In the three years since Ariana Grande burst onto the scene with “The Way” in 2013, she’s become one of the most exciting up and coming talents. It’s hard to remember the last time someone who went from pop ingenue to one of the genre’s fixtures in such a short amount of time. Having already scored two #1 albums and a long line of hit singles (“Problem,” “Break Free,” “Love Me Harder…” the list goes on), while breaking (and making) new Billboard records in the process and being compared to Mariah Carey, it’s a no brainer that Grande has attained such a large level of success in such a short period of time.
That being said, Dangerous Woman, the pint-sized chanteuse’s third album marks a new stage in her career. Where Yours Truly introduced “the voice,” and My Everything skyrocketed her to superstardom, this album cements Grande’s place as pop’s reigning princess.
From the ethereal, dreamy opening song “Moonlight,” Grande places her vocal prowess front and center. It’s also the perfect way to open the album: recalling the throwback melodies that were explored on Yours Truly while showcasing a new level of vocal mastery. In fact, Dangerous Woman sees Grande taking control of her voice in a way she hasn’t before this album. One of the only criticisms against Grande in prior releases was her lack of enunciation. It almost seemed as if she was more focused on belting notes than singing lyrics. I’m pleased to announce that’s seemingly all behind her now; even her live performances this era have shown a more visibly energized, more technically proficient Ariana Grande than we’ve seen before.
Beyond a new grasp on her voice and a shift away from those pastel dresses, Grande fully submerses herself into the music, skipping around from genre to genre. And while this was one of the things that sometimes made My Everything hard to listen to as a whole album, it’s one of the best things about Dangerous Woman. Despite playing around with various influences, this album is firmly rooted in pop. There’s the doo-wop tinged “Moonlight,” the sultry, slow burn of a lead single “Dangerous Woman,” the 90’s house inspired “Be Alright,” and explosive second single “Into You,” which is every bit the pop masterpiece that Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” was last year (and still is by the way). There’s a little reggae (“Side to Side,” featuring the always fun Nicki Minaj), R&B (“Let Me Love You” featuring Lil Wayne), disco (the exceptional “Greedy”) and a rare Macy Gray feature on “Leave Me Lonely.”
“Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” she wonders aloud on bonus track “Bad Decisions,” a sly wink and nod to the now infamous #DONUTGATE. Grande famously atoned for her “sins,” but seems wholeheartedly ready to play into the public’s perception of a bad girl while rejecting any criticisms you may have reserved for her. On album closer “I Don’t Care,” Grande sings: “Used to listen to how to live and what to be/But if I can’t be me then what’s the point?” not only addressing last year’s controversy, but her musical direction as well. Dangerous Woman combines so much of the R&B elements that dominated Grande’s debut (the elements she was famously enthusiastic about) and the pop-driven attitude of her sophomore LP. It seems that Grande has fully peeled back the curtain, revealing her identity as an artist. She’s not a one hit wonder, and vocal comparisons aside she is far more than a mini-Mariah. Dangerous Woman showcases who she really is, and you can take it or leave it.
All in all, Ariana Grande has smartly rounded up an exceptional team of collaborators (Max Martin and Ilya among them) to gift us with the best pop album, and one of the standout releases in general, of the year. Streamlined, versatile while remaining sonically cohesive, Dangerous Woman silences anyone who’s still curious whether she has what it takes to make it in this industry. And while doughnuts may still be a sore subject for Grande, she wants us to know that she has no intentions of slowing down. In fact, she’s only just getting started.
***Essential Tracks: THE WHOLE DAMN ALBUM***