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A Riana Grande My Everything

First Listen: Ariana Grande - My Everything

20 August 2014, 12:27

The Ariana Grande of debut album Yours Truly recalled of the popstars of old: no buzz, no false cool, no pretention. She glittered, sparkled and was sugary sweet.

​Having made a name for herself on Nickelodeon’s Victorious (playing the character of Cat) Grande already had a pre-teen audience but her foray into music wasn’t blighted by this in the way that other pre-teen stars have been. Yes there was no twerking and no sex - but Grande’s music spoke for itself.

With a voice like a young Mariah Carey, Grande used this to her strength. Taking the nostalgia of the 90s and 00s, a time her audience would be too young to remember, she effortlessly modernized the sound while maintaining the playfulness so needed to pull it off. Debut single “Baby I” showcased her powerful vocals whistle tone and all. Likewise, “Right There” took the simple pianos so associated with that sound, adding modern drumbeats and throwback synths. Grande also took the dreaded pop ballad, re-imagining them with 50s doo-wop sensibilities and tight production.

Like Britney Spears, Grande was able to turn teen-pop into something exciting. Similarly, like Spears, Grande’s knew which producers to work with to showcase her talent while making interesting, commercial and accessible pop music. Calling on mainly hip-hop and R&B producers, her vision for the album was actualized. And it paid off, with Yours Truly reaching number one on the Billboard chart and number seven in the UK on the Official Album Chart.

With a debut so competent it would seem daunting to try and follow it up, but Grande wasted no time starting work on follow-up My Everything before the promo schedule for the first record was over. However, this time it was world domination on the cards. Teaming up with super-producer Max Martin, Grande set her sights on the big leagues with comeback single “Problem”. Featuring rapper du-jour Iggy Azalea, the song was a certified summer smash, its insatiable saxophone hook propelling Grande a-top the charts all over the world. Ariana Grande had arrived and she was a proper popstar.

Listening to My Everything it’s clear that the mission statement was to turn out a record that was not only a commercial hit, but also one where every song could be a single. This is, as it were, Grande’s attempt to match the success of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, a record widely seen as the perfect pop album. There are huge pop moments here. And when I say huge I mean huge - at times it even verges on the ridiculous, but shouldn’t pop veer into that territory?

However, there’s a competence needed to hold those moments together, and Grande’s relative inexperience doesn’t stop her from standing her own among a group of super producers that would have most veterans shaking in their stilettos.

1. “Intro”

I often get confused as to why an album needs an intro. In some cases this can really pay off (see Christina Aguilera’s forever iconic “Lotus Intro”). Here, however, the intro serves as a sort of preemptive mission statement. Grande’s now signature airy vocals and ad-libs make up the majority of the short track, with her claiming she’s “on the road to the sky.” Who am I to disagree?

2. “Problem” (feat. Iggy Azalea)

This Max Martin-produced track has been everywhere for the last three months, yet I’m still not sick of it. It also lacks a proper chorus, something that isn’t an issue (although it really should be). Instead, a saxophone solo and rapper Big Sean’s whispering of “I got one less problem without ya” are enough. It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek, and Azalea’s rap doesn’t detract from this. But sometimes the world needs a big, bold and brash song.

3. “One Last Time”

Here the slight flecks of generic EDM are reined in letting Grande’s soft-layered vocals shine through. A typical club like intro lulls you into a false sense of (in)security, yet it still manages to convey some tenderness, as Grande sings: “Feel like a failure/ ‘Cause I know that I failed ya / I should’ve done better / ‘Cause you don’t want a liar.” The juxtaposition between Grande’s cheating lyrics and the soft EDM production somehow works. The yearning of the chorus is heartbreaking as she sings “One last time / I need to be the one who takes you home / One more time/ I promise after that, I’ll let you go.” This is pop music to cry in the club to.

4. “Why Try”

In 2014, no big budget pop album would be complete without a Ryan Tedder-written power ballad. Tedder, who is known for his big choruses, delivers here as Grande laments, “I’m loving the pain / I never wanna live without it / So why-y-y-y-y-y do I try-y-y-y-y?” There’s no subtlety here, as the production wooshes you along, crashing you through highs and lows, Tedder’s knack for gospel-like melodies shining through. As big, #Q4 ballads go, this certainly delivers.

