Everyone takes a different path as they grow up, especially for child TV stars. Most lead a successful life of fame and fortune, while some get left behind in the dust and others derail into publicized self-destruction. In 2014, beloved Nickelodeon and Disney stars, such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, are gradually shedding their innocent tween images for more adult (and rather provocative) personas, using the ever-growing industries of film and music as outlets. Usually, these stars attempt to evoke a powerful statement about independence and responsibility, but for the most part, it’s self-delusion. However, among the throng of child actors, 21-year-old Ariana Grande, who played the adorkably dim-witted Cat in Nickelodeon’sVictorious, seems to be showing her independence in the right way.
Ever since her music debut, last year’s “Yours Truly,” Grande has not only attracted a devout fanbase and thousands of Youtube views, but she’s also managed to surprise almost every doubtful music critic. Although Grande’s debut was rather a safe and unadventurous record, its ‘90s throwback R&B grooves and funky contemporary pop jams made the album sparkle. Most importantly, what made “Yours Truly” so special to Grande’s beginning as an up-and-coming musician was her astonishingly unwavering vocal range. The obvious comparisons to Mariah Carey aside, Grande’s ear-piercing voice proved that she’s got star power and that’s definitely evident on her newest album, “My Everything.”
Ditching her manic-pixie-girl persona, Grande has polished her image to look more mature, courageous, and self-aware this time around. Although R&B and pop is still apparent in her repertoire, Grande brings forth a breathtaking palette of funky hip hop, steamy club bangers, and hyperactive EDM on her new record. Although the tunes on “My Everything” are not as consistent as the ones on “Yours Truly,” they are nevertheless more sonically and thematically daring.
Grande starts off “My Everything” rather strangely, with an angelic intro that abruptly shifts into the already recognizable saxophone loop of the ubiquitous pop anthem “Problem.” With the help of Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, who has also proven herself to be a newfound success with chart-topper “Fancy,” Grande exudes a Britney Spears-type prowess that’s both exciting and empowering. It’s no surprise that “Problem” has already become a critical and commercial achievement, as the song’s producer, Max Martin, was responsible for hits like “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops I Did It Again!”
Listening to the rest of Grande’s “My Everything,” the 21-year-old Floridian singer’s musical choices continue to vary from pop ballads (the passionate “One Last Time” and the soapy “Why Try”) to moody piano pieces (the dreary, Big Sean-featuring “Best Mistake,” the somber “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” and the hearty title track closer). While each track does show immense aesthetic growth in Grande, the transitions from song to song are somewhat disorganized. Grande fluctuates from feeling empowered to being lovesick to downright dirty.
Despite this, she remains fearless and unafraid in tracks such as the cheeky hip-shaker “Hands on Me,” where she incorporates Christina Aguilera-esque swagger and an unexpectedly impressive feature from indie rapper A$AP Ferg. While Grande exhibits a newfound risuqé vibe on “Hands on Me,” she continues to expand on themes of love and rocky relationships, such as on the bubbly, Cashmere Cat-produced “Be My Baby” and the trippy, lust-filled “Love Me Harder,” which comprises of a surprisingly apt cameo from hip hop romantic The Weeknd. But the most we get out of Grande personally is on the brazen