, but she does move up and down the walls of a skyscraper corridor, looking like she’s not quite sure whether to be in the mood for exhilaration or rumination.
“No Tears Left to Cry” hedges its bets by offering a little of both, as the breeziest, most danceable kind of post-traumatic recovery anthem with dark undertones. It works, on that modest I-will-survive level, although if Grande really wants to be seen as growing as an artist, it’ll probably be a good thing if at least one or two other tracks on her upcoming album convince us that she still has it in her… some vestigial crying, that is.