Two years on from My Everything, and Ariana Grande still hasn’t been slowing down. With singles from the album being released through til February 2015, and a Christmas EP and remix album coming in that same year, there hasn’t been a moment where she hasn’t owned at least a small fraction of the spotlight. It also feels like barely any time has passed between albums; with promotions beginning in October 2015 with the eventually scrapped single Focus, the lead-up to Dangerous Woman has been lively and exciting. Thankfully, after all the hype she’s generated for it, Grande has more than delivered the quality to back it up.
While the loss of the infectious Focus does leave a rather stinging void in the album, the styles Grande explores in its wake are equally thrilling. The swaying, low-key title track Dangerous Woman taunts and tantalises with its enticing beat before exploding into a blaring chorus full of horns and synths that gives it a hook worth staying for. The incredible, abrasive electronic energy of Into You is never really matched—Touch It is as close as it comes—but the album brings a wide variety of R&B bangers in its stead. Bad Decisions’ bright piano riffs and catchy hook-laden lyrics make it an instant winner, keeping it simple with a chorus that keeps it simple by boosting the song’s best aspects to a higher level. Everyday is arguably the album’s strongest cut, with its trap beats in the verses and dubstep-lite refrains in the chorus giving the song a powerful first impression that lasts even through guest rapper Future’s verse, which could have threatened to ruin the flow in a song not as well produced as this.
For each of the album’s amazing R&B tracks, however, it also packs some one-off styles that expand the stylistic scope of the album. Side to Side, featuring frequent collaborator Nicki Minaj, features a swaggering reggae beat that stands out on the album, yet fits in with the trap undertones that appear throughout the choruses. On the other end of the spectrum, Greedy is a joyous, upbeat disco track that features lots of prominent bass and stabbing strings, offering a throwback moment that’s likely to be a future single. The opening track Moonlight and closing track Thinking Bout You cover different ends of the same spectrum: Moonlight is a slow, romantic love ballad that relies on both plucked and sweeping strings to set the mood of the track, while Thinking Bout You uses ambient, ethereal strings to create a minimal track coated in reverb, with its twinkling chorus being one of the album’s best moments.
Dangerous Woman covers so many genres that it becomes close to being a little too eclectic. The R&B tracks spread throughout do help it retain some coherence though, and not once does a song on the album feel like anything other than something Ariana herself would do. The songs are all suited to her style, especially tracks such as Greedy and Thinking Bout You that offer her ample occasion to show off her higher notes and to vocalise at will on top of sprawling productions that compliment them perfectly. The production across the album is top notch, and while the lyrics never venture further than what you would expect from Grande, albeit a little more heavy handed with the expletives, the music and vocals are still excellent.
In terms of pop albums in 2016, Dangerous Woman is already standing tall as one of its defining moments. Grande has outdone herself here, with more hits and less duds than she’s ever managed to fit onto one album. It may not be a total reinvention for her in style or sound, but it does focus more on what made her so enjoyable in the past and filters out the negatives to great effect. This is easily Grande’s best work to date.