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In the grand scheme of things, Ariana Grande is still a brand spanking new pop star. Her debut album Yours Truly was released less than a year ago, and her only bona-fide worldwide smash occurred just this summer. And yet, hers is the name on absolutely everyone’s lips. This is an important time in her career. The sophomore slump has claimed more than its fair share of victims, and this is the part where she has to prove that she has both the talent and likeability to keep her star keep burning bright. While the phenomenal success of both ‘Problem’ and ‘Break Free’ suggest that Ariana has evaded this curse, her second album My Everything, released 25 August, indicates that artistic development was much less important than having hit singles this time around.
And let’s be clear, this album is absolutely loaded with hit songs. Working with the likes of Max Martin, David Guetta, Zedd, Darkchild and Ryan Tedder, Ariana has crafted what could easily be a neatly mapped out guide to the charts in future months. It’s unsurprising with the number of producers, songwriters and featured artists (nine including Jessie J and Nicki Minaj on the bonus track ‘Bang Bang’) that the album is missing a certain level of cohesion. It’s disappointing that My Everything does absolutely nothing to develop the 90’s R&B sound she perfected on her debut, with those involved in its creation being more concerned about ensuring her place at the top of every chart in the world.
Of course, they’ve succeeded (the album has already reached the summit of iTunes charts in over 80 countries) and of course, being successful is not a bad thing. Ariana is deserving of the role of ‘Next Big Thing’ in pop music. Her quirky interviews, beautiful vocals and tendency not to take herself too seriously have made her a breath of fresh air this year, and the inevitable success of My Everything will mean we’re going to see a lot more of her. It’s just unfortunate that the album that’s going to make her a star the world over is also void of much of what makes her a star (aside from that voice).
When My Everything gets it right, it’s bliss. Both ‘One Last Time’ and ‘Love Me Harder’ contain the most mature lyrics of her career thus far (the former has to be one of the most beautiful songs about cheating on a loved one of all time), and the influence of dance music is much more subtle here than on ‘Break Free’. ‘Break Your Heart Right Back’ also tackles the issue of cheating lovers, this time it’s a boyfriend who leaves you for another man, and the sample of Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’ is both uplifting and oddly restrained. In the final moments of ‘Break Your Heart Right Back’, she changes Diana’s lyric to “He’s… coming… out!” It’s not a particularly impressive note, but neither is it laugh out loud hilarious. But it’s a rare display of her having fun on a track and it stands out to me each time I hear it.
It’s on tracks like ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Hands On Me’ that she falters. ‘Hands On Me’ really has no place on this album, sounding like Ariana doing her best karaoke impression of The Pussycat Dolls. While her voice is undeniably powerful, it can’t work magic, and the attempts to sound sexy come across as forced and uncomfortable. There’s a real disconnect on these tracks, particularly when she seems so intent to perpetuate an image of coy sexiness.
The ballads are a welcome respite from the up-tempo numbers, and the title track sounds like the only true development on the finest moments of Yours Truly. It’s not a surprise that she sounds most comfortable singing a torch song about young love lost, ‘My Everything’ is strong precisely because Ariana’s voice is the main attraction. And while ‘Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart’ is an entirely run of the mill ballad, her ability to wring emotion from just about any lyric turns this Harry Styles co-written ballad into a much better song than it should be.
My Everything is a mixed bag of an album, but luckily for Ariana it was always going to be more than just her second album. This era is about making her the next force to be reckoned with in pop music. And judging by the strength of a few of the songs on this album (‘One Last Time’ and ‘Love Me Harder’, in particular), it’s going to be a hugely successful exercise in star-making. Hopefully by the time album three comes around, her stance will be unquestionable and she can spend less time chasing trends and more time making a cohesive record. She did it on her debut, and she can do it again.