Ariana Grande’s voice is great. Like, seriously great. It was great in her 2013 debut, Yours Truly, and it’s still great in her new album My Everything. That’s a constant. What has changed between these albums, however, is Grande’s image, or more precisely, her newfound lack of one. Yours Truly was marked by a sort of innocence that set it apart from its peers in Top 40 pop (just compare Grande’s lyrics and video for the song “Baby I” to those of Rihanna’s “Pour It Up”), an innocence that felt simultaneously dated and fresh in that context. She was a child star turned pop artist who managed to stay true to both identities in a way that felt acceptable for people over the age of 12 to listen to and even enjoy.
Enter My Everything, where Grande seems eager to drop the family-friendly aesthetic for a more “mature” approach to pop that instead comes off as generic. In terms of production, the most adventurous Grande gets is hiring Cashmere Cat, who produces “Be My Baby,” easily the best non-single track on the album. With his distinctively whimsical, almost child-like take on EDM and trap, Cashmere Cat’s production could have been perfect for a natural evolution of Grande’s previous wholesome aesthetic. The ultimate version of the song, however, has been clearly streamlined for a mainstream audience compared to earlier versions dropped by the producer at his own live shows. My Everything has Grande constantly opting for the safer choice, hopping onto current day pop trends such as prominent sax samples (a la Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty”) and aggressive EDM breakdowns (courtesy of drop-master du jour Zedd). The results are undeniably catchy; in the album’s singles “Problem” and “Break Free,” these pop tropes have probably reached their apex. But the question remains: did she really need to prove that she could pull this off? Should it surprise anyone that the combination of a voice like hers and probably one of the best production teams that money can buy could produce anything other than pop gold/platinum?
My Everything is by no means a bad album; with Grande’s talent and team, how could it be? It’s just not a particularly ambitious one. This is true of the lyrics as well: Grande bores with bland lyrics about heartbreak and yearning that lack the endearing and distinctive PG charm of Yours Truly. Exacerbating the problem is her enunciation, which blurs the already unmemorable lyrics into incomprehensible ones. This is especially problematic on “Hands On Me,” where her mumbling jarringly undermines her attempts to be sexy; the song uncomfortably starts off with her request to “keep your eyes on my you-know-what” (whatever it is she’s referring to, that’s probably the worst way to do so), followed by more appeals to picture her naked that sound like she would really rather you not.
I completely sympathize with Ariana Grande if she wants to “grow up” or “mature as an artist.” What’s disappointing about My Everything is that her path to doing so follows in the footsteps of so many others when, with her voice and her resources, she could do so much more than she’s settling for.