Ariana Grande “Dangerous Woman” Review

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Though far from embodying the album’s title, Ariana Grande’s third is a much more memorable and coherent outing.

In my original review of Ariana Grande’s second album, 2014’s “My Everything,” I discussed how in today’s crowded music scene, pop singers (especially female pop singers) need to find a way to stand out; find a personality, which Grande hadn’t yet done. On this album, due to diversified music and sheer, constant media exposure, she’s used her lack of a musical personality to paradoxically form a unique one. And “Dangerous Woman” benefits strongly from it.

“My Everything” was filled to the brim with pop bangers and ballads, none of which were particular standouts against each other. So when Grande dropped a now-standalone single “Focus” last year, there was a noticeable difference. It had a jazzy beat, that signaled she was adapting new influences. And across the album’s 11 tracks (“Focus” not among them), she goes through a number of different styles, most more effective than not.

Part of this diversified interest may be due to the inclusion of Max Martin, a songwriter third to only Lennon & McCartney in all time #1’s, and the far-and-away leader in Top 10 hits. He worked with Grande on “Problem,” on her last album, but his name pops up on four of the 11 songs, and one of the four bonus tracks. The writers surrounding Grande and, presumably, Grande herself, have written songs with much more depth. The title track has simple trap beats, while the follow-up, “Be Alright,” heightens an otherwise lackluster song with a jungle-y rhythm. Of course, there’s bangers, like “Into You,” and “Greedy,” and ballads, like “Let Me Love You,” and “I Don’t Care,” but they’re made better because of the diversity in bookending tracks. “I Don’t Care,” the closer, is one of the album’s best songs – and for a ballad, it doesn’t stick around very long. At 2:58, it misses out on the ‘shortest track’ title by a mere second. A handful of “traditional” Grande songs is important, and they’re all great, but things like the strings in “Moonlight” and the relaxed, island feel of “Side to Side” are a welcome relief, too.

The album is sparse with guests, most used effectively. Long-lost Macy Gray pops up, in a beautifully constructed back-and-forth duet, “Leave Me Lonely.” Lil’ Wayne drops into break-up ballad “Let Me Love You,” and mostly plays off Grande’s midtempo energy, although he still can’t keep himself from going breakneck off-the-rails at times. Grande’s partnership with Nicki Minaj continues on the excellent “Side By Side.” Less effective is a duet with Future, “Everyday,” where they sound more competitive than collaborative. It might just be that it’s a combination too odd to truly work.

For a while, I’ve been hearing comparisons of Grande to Mariah Carey, and while I knew Grande could really pack heat, I didn’t truly realize it until this album. Opener “Moonlight” is a medium-paced, restrained song, except for Grande just coming out of the gate with Whitney Houston-like vocals (a singer she recently imitated on SNL). Bonus track “Touch It” also has Grande soaring into the sky, hitting pitches normally reserved only for Mariah.

Grande, over the past two years, has proven herself as a more relaxed celebrity, with increasing confidence in herself and her talent, and with equally matched snark (hunty) and humor about herself. She might not have the exact molding of an Adele, or a Lady Gaga, but this time, it doesn’t really matter, because the music matches it. It isn’t consistent, because it gets boring if it is. What the album really comes down to is an appreciation of different styles, and Grande’s raw talent. So maybe the most danger Grande has gotten in is some good ol’ fashioned donut-licking, but what does it matter? It’s a vast improvement over “My Everything,” and not every song is a certified winner, but there’s a number of tracks that demand more listens.

Grade: B+

-By Andrew McNally

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