She’s known as the tiny girl with a big voice. She’s been compared to the likes of Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston, and is hailed as the next Mariah Carey. Since the release of her debut album Yours Truly, Ariana Grande has made waves in the mainstream music world, knocking everyone over with her exceptional vocal range. 2014 has been a prime year for Grande, with three top-10 singles and a sophomore album catapulting to number one in the US charts. My Everything is the much anticipated release from the pop singer, and boy, it is everything you’ve been waiting for.
In her latest offering, Grande switches between two dichotomies: the sexy vixen, and the dreamy girl next door. The album’s 80 second intro establishes the latter personality; its delicate, ethereal beats reminding us of the angelic Grande that we’re all familiar with. Yes, she’s still a believer of unconditional love and Prince Charmings – an element that’s been part of her since Yours Truly. The ever-popular Problem carries through her trademark 60’s swing vibe; though this arrangement is more of a pop-diva-meets-Austin-Powers collaboration. Of course you’d expect to hear soaring vocals and ear-piercing tones, but pop-ballad number One Last Time also features her lower register, providing both a stark and seductive contrast in the album. Why Try has a powerful bass and chorus, but Grande borders on whiny as she normally tends to during a high pitched song. There’s standard catchy ‘na-na-na’s’ but it’s lacking her trademark 60’s soul/jazz element – Grande has transitioned to more radio-friendly R&B, pop and dance. This is particularly evident in Breakfree, featuring the king of EDM, Zedd. The weakest track of the album, Breakfree comes off as a dance-floor filler but it’s too manufactured, losing touch with Grande’s unique selling point: the dreamy, ‘doo-wop’ vibes that were present in her first album. Then again, none of the songs in My Everything carry this element anymore, except through occasional hints in backing vocals of ballads such as My Everything and Just a Little Bit of Your Heart.
The album also features collaborations with an impressive array of big names. One such collaboration is Best Mistake featuring Big Sean – a delicate piano ballad with a low beat to match. Having teamed up previously in Yours Truly, it’s clear that Big Sean and Grande have great musical chemistry. Break Your Heart Right Back is an interesting track about losing a man to someone of the opposite sex. Although the lyrics are somewhat spiteful, the funky R&B production prevents her from sounding too much of a scorned cow. Childish Gambino is all too happy to play the rebound, confirming what Grande’s man did was ‘whack’ but he knows exactly what she can do to ‘get the dude right back’. The Vixen Ariana is charged to the max in Hands On Me, under a very exotic and ghetto inspired beat. But her vocals are too sweet to pull this track off – Grande isn’t from the ‘hood, but rather, she’s the innocent girl looking to play with A$AP Ferg, the attractive bad boy/playa. It may be raunchy, but the strongest collaboration (although closely matched with three-way power anthem Bang Bang), is Love Me Harder featuring The Weeknd. Super sexy and oh-so-seductive, it’s a fusion of mild pop and chiller synths, embellished with delicate falsettos and whistle tones. The Weeknd’s vocals are slick and smooth, although this track is only subtly sexual compared to his usual explicit material. Grande and Big Sean had musical chemistry but The Weeknd completely blows him out of the water, transforming what would’ve been a mild track into a sensual, mind-blowing duet.
Grande’s sophomore album is comprised of 15 strong tracks – some hitting the spot more than others. Although she’s shed her 60’s jazz influence, there’s still elements of her trademark sound mixed with mainstream R&B/dance. Some may say that she’s lost her soul to production, but she’s actually tailoring her sound to a niche market – and pulling it off quite spectacularly. Rest assured, Grande knows exactly what she’s doing, and she puts it quite defiantly with the album’s finisher, You Don’t Know Me: “I don’t need to live by your rules, you don’t control me.”