Artist: Ariana Grande
Album: My Everything
Record Label: Republic Records
Release Date: 22/8/2014
Former TV starlet's second full-length unfortunately brings nothing new to the table
It's the kind of re-hashed old story that's regularly done the rounds over the last 5 years or so, but the Disney TV starlet turned rising pop sensation phenomena recently reached it's head with the re-invention of ye olde Miley Cyrus a couple of years ago. Cyrus shattered any illusion of her being the sweet-smile gifted teen star of previous years by making her tongue and mostly naked body the key to her right to expression. Making the point of her hyper-sexual re-invention seems redundant now, though; she was hardly the first (*COUGH* Rihanna) to make that transition, and therefore cement the notion that female sexualisation was now a corner stone of the cynical minds that skulk behind the curtains and in the dark gutter ways of the recording industry.
Former star of the Nickelodeon show Victorious, 21 year old Ariana Grande, hasn't succumbed to the voyeuristic prying of those who would see her less well-made, it seems. 'My Everything', her second full-length LP, retains a sense of classiness (or perhaps innocence?) that sees it stay far clear of Miley-sized pitfalls of degradation. It's an issue that she addresses directly on the track 'You Don't Know Me'. "They try to tell me who I am, they don't understand" she croons, raising a pleasant but resounding middle finger to the tabloid sniffers and big money label execs. "You want a perfect picture to believe in... Well you can't be looking for me then" she continues. As decent a sentiment as it is, in a way 'You Don't Know Me' summarises the entire ethic of the album; well-meant and performed with conviction, but ultimately just another cog turning in the machine of cliched and insipid pop the modern charts demand.
'My Everything' boasts one fantastic song. 'Hands On Me (ft. A$AP Ferg)' drops late in the tracklist, but it's layered, insanely catchy and sassy production is real rejuvenation by this point. It is a song destined for chart success, but has an undeniable sense of snobbery-devoid joy at its core. Ferg's verse is as superfluous as they come, but as with all his best work, it revels in its own numb-skulledness (sample lyric: "You got a cake can I put my candle on it?").
Other favourable moments include the rather organic and grandiose 'Why Try?', with its heavy-handed piano chords and rumbling, marching band-esque tribal beat. It's slightly later-era Katy Perry-lite, but it's a good song in its own right. 'One Last Time' is much more insipid and stops just short of trashy, but it is also catchy and somewhat euphoric. 2013's mega-hit 'Break Free', produced by Zedd, does cross the border into trancey-synth trash land, but despite its fabrication it does have a chorus to boot.
But almost everywhere else Grande runs into the barrier of not being innovative or interesting enough in terms of lyrics to really claim to bring anything new to the table. The whispered male vocals over the rumbling bass of the bridge section in 'Problem' is an interesting dynamic, but fails to add anything to the wider equation, otherwise made up of Grande's well-worn perceptions, an obnoxious synthetic saxophone hook and a fast paced but lazy verse from Iggy Azalea. Big Sean shits awkwardly and irreversibly all over 'Best Mistake', which makes an impression purely because of how atrocious his verse is ("I know love can be like a beach with no shore"- oh, PLEASE Sean).
"Break Your Heart Right Back" is the real kick in the teeth though. It's exceptionally produced; an atmospheric, reflective strut evolves into a sample of Diana Ross's glorious 'I'm Coming Out' for the chorus. Grande's lyrical premise of a cheating lover is sad, but her lyrics are as run-of-the-mill as is possible when it comes to dealing with heartbreak. The inclusion of Childish Gambino, although perhaps a shrewd manoeuvre to reel in the "backpacker" community, brings him no favours. Not only does it not at all fit with the song's subject matter (save the first and final bars) but for an artist whose solo output is so obsessed with the idea of personal integrity, hearing him rap of "money too much" and "when I step on the stage girls move too much" is striking to say the least.
'Just a Little Bit of your Heart' sits quite well sonically as a piano-lead ballad, and Grande's voice rings with conviction, but so dour are the lyrics that (as is the case with most of the indistinct moments here) the song fades from memory almost before it's over.
I'm still waiting on a young pop star to emerge who genuinely challenges the rather insidious nature of the mainstream pop pursuit. I thought it might have come in the form of Ariana Grande, and to be fair, she seems to be holding her own. However, very little in the way of innovation streams out of 'My Everything', which would lead the cynical mind to suspect a road trip into more distressing areas of daytime radio airplay on her next album. It seems harsh to say that I'd hoped for a lot more even if I shouldn't have expected it, but that is the case.
Key Tracks: 'Hands On Me (ft. A$AP Ferg)', 'Why Try?'
For Fans Of: Katy Perry, P!nk