Ariana Grande has had a career and a half worth tracking.
Emerging from the pool of post-teen-show graduates and aiming for mainstream pop star success, Grande has evolved from a Nickelodeon star into a proper pop star and songstress in her own right, thanks to the significant legwork done by her previous album, the R&B and pop-straddling My Everything which spawned mega-singles such as the dance-pop ecstasy of ‘Break Free’, the horn-a-plenty bounce of ‘Problem’, and the sexual sultriness of The Weeknd collaboration ‘Love Me Harder’.
However, Grande was tasked with building on this huge momentum and success, and when she wasn’t busy releasing smaller, more R&B-centered EPs, and literally slaying it on Ryan Murphy’s hit-and-miss camp horror series Scream Queens, she amassed a collection of songs (some, like former lead single ‘Focus’ fell by the wayside) that potentially look set to capitalise on her trajectory and cement her as a pop force proper.
Dangerous Woman is an impressive album if nothing else – it straddles a niche in vocal-rich R&B-pop that remains her own for the taking; tracks such as the inoffensive but vocally tremendous ‘Sometimes’, the Rihanna-esque ‘Let Me Love You’, and the strident, luxuriant title track that brings the focus of the album on Grande’s maturity and growing confidence, in her own words; her comfort in her own skin.
Despite the R&B leanings on the album, there are still massive pop moments waiting – the largest of which is new single ‘Into You’, a pulsating, cooing, Britney-meets-Mariah-esque track that envelopes the listener in a slinky, silky dancebeat that looks set to be a strong contender for summer anthem status, and in fan favourite ‘Greedy’, a disco anthem that brims and overflows with sheer, fizzy fun.
The pop leanings continue in tracks such as the Nicki Minaj collaboration ‘Side By Side’, a tropical-infused tune that contains one of Minaj’s best pop guest verses to date, and in the positively electric ‘Touch It’, as strong a modern electropop banger as can be expected (‘Be Alright’ and ‘Bad Decisions’ also earn praise as accessible R&B-pop tunes).
However, a significant chunk of the album falls away to meandering, slow music that seems adrift and listless; ‘Leave Me Lonely’ sounds copy-and-pasted from any 2016 mainstream artist, while ‘Knew Better’ is unremarkable (its other half ‘Forever Boy’ is bubbly and better), and ‘I Don’t Care’, despite displaying Grande’s impressive range, leaves the listener relating to the song’s title more aptly than intended.
Fortunately, however, the album generally is carried along by a mixture of bubbly, bouncy pop anthems, and the slower, more gorgeously sumptuous R&B cuts (‘Everyday’ is aglow with dance floor-ready sensuality, for example), which helps to smooth over the lulls in sonic precision on the record.
Grande notably changed the title of the record from ‘Moonlight’ (the album’s opening track and a Fifties-inspired romantic ode) to the more impressive ‘Dangerous Woman’, and here it’s noticeable why. While the album remains fixed on romance, sensuality, and all things in-between, ‘Moonlight’ is too innocent, too mawkish a title to anoint a record like this. Instead, Dangerous Woman indicates the journey Grande has undergone and is still to go – but this time around, her confidence feels rooted and her self-assurance in her own ability seems on surer footing, meaning that her trajectory has only upwards to go.