There is no roadmap, rule book, or paint-by-numbers kit in existence that could prepare Ariana Grande for "No Tears Left To Cry." The next chapter in her career will be inextricably tied to the tragedy of the Manchester Bombing. The shadow of the terrorist attack, the fans lost, and the ones who survived would loom large over any of her artistic output let alone her first single. Today (April 20), the eyes of the world were on one pop star like very few times in recent memory. Thankfully, Ariana not only subverted expectations, she soared past them.
"No Tears Left To Cry" manages to uplift without falling prey to sentimentality. The Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh-produced song is inspirational, but sidesteps kitsch. The song's intro is an impeccable sleight of hand. Grande with her distinctive voice sings, "Right now, I'm in a state of mind / I wanna be in like all the time / Ain't got no tears left to cry / So I'm pickin' it up, pickin' it up," like a swelling ballad is imminent. Then the drop happens and Ariana's tears turn into an unexpected, but welcome celebration.
The Dave Meyers-directed music video and the single succeed through an expert game of juxtaposition. "No Tears Left To Cry" is an upbeat pop anthem, while the visual is a somber, but motivational affair. Instead of Ariana telling us her world was turned upside down the video shows us. The genius of Meyers' vision is that the dark muted video feels like sadness, while Ariana's voice sounds like triumph. The M.C. Escher-like visual ends with Ariana finding the sunrise after trekking through a dark cityscape. The metaphor isn't subtle.
Pop star comebacks can be calculated. We've seen it before with multiple Justins, Britney, and Madonna. However, those career resets were selfish as most business surrounding pop music tends to be. Ariana's comeback is distinct in that she wasn't responsible for the events that made her resurgence inevitable. She was still reaching her artistic peak when tragedy thrust upon her a leadership role that is rarely asked for, but nonetheless given. "No Tears Left To Cry" had the unfair task of speaking to her experience, healing her hurt, while simultaneously doing the same for the world.
In part, that is what makes "No Tears Left To Cry" an achievement. The song will probably be successful in the conventional way we dictate such things (sales, views, likes), but what Ariana will face in the coming months isn't conventional. The fact that she is releasing new music into a world that is still battling for smarter and more effective gun control laws is a powerful act.
The existence of "No Tears Left To Cry" is an act of defiance and a catchy one at that.