Likes: Dangerous Woman, Be Alright, Leave Me Lonely
Dislikes: Everyday, Bad Decisions
Overall: Especially generic music, silly lyrics and a childish basis ruin any possible bright spots
Record labels don't do their acts any favors by having them release albums annually, as they could suffer from fatigue (promotional/touring periods are physically and vocally grueling), overexposure, and not having any room to grow creatively. The young and green are hurt the most by this practice, and it's even more damaging with artist development being a thing of the past. Like a seed that's never watered (or even planted), they're left to be impotently stagnant, with only a suggestion of what they could be. As many of her contemporaries, Ariana Grande is a prime example of this. She had vocal dexterity and all the right influences and favorite artists (including Mariah Carey and Brandy), but she was prematurely placed center stage without the tools to cultivate her own identity, brand and trajectory above the minimum pop-starlet requirements (charting and sufficiently likable). It shows when you're thrown in a pool and asked to swim like Michael Phelps. She sold out Madison Square Garden before she learned to sing with zeal and conviction, have stage presence and assuredness, really nail an 8-count and formulate a cohesive "sound" (she waddles between throwback R&B and dance queen).To boot, her imaging was erratic and extreme, going from toddler-teen to sexed-up teen in the blink of an eye (not sure why "genteel young-adult" wasn't an option).
Grande sings with confidence and has more writing credits on her 3rd studio LP, Dangerous Woman, but her overreaching problems are just as appreciable. The patterned and non-proprietary way in which the material is drafted denotes it's all about meeting requisites; none of it seems to come from the heart. Many tracks have an effect-heavy, flat-line, characterless and repetitive production design (ex. "Touch It" and "Side to Side" with Nicki Minaj) that goes nowhere. Even when I was making a conscious effort to pay attention, I couldn't. I kept having to replay songs to remember how they sounded (has Max Martin lost his hand of Midas?). The vocal arrangements are predictable; you know what she's going to do before she does it. The lyrics? Lawd, have mercy....there is definitely a theme, but it's disappointingly jejune and callow. Ariana's definition of a "dangerous woman" is a woman who's lustful and chases after bad-boys *rolls eyes.* In March, she told Billboard the record's title was changed from Moonlight to Dangerous Woman because it was "a lot stronger" choice: "I want to be empowering my fans...To me, a dangerous woman is someone who’s not afraid to take a stand, be herself and to be honest." When the new name was first announced, she quoted feminist author Nawal El Saadawi on Instagram: "They said, 'You are a savage and dangerous woman.' I am speaking the truth, and the truth is savage and dangerous." Too bad the lyrics aren't about any of that. What stand is being taken? What savage truth are we tackling? That you're horny? Aren't we all sometimes? It's not like she discussed sex within the context of gender-politics. Using what's actually there, to spring-board from the title-track, Dangerous Woman could've been Crazy Beautiful or "Love the Way You Lie" in album form. Applying it more literally, a self-sabotage or femme-fatale concept would've been efficient. Since no one thought to drive down any of these honeymoon avenues, I'm left to assume the swap had to do more to do with a change in direction than anything else. Seeing as how the song "Moonlight" (also super bland, but pretty) doesn't match the others and "Focus" was dropped altogether, I'm thinking I'm right (plus, she all but confirmed it on Jimmy Kimmel's show).
Undistinguishing, anemic and hackneyed, Dangerous Woman is 17 tracks too long and a tedious listen. It's clear it was built around its leading track and a couple of supporting singles. It wasn't erected to be complete; anything to the contrary is frontage. Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm honestly a bit surprised. I liked the first 2 singles and several songs Grande's penned in the past (ex. "Tattooed Heart," "Almost is Never Enough," "My Everything" and "Best Mistake") were quite nice. It could be said that she's following par for the course or just being 22, but others who were at or around her age, such as Taylor Swift, Adele, Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, were able to show some reasonable urbanity and maturity. Then again, they're songwriting musicians. As Jessica Simpson or Whitney Houston, Ariana may just have a voice and the rest will be up to others. That's a scary prospect, bearing in mind my introductory paragraph.