Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Everything | Ariana Grande


We've all been singing along to "Problem" and "Break Free" throughout this summer season, and now it's time for Ariana Grande to add fuel to her own fire by releasing her sophomore full-length album My Everything. This album follows last year's generally acclaimed Yours Truly, which debuted atop the Billboard 200 and spawned memorable songs like "The Way" and "Right There." 

My Everything has had three massive singles backing it, although all three were relatively varied in sound. "Problem" is a sassy, girl-power anthem featuring blaring horns, a buzzing bass line, and a verse from this year's most talked-about rapper, Iggy Azalea. The song maintained a strong hold at numbers two and three on the Billboard Hot 100 for multiple weeks and, as of the August 30 chart update, still remains in the top ten. The following singles were "Break Free," an electronic dance nod with powerful production credits from Zedd, and "Bang Bang," a split-single endeavor with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj included on the deluxe edition of this album.

The single choices from the album represent it well as a whole: My Everything is a mixed bag of electronic, R&B, and pop influences. The album is also a huge meeting place for collaborations. Joining the list of featured artists with Grande are Big Sean, The Weeknd, Childish Gambino, Cashmere Cat, and A$AP Ferg. Perhaps the most interesting and successful of those collaborations is with The Weeknd, who blends right into the chilled "Love Me Harder" with Grande.

Childish Gambino finds his verse stuck in the album's most controversial track, "Break Your Heart Right Back," which is about "a boy who cheats on a girl with a boy." Gambino's verse includes, "Yes, I'm a 'G' from the 'A' and they ask 'Y'" and the track samples Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out"; those two elements alone sparked rumors that an ex-flame of Grande's was in fact gay - something she now refuses to confirm or deny in interviews.

This album era has been stapled as Grande's move towards a more mature, sexy sound. This is held true in some of the album's most popular songs, including the aforementioned "Love Me Harder" and "Be My Baby," in which Grande quietly demands, "Kiss me, boy, and drive me crazy." Later, in the chorus of the A$AP Ferg-assisted "Hands On Me," Grande openly pleads to be groped as she sings, "Put your hands on me / You can put your hands on me / If you like what you see, put your hands on me." 

Only seven of the fifteen tracks on the deluxe pressing of My Everything are listed as solo songs (Yours Truly also had a large abundance of collaborations), but Grande makes the most of those moments. Many of those solo songs are traditional or power ballads. In the cases of "One Last Time" and "Why Try," the mid-tempo power ballad format prevails. The former is a David Guetta-penned track with a consistent yet semi-repetitive flow, while the latter is a product of Ryan Tedder. Tedder's presence is made quite evident from its chorus composition and striking similarities to Ellie Goulding's "Burn" in the bridge (another track co-written by Tedder).

"Just a Little Bit of Your Heart" finds Grande in a heartbroken, desperate place as she pleads to be heard by her cheating boyfriend. "Best Mistake" is also mainly piano-driven, but is kept out of the "true ballad" territory thanks to a rap verse from Big Sean and a hip-hop beat incorporated in the chorus. These slow tracks aren't alone, though, as hushed, sincere moments both introduce and close the standard edition of this album. The beginning track is a short but sincere lullaby aptly titled "Intro," and the closing track shares the same name as the grand mantra of this album: "My Everything." The album's final moments simply fade out in echos of Grande's vocal ad-libs and hums, just as smoothly as the album opened.

Grande's debut on Yours Truly placed her in line to be the next self-titled Queen of R&B - the promising set of twelve tracks almost guaranteed her a spot in the reigning league of the genre. However, My Everything halts Grande in her path, directly in the intersection of the imminent takeover of the Billboard Hot 100 and the status as a critically acclaimed R&B vocalist. Instead of turning one way or the other, she tries to please the best of both worlds on this album, leading to an inconsistent piece of work as a whole.

The good news though? There are still plenty of gems in the cluttered pile of songs, and perhaps most importantly, the raw vocal talent is undeniable. Although the road map for this album called for some heavily-produced detours, her unprecedented vocal power remains the focal point of each track. My Everything truly thrives due to the facts that Grande's voice is compatible with so many genres and she was willing to explore new sounds and options on this album. This album may not be as cohesive as I had wished, but Grande did give it her all to make an album that has a little bit of something for everybody.

My Everything will be out on August 26, 2014 under Republic Records. An exclusive deluxe edition of the album can be found at Target department stores.

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