Pop Bambi, Ariana Grande, has officially made the leap from Nickelodeon star to proper contender in the youth music market, all in just the space of 17 months.
My Everything, her second album, is easily one of the most anticipated releases in any teen pop diary this year. Bolstered by the global success of ‘Problem‘ (featuring Iggy Azalea), her first UK chart-topper, My Everything has been hyped up to be the album that will introduce Ariana to a bigger audience.
The 21-year old singer has been tirelessly hailed as the new generation’s Mariah Carey (probably much to the chagrin of the Elusive Chanteuse herself). It’s something of a badge of honour Ariana wears and flashes with pride every time she ad-libs in the whistle register. The comparisons also stick because of Grande’s penchant for cutting slickly-produced saccharine R&B ballads which has, until now, limited her appeal to mainstream music fans on this side of the Atlantic.
She’s a young female pop performer with a naturally-occurring gay male following but unlike Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Britney Spears, Little Miss Grande has yet to give us a proper anthem we can really get behind. You know just the kind we’re talking about: a huge dance track with emotional lyrics and bonafide diva vocals. Well, that all changed when ‘Break Free’ went online.
The new single, featuring German-Russian EDM producer Zedd, is a brazen, club stomper with an emancipatory feel. It’s a straightforward survivor anthem for the brokenhearted and fed-up, much in the spirit of Britney Spears‘ ‘Stronger’, Cher‘s ‘Strong Enough’ and Gloria Gaynor‘s ‘I Will Survive’. Ariana digs her heels in and sings, “This is the part when I say I don’t want it! I’m stronger than I’ve been before. This is the part when I break free, ’cause I can’t resist it no more!”.
As enjoyable as it was, ‘Break Free’ sadly isn’t a fair representation of the album’s soundscape. For the most part, Ariana remains quietly devoted to the vanilla R&B balladry set out in her first album. Having said that, there is a convincing coming-of-age confidence and feistiness in My Everything that urges its listeners to stick with it for a bit longer.
The blockbuster lead single ‘Problem’, produced by legendary hit-maker Max Martin, is an all-expense-paid outing that treats us to generous helpings of sass and class.
‘Break Your Heart Right Back’ is a payback song about a guy Ariana dated briefly who she strongly suspects cheated on her with a boy. As vague as the lyrics are, she couldn’t keep a lid on it when she sings, “You say I was your best, would be your last. Now he’s gone, you’re alone. Don’t want you back!”. The track also cheekily samples Diana Ross‘ ‘I’m Coming Out’, in case you missed the memo.
Future hit ‘Love Me Harder’ (with The Weeknd) is an elegant pop ballad with oscillating synths and pressing lyrics of the sensual kind. The former-child star sings, “And if in the moment, I bite my lip. Baby in that moment you’ll know this is something bigger than us and beyond bliss. Give me a reason to believe it“.
Despite the expert production, A-list collaborators and strong singles, Ariana has not convinced us that she is an album artist. Perhaps the album’s patchy quality is an indication that she’s more focused on selling singles and notching up ready-to-impact hits for now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It just feels like a wasted opportunity to win big and position Ariana as something more than just a doe-eyed singles-seller. You know, someone who can deliver big where it counts like, perhaps, Mariah in her hey day?
Standout tracks: ‘Break Free’ (featuring Zedd), ‘Problem’ (featuring Iggy Azalea) and ‘Love Me Harder’ (with The Weeknd).