Ariana Grande’s latest single “Dangerous Woman” is unlike anything she’s ever done before. However, that may be one of the smartest moves of her career thus far.
Following the release of 2014’s mega hit “Problem,” featuring Iggy Azalea, Grande was everywhere. Where “The Way” introduced the general public to the tiny singer with a big voice, “Problem” solidified her status as one of pop’s best up and comers. Her subsequent singles: “Break Free,” “Bang Bang,” “Love Me Harder” and “One Last Time” all scanned platinum or higher and notched multiple weeks within the top sports of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. She was even nominated for two Grammy awards, and delivered a stellar rendition of “Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart” at the ceremony.
2015 was less kind. Following a truly bizarre incident involving a donut, forever known as #DONUTGATE, Grande released “Focus” to mixed reviews and middling success. The song, though a solid bop, sounded like a combination of what was left on the cutting room floor when recording “Problem.” Though the music video saw her finally incorporating choreography into her performances, the song fell off the charts as quickly as it came.
“Focus” was intended to be the lead single to the pint-sized diva’s third album, Moonlight. It was clear that the single’s underwhelming success halted the album’s production. Grande was suddenly unsure of its release date and promotion of the song stopped after just one performance at the AMA’s.
Grande has since parted ways with longtime manager Scooter Braun (who also manages Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepson) and scrapped the previous concept for the project. Moonlight is now Dangerous Woman, which is also the title of the lead single. “Focus,” on the other hand, has been demoted to a buzz single; it’s not included on the album’s pre-order track list.
Unlike the brassy attitude that “Focus” possessed, “Dangerous Woman” is a mid-tempo jam set against a slinky electric guitar. Grande’s voice sounds smoother and breathier, though no less powerful, than it’s sounded in awhile. But where the songs on her previous albums, My Everything and Yours Truly, were rooted in pop despite any dabbling in other genres, “Dangerous Woman” doesn’t really sound like anything else she’s done. This is less “Break Free,” “One Last Time” and “Love Me Harder” and more in line with the R&B-tinged songs that made up the singer’s brilliant debut album.
It’s clear she’s aiming at something completely different than what My Everything was going for. We know the girl can sing, and we know she has what it takes to dip her toes in whatever style of music she wants (which is mandatory for pop stars these days). “Dangerous Woman” feels like Grande’s announcement that she’s ready to dig a bit deeper within the realm of pop. Between the single’s sultriness and the nod to S&M in the album cover, it’s also clear that she’s ready to tackle more adult themes in her music.
While I’m not sure it has the appeal to break records in the way “Problem” did, “Dangerous Woman” looks like a song with staying power; it may not be an instant smash, but it’s a song that gets better with every listen. It’s a song you can play in just about any scenario; the sensual electric guitar and Grande’s commanding vocal performance threaten to latch itself into your brain, almost forcing you to keep the song on repeat. This all bodes well for its commercial prospects in the long run.
Or maybe it will. After all, the song is produced by pop kings Max Martin and Shellback (the men who helped craft Taylor Swift’s 1989). Within just an hour of being released, the song jumped ahead of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” Rihanna’s “Work,” and de-throned Meghan Trainor’s new song “No.” It’s currently sitting pretty at number 1, where I’m sure it’ll stay given Grande’s track record and her rabid fanbase (myself included).
Grande is scheduled to perform “Dangerous Woman” for the first time along with “Be Alright,” another song from the album, on Saturday Night Live this weekend. There will be 15 tracks on the standard issue, with an extra three tacked on for the deluxe version. Where her previous albums have been very feature heavy, there are only three confirmed features on Dangerous Woman, including Lil Wayne.
You can listen to “Dangerous Woman” below, and make sure to pre-order the album on iTunes!