5. “Break Free” (feat. Zedd)

The second single to be lifted from the album, “Break Free” is a proper banger. With co-production from Zedd, Grande strays into new territory. The recently released video only adds to the surreal nature of the track. However, what it proves is that EDM, when done properly, can be brilliant. Whether she’s kissing an alien in the video (yes, this does happen) or singing like no-one’s business, there is a level of confidence that exudes from the track’s over the top production.

6. “Best Mistake” (feat. Big Sean)

Teaming up with former collaborator Big Sean, this is the first time the album slows down. Since the track’s premiere, it currently stands at my most played song. This is Grande’s forte, emotionally charged stripped back mid-tempos. The throwback sound of her debut is touched upon as cascading pianos back softly reverb-ed vocals. The incredible pre-chorus made up of short lines interrupted by small delicate breaths is magnificent, as she sings: “Wake up, make up/ total, waste of, time.” For me, there is nothing better when pop music is this beautiful, emotive and simple and Grande delivers on every count.

7. “Be My Baby” (Feat. Cashmere Cat)

Here again, Grande calls upon her 90s roots. Mariah’s simple pianos and clicks have been given an upgrade. Big production backs the chord progression, adding layers and modernizing the sound. There’s a fast, almost rap like quality to the verses as she sings: “I’ll give you all of my trust/ If you don’t mess this up You ain’t try’na get no other girls / When you in the club / All you got is eyes for me / I’m the only girl you see.” As with all the tracks, this has the potential to be massive, mainly due to its crossover appeal. It’s playful lyrics and brilliant production provides one of the standout moments on the album.

8. “Break Your Heart Right Back” (Feat. Childish Gambino)

The LP strays into strange territory here. The track is aimed towards an ex-lover who ran off with another man. The song samples Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out”, and is, in all honesty, completely ridiculous. Yet it’s far from camp; the sample slowed down, accentuated by simple clocks and a loud yet staccato bass. Grande even finds time for some self-referential moments, hinting towards her debut “Baby I”. Childish Gambino’s rap is so absurd that it features the line “yes, I’m a g to the a to the y”. Well, yes, quite.

9. “Love Me Harder” (Feat. The Weeknd)

With one of the record’s stranger collaborations, The Weeknd makes a guest appearance on this standout track. With a similar tempo to Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, this duet highlights the painful and complicated feelings that being in love can muster. What’s good is that the song suits both parties. This is a proper duet, not a rent-a-rapper moment. The two harmonize lightly, playing off each other’s soft voices. It’s a simple song of struggling love, yet it plays out perfectly. Again, this is Grande at her best, as she sings “I’ll take the pleasure/ Take it with the pain.”

10. “A Little Bit Of Your Heart”

Co-penned by One Direction’s Harry Styles, there isn’t much to say about this track. It’s a typical ballad, Grande’s vocals reverb-ed so much they’re almost indistinguishable. While the lyrics deal with mature themes of adultery, the song’s weak melody doesn’t provide any substance to back it up. The only truly beautiful moments comes in the middle eight, as she sings “I know I’m not you’re only / But at least I’m one.” However, in the context of the songwriter, it’s hard to believe it.

11. “Hands On Me” (feat. A$AP Ferg)

With urban horns and hilarious sentiments, we’re transported to the club for this twerk-a-long sex song. Here, Grande is dancing asking the object of her affections to “keep your eyes on my you know what”. Darkchild’s production only adds the outrageousness of it all. Likewise A$AP Ferg provides the most ridiculous lyric of the year with “Work a B and Jay-Z/ But before I do that let me put a hand on it/ Oh so hot I could catch a tan on it.”

12. “My Everything”

The title track bares some similarities to the delicacy of Grande’s debut album track “Honeymoon Avenue”. Here she pines for a missing lover, declaring “He wasn’t my everything ‘till we were nothing.” It’s really the only time on the album where her gold star vocals are allowed to shine. While slightly smushy, the track seems like an appropriate finish to the sugary high of the big budget productions that have preceded it.

With My Everything as a collection of songs, Grande has setout what she intend to do. The album is an album of singles. But it’s also a transitional record, one that’s priming her for superstardom. Yes some of the teeny imagery has been hard to shake - there’s no doubt the people now know who she is and what she’s about. And while there’s hardly any consistency here, it sort of doesn’t matter. This is music for the ‘playlist generation’, to be cherished, discarded and revisited multiple times. I know I’ll be doing just that.

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