Ariana Grande - 2014
It is not a common thing to see a pop artist have a hugely successful debut album and to then quickly release another album less than a year later. To make that scenario even more bizarre would be to have that artist significantly change the style of the music that made their debut album such a hit. Of course, one could argue that the mentality could be, ‘strike while the iron is hot’, but as it’s so rarely done, there is obviously a much more popular and perhaps stronger argument within the music industry against doing so. There’s certainly the possibility in this day and age that with two albums in less than a year, over-saturation of the artist could take place, especially when you consider that between the two albums combined, there’s quite possibly three years worth of single releases to be had. Too much of a good thing is bad, no? Well, for Ariana Grande and her fans, a change of direction in her music combined with little time between her debut and sophomore album was not only a good, but a great thing.
(I should bring to point that indeed, there was less than a year between Yours Truly and her 2014 effort, My Everything. Eight days less than a year to be exact ((Yours Truly – released Aug. 30th, 2013; My Everything – released Aug 22nd, 2014)). I wouldn’t want anyone thinking the releases were four or six months apart ((now THAT would be crazy)). Regardless, 347 days between the two is still less than a year.)
Perhaps others probably would not think much in regards to the musical deviance from that which made her debut album so popular, nor even the absence of great length between her albums, but I am a creature of speculation and thus, must do so. Here are my thoughts: Grande’s first album was an ode to 90s R&B and a large nod to the queen of that genre, Mariah Carey (see my review of Yours Truly at http://www.thetens.us/pins/305-yours-truly ). As Grande sounded so much like Mariah, equipped even with the same four-octave range, it made sense to premiere Grande in the formula and style of music that made Carey so popular. If it worked once before and enough time has passed between when it was first popular (the 90s) and now (2010s) - so in essence the young fan base she is targeting would not at first notice the correlation – then why not go with the tried and true. They did, and it worked. Unfortunately, I believe her producers, her record company and more importantly, Ariana herself realized it worked too well. She was instantly stereotyped as the next Mariah Carey. A very talented copy cat borrowing the music of someone that Grande admitted to admiring and being inspired by. Everywhere she went, every performance she did, she had to constantly answer questions about her relationship with Mariah and her style in comparison to Mariah’s. She wasn’t Ariana Grande. She was that girl that sounded like Mariah Carey. Living constantly in the shadow of a great, you could tell in interviews that Ariana finally had enough with the stereotyping of her as Mariah 2.0, and rumors started to abound about her doing things like firing an assistant in her entourage for mentioning Mariah Carey in Grande’s presence. When thinking upon such things, it makes total sense for Ariana Grande to try to re-boot herself as quickly as possible. That meant a new album, a new style of music and as quickly as possible, the last album be damned even if was still performing well.
So, to the album (as last!). On My Everything, as mentioned, the borrowed sound of 90s R&B is a thing of the past (get it?). Instead, we find Grande exploring the music of ‘now’. Suddenly the girl that was conceived in retro suddenly steps into 2014 and musically starts acting her age (she’s only 22). There is no better example of Ariana removing the shackles of the stereotypes formed under another’s shadow during the success of Yours Truly, than the insanely catchy, ‘Break Free’. Although disguised lyrically as her detaching herself from a former lover, one could easily see it as a farewell to her past as Mariah 2.0 and celebrating her emergence as Ariana Grande. ‘This is the part when I say I don’t want yah/I’m stronger than I’ve been before/This is the part when I break free.’ This dance anthem is electropop at its best and a massive departure from her past work. To really hammer the point home, that this Ariana isn’t the one from a year past, the young up and coming German DJ, Zedd is featured on the song. Welcome to the 2010’s, Miss Grande – you wear this decade even better than one long passed by.
‘Problem’, the first single from My Everything is also a great departure from Yours Truly and wisely, the woman who is the current ‘IT’ artist of popular music, Iggy Azalea, is implanted into the track so to give it that 2014 sound and a ‘here-and-now’ sort of relevance. The jumping beat and use of the distorted saxophone is in the same vein as a Jason Derulo song and Ariana works it perfectly in her upper register without reaching for heights unnecessary for this uptempo track.
‘Love Me Harder’, a great sultry head nodder of a track also takes advantage of another artists ‘IT’ factor as The Weeknd joins Grande on this great duet of impassioned partners.
Present on this album is a rather dark and in depth character exploration that was very obviously lacking from Yours Truly. ‘Best Mistake’ could quite possibly be the hardest hitting on the album despite its rather slow pace and extremely stripped back production, simply because it’s a total new look at Ariana as an artist that can express hurtful emotions of desperation and disappointment as she tells the story of her love and she, constantly at odds with each other. The tone is less dramatic and more melancholy and the lyrics sound like more of a resignation letter to a love that will never work out. Adding to all this is Big Sean’s guest rap which is one of the better verses I have heard this year.
Not to totally turn her back on Yours Truly, there are some play-it-safe nods to the 90s and what worked so well for her on her debut album. In particular, ‘Break Your Heart Right Back’ does so by sampling Diana Ross’s, ‘I’m Coming Out’, which was also the basis for the huge posthumous hit for Notorious B.I.G.- ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’. Childish Gambino, the guest rapper on Grande’s track, makes sure to acknowledge the correlation between the two tracks by paying homage to ‘Mo Money’ in quoting some of Biggie’s rap. What makes this track a stand out above and beyond the familiarity of the sample is that Grande chooses to drastically slow down the sample, hence tempo of ‘Break Your Heart’, taking the same bass line from the original and because of the change of pace, turning it into a particularly sexy prowling sort of bottom line.
With all that Grande has changed from Yours Truly to My Everything, the one thing that stands out the most is her approach to showing off her range. There are very few examples of her Mariah-esque ability to sing from one end of the piano to the other and surely this is deliberate so to help Ariana become an artist in her own right. Instead, what has taken place of the vocal melismas and acrobatics are extremely catchy melodies and a deeper personality being exposed in her middle range. She comes across as less of a virtuoso and more of a woman who can sing well but can more importantly pen a good song (or notice a hit when it’s presented to her) and be an artist that any girl can aspire to be.
My Everything has to have been seen as a gamble. In just a year, Grande chose to throw out that which made her a star. Her style of singing was tempered and her musical style was radically changed – and all this for the better. It’s a success of a modern pop album with tracks to dance and groove to, a few ballads to boast of and in thick of it all, Grande emerging as her own artist with her own voice.Andrew Scott Back
Andrew Scott ranks this as the
#9 favorite album of 2014