The lead-in to Ariana Grande's comeback single, as per most pop diva returns, was ecstatic. Memes abounded online — of her cryptic, upside-down tweets, her low-slung ponytail. She rolled out a preview of her voice in an echo chamber of melisma. It's a traditional pop roll-out, except with the gravity of loss and tragedy still hanging in the air.
"No Tears Left To Cry" comes as Grande's first single since the bombing at her Manchester concert in May of last year, which killed 22 people and injured 59. There are slight cues to signify that these horrors continue to occupy her: the rainbow that crests her cheek on the single's artwork, perhaps a callback to the "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" cover from her One Love Manchester performance; a bee flies in the music video's final moments, which, as noted by the BBC, serves as an emblem for Manchester.
If nothing else, "No Tears" eases Ariana Grande back into the public eye as a capital-P pop star without the weight of the Manchester tragedies breaking her. She feints through much of the song, for better or worse, turning a devastating, world-shattering moment into subject matter suited for a Max Martin production (here joined by Ilya Salmanzadeh). Grande addresses a "babe" as she gravitates toward "another mentality." She's "out here vibin'." The vagaries can be read as indirectness, as is the "Show Me Love"-lite thump that underpins her still-sterling voice.
So too can the Dave Meyers-directed music video, which runs with the idea of the world toppling over and places it into aesthetic chaos. It's the sort of visual that lends itself to plausible deniability. Grande struts and traipses across a brooding, topsy-turvy cityscape in one cut, is tessellated in shimmering lipstick and ensnared in a web of string lights elsewhere. In one particularly odd scene, she takes off her face and hangs it up with a collective of other faces.
"No Tears Left to Cry" isn't a return-to-form filled with pop diva largess. But it doesn't need to be. It's the sign of Grande moving forward, her private grief turning into catharsis to be blasted on the airwaves.