I am not going to lie, I am glad Ariana Grande’s career has taken off like it has. As someone who has known of her since her time on Victorious, I was so pleased when I listened to her first album Yours Truly in 2013 and it was surprisingly solid. I was not crazy about her sophomore record My Everything but it seems that the general public would disagree as that album made her huge thanks to songs like “Problem,” “Bang Bang,” and “Love Me Harder.” I was still anticipating this record quite a bit and was hoping that now that Grande had audience’s attention she would be able to do something interesting.
After several listens, I am definitely finding myself satisfied with this, despite a few major flaws that have been hard to ignore. First off, Grande herself continues to prove she is one the best voices in pop music right now. She pulls off the sensual tone that is needed to deliver many of the heavily sexualized content on here. She shows she can seem graceful like on the opening track “Moonlight” while also confident and strong on something like “Into You.”
Max Martin’s contributions to this record’s production also makes this album enjoyable to listen to due to the variety of sounds each of the tracks have. While “Moonlight” sounds like it could come right out of a Broadway musical, “Dangerous Woman” uses more authentic instrumentation to create an R&B feel. It also gives songs like the summery “Side to Side” and the eerily ominous “Let Me Love You.” It helps to give each of these songs a solid sense of personality which for an artist who is centered on making hit singles, is perfect.
Because of the features that mostly did little for me on My Everything, I was very nervous about what they would do on this project. For the most part, I do not think I can complain about what most of these guests bring. Macy Gray is an obvious standout on “Leave Me Lonely,” where she is able to bring some wisdom and experience to contrast Grande’s apparent naivety and inexperience. While the song is a little shallow, “Side to Side” is not hurt by Nicki Minaj who brings her typical brand of sexual rapping. While “riding dick bicycles” is not the classiest of lyrics, on a song about having to walk side to side from constant sex, it fits well. Future surprised me by not irritating me on “Everyday” where he fits in well and is actually complimented by the production. The only feature I wish was not here is Lil Wayne who just makes the song “Let Me Love You” incredibly uncomfortable. The song frames a situation where he is seemingly taking advantage of a girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend, and his quite direct lyrics about having sex with Grande just rubs me the wrong way.
This brings me to the problems I have with this record, that are mostly found in the lyrical content and the themes presented. While calling this a concept album might be a stretch, the theme of Grande getting in a relationship with someone who is clearly imperfect is definitely present. This starts right from “Moonlight” where we see how he is “bossy” and makes Grande dance for him. Then we get the idea from “Side to Side” that even Grande’s friends are not okay with her seeing this guy but she is so into the temptations that she ignores them. Then on “Leave Me Lonely” where it appears she is giving him up but then we get to “Bad Decisions” where she is clearly back with him and happy with the “hood love.” This is somewhat saved by the closing track “Thinking Bout You” which has Grande reminiscing on the relationship she had with this guy, implying things have ended.
There is a decent narrative that can be built from this, one where we see Grande being used by a bad guy and learning to grow from it, but instead we do not get much of a sense of growth or empowerment which I think is a largely missed opportunity.
As far as female pop albums, this is definitely one of the better ones that are out right now. While not even close to touching something like Lemonade it is by far better than what Meghan Trainor put out last week and I am going to guess it will be better than the Fifth Harmony record coming out tomorrow. I can learn to enjoy these as a collection of pop singles that are largely enjoyable and will be adored by her fans. If anything, this proves that Grande is capable of telling stories which could lead to some interesting content in the future.
Best Tracks: Moonlight, Dangerous Woman, Into You, Greedy, Leave Me Lonely, Thinking Bout You
Worst Track: Let Me Love You