In the midst of the VMA PDA-ing with Big Sean, hardcore relationship question-dodging, and a mass celebrity nude-photo scandal, Ariana Grande actually has released a new album. Almost a year prior, Yours Truly was a transition from TV starlet to poised-to-be pop princess, with approachably infectious hits such as “The Way” and “Baby I”. Grande’s debut album featured a sweet style heavily inspired by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and many other retro-pop icons, along with the soulful influence of 90s R&B. Now, no longer with Nickelodeon and solely focusing on her music, a more mature Grande can be seen experimenting with different personas and genres on My Everything.
With her platinum singles, “Problem” and “Break Free,” Ariana found success within the realms of both hip-hop and EDM. These genres are prevalent throughout this new album, but don’t quite prove themselves to be as dynamic when spread throughout the album’s collection of songs. Featuring some of hip hop’s hottest talent, Ariana attempts to shed some of her saccharine good-girl image with the help of rap stars Childish Gambino and A$AP Ferg. In “Break Your Heart Right Back,” Bino steals the show, and even pays homage to Notorious B.I.G. with the guitar riff of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” section of his verse. The same went for Ferg with his clean wordplay in “Hands On Me”, but he still stays true to his “Trap Lord” self. Oddly, the production is what spoiled the quality of both tracks, making them feel rushed and uninspired. “Break Your Heart” sounded like Childish Gambino’s b-side of “Sweatpants” with a lazy sample to try to spice it up. Grande’s writers and producers tried to push for a sexier Ariana on “Hands On Me,” but ended up with another generic horn instrumental and a lyrically awkward hot mess. Contrary to the aforementioned hip-hop fused songs, the tracks “One Last Time” and “Why Try” are perfect in theory with their lyrics and production. Either song could easily become a strong single on the radio or a favorite off the album for many, but both sound detached and overly polished like they could be written for another artist. These two shiny pop tunes don’t click for Grande, failing to make them memorable additions in the young singer’s catalogue.
The best production–not surprisingly–came from songs featuring critically acclaimed producers, Zedd and Cashmere Cat. In “Break Free,” Zedd’s signature upbeat melodic style comes through, flawlessly accompanying Grande’s bubbly, feisty attitude. Cashmere Cat’s “Be My Baby” sounds exactly how we come to know and love the flaxen-haired Norwegian producer, who is now working on conquering the pop charts with hitmaker Benny Blanco. CC, with help from Lido, captured Ariana’s effervescent pop melodies from songs like “Baby I” and “Lovin’ It” seen in Yours Truly, and created a piece that’s modern and original for her expanding sound.
Venturing a little outside of Grande and her team’s comfort zones, the more compelling and provocative side of Ariana unveils itself in “Be My Baby” and “Love Me Harder.” “Hold me close under covers/Kiss me boy and drive me crazy” and “All you got is eyes for me/I’m the only girl you see,” are belted out playfully and alluringly in “Be My Baby” as she teases her man to step up his game to win her over. Grande remains the one in control throughout “Love Me Harder.” With help from The Weeknd and renowned producer Max Martin, she powers through the driving synths of the minimalist R&B track with soft, seductive vocals.
Falsetto and whistle registers reigned supreme for the majority of Yours Truly, but in “Love Me Harder” and multiple other songs on My Everything, Ariana serenades us in a lower, more natural tone. While vocally becoming more mature with each track, Ariana shows she’s also evolving as a writer. She’s credited with writing the global hit “Problem,” as well as three other songs. Though strongly reminiscent of Yours Truly’s passionate ballads, the songwriting in “Intro” and “My Everything” remain equally as powerful. Aside from the Harry Styles-penned “Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart,” “Best Mistake” is the best-written song on the album. Guided by a somber piano and a subtle beat, Ariana’s lyrics stand straightforward, but glistened with raw emotion and soul. Ariana’s writing stands out significantly with each song more genuine and authentic than the rest. The track credits only three writers, one being Big Sean and the other the main producer, Key Wane. The contrast between My Everything and Yours Truly is very clear in its lyrical production – while My Everything brought in a handful of writers for the record, Yours Truly sometimes had up to 10 writers on a track. It’s a big creative victory for Grande, but also leaves her with some big shoes to fill, and many record label executives to please.
The pop industry watches writers and collaborations come and go more often than other genres. In My Everything, we can see and hear Grande’s growth as a vocalist, writer, and artist overall. After a few hits and misses on her sophomore album, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a more integrated, sophisticated Ariana in her next endeavor.