Monday 25 August 2014

Ariana Grande - My Everything

Dear Miley Cyrus

Your homework for this week is to listen to Ariana Grande's 'My Everything'.
This is how to graduate from the Disney school of pop to adulthood.


The Gizzle

I jest, but the reason for this is that Grande has what Cyrus is (for the most part) missing: good songs.  Wrecking Ball is a decent pop ballad, but by smothering it in controversy and shock tactics, it placed emphasis on her desperate need for attention rather than the music.

Grande is the opposite, which has already resulted in her being responsible for one of the most ubiquitous pop tracks of the year: Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea).

That said, how responsible is she?  She's managed to surround herself with the best possible team of songwriters, producers and collaborators, for a genre-hopping album that contains some of the best pop of 2014, including everyone from Max Martin to David Guetta, Shellback, Benny Blanco and Nile Rodgers.  Grande herself, though, is little more than a vocal gymnast conduit for the talents of others.

It's personality that she's missing, in person at least - something Cyrus admittedly has in spades.  Whilst the video for current single Break Free is a quirky, camp mess, Grande is almost vacant throughout.  The same can be said for her performance at this year's MTV VMAs.  It only takes one look to see through her blank stare and distinct lack of dance ability.

Yet it's the music that's most important for an album and that's where she scores points.  Through its mix of genres and her impressive vocals, it's a solid collection of (perhaps overly polished) songs; sassy with just the right amount of sweetness.  Or should that be sweet with just the right amount of sass?

Either way it's a carefully constructed balance, unlike Cyrus's explosion into extreme sexuality.  Take the moody, glacial Love Me Harder: it's left for The Weeknd to sing the provocative lyrics ("can you feel the pressure between your hips") so that Grande can keep her clean image.

That song is just one example of the contemporary collaborators and R&B feel that predominates the album.  Frequent rap breaks come from Iggy Azalea (Problem), Big Sean (Best Mistake), Childish Gambino (Break Your Heart Right Back) and A$AP Ferg (Hands On Me), but they never detract from Grande herself.  Another R&B influence comes from the use of sampling on Break Your Heart Right Back, a song about her ex cheating on her with another man (hence the use of Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out - see what you did there).  Be My Baby, with production from Cashmere Cat, is pure sensual 90s R&B.

Elsewhere, she dips her toes into EDM with Break Free (with producer of the moment Zedd), whilst the title track is her big Mariah moment.  And what album would be complete without a Ryan Tedder scribed pop-gospel ballad?  Why Try is an early highlight with its rousing, hooky chorus.  Even Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart, a serviceable piano-ballad written by Harry Styles of all people, isn't as bad as you might think.

To a cynic, this may seem like a series of check boxes ticked to overcome a lack of star quality.  Yet with 'My Everything' Grande has transformed from Nickelodeon princess, through Mariah imitator, to a bona fide popstar.  She is undoubtedly the breakout artist of 2014, no wrecking balls required.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Problem
* Why Try
* Love Me Harder

Listen: 'My Everything' is available now.