Ariana Grande’s latest album Dangerous Woman shows a girl trying hard to show us she’s grown up. From the title alone, it’s obvious that Grande has a point to prove, attempting to distance herself from her (almost) squeaky clean Nickelodeon star image. Grande has had huge chart success in the past, with songs like Break Free, Problem and Focus On Me, which fall safely in the pop bracket. On this album, she experiments with different styles and genres, including old school pop and R&B, and thoroughly modern club/trap. It’s nice to see a young artist trying her hand at different styles rather than sticking to a pre-prescribed outline for chart success. However, while there are strong moments on the album where Grande makes catchy, multi-layered songs, as a whole Dangerous Woman plays it safe.
As with a lot of mainstream pop albums, this record has a couple of strong singles, and a lot of weaker album tracks. The lead single, title track Dangerous Woman set a good precedent with atmospheric instrumentals and huge vocals, creating a sultry Bond-esque introduction to the new Ariana. At points on this album, she manages to at least match this single; tracks like Into You and Greedy seem to draw on the classic pop influences, with funk undertones and catchy beats. The latter track is a builder, with a strong drum beat and an essentially two lyrics in the chorus, making it easily memorable. The whole track is typically unsubtle, a thinly veiled reference to sex: “You know that I’m coming tonight. I know I’m coming tonight.” The trumpets in the background are a welcome addition, and the breakdown in the middle eight is a well planned break before the key change, more horns and more soulful backing vocals. Overall this is one of the better upbeat tracks on the record. Everyday, featuring Future, is another strong moment. Again, the lyrics aren’t very imaginative (“he gives it to me everyday”) but the chorus of “everyday, everyday, everyday” is incredibly catchy (it would be, being the same word over and over again). In this track, Grande experiments with a heavier hip hop/trap style, with more prominent basslines, bigger syncopated drums and a long rap. While it works in this song, with Future’s voice in the chorus complimenting Grande’s shrill “la la las”, her experimentation with rap isn’t always as successful.
For example, one of the weakest moments on Dangerous Woman is Grande’s duet with Lil Wayne, Let Me Love You. If the title isn’t clue enough, this track is a romantic (if you can call it that) duet, involving a slightly uncomfortable pairing. Unfortunately, Grande seems to sacrifice her own vocals for the sake of the song here, and she is outshone by Lil Wayne (who is outshone by auto tune) as he describes “grindin’ up on that Grande”. That being said, the reggae-influenced duet with Nicki Minaj is better, although the main idea of being rocked Side To Side hardly seems a romantic one. Interestingly, although Minaj’s rap is a lot better than Lil Wayne’s, Grande holds her own against her. The weakest point on this track seems to be the line that Minaj is the most proud of: “If you want a Minaj, I got a tricycle.”
Dangerous Woman boasts impressive duets. From Future to Lil Wayne to Nicki Minaj to Macey Gray, Grande has the chance to experiment with her voice in relation to another’s. Leave Me Lonely, her duet with Gray, is sultry, soulful and the two voices work well together against gospel backing vocals. Gray’s voice is the more stylised of the two, creating an eerie atmosphere with the blues music that is really effective. While Grande’s parts are good vocals, she is again outshone by such a distinctive voice as Macy Gray’s. The lyrics aren’t too imaginative, with the focus falling mainly on the voices, rather than what they’re saying. This song, therefore, is symptomatic of the record’s problem as a whole; often, the lyrics are left to play second fiddle to the big build ups, heavy drum beats and huge vocal runs, licks and trills. In fact, a lot of the songs seem to be saying the same thing. There’s little variation in the themes of dangerous love, sex, and a “princess [becoming] a bad bitch”.
One their own, these tracks are not awful pop songs, and with more imaginative lyrics they could even be great ones. However, one after the other, the songs fail to pack any sort of punch; the experimentation with styles is interesting, but thanks to similar themes and lyrics throughout, they blur into one. For example, Sometimes to I Don’t Care to Bad Decisions is essentially following one line of thought, and to be blunt, it’s boring. This, in turn, makes the album seem three times longer than it actually is, so that while listening to Dangerous Woman start to finish, the most danger I was in was turning it off.
This album could do with being stripped down to its parts and built again with new themes. In the last couple of years, the worlds of R&B and pop have been massively revitalised, with everyone from The Weeknd to Beyoncé bringing something different to the field. While this isn’t a bad record, Grande has failed to up her game along with the rest. Her singles are often strong, catchy and commercially successful tracks. Listening to them in album format, however, it’s obvious that Grande doesn’t have that much to say, which is a shame as she is generally outspoken outside of her music. There’s no doubt that Ariana Grande is very talented, and she has a great voice. Perhaps she’s just not as dangerous as she thinks she is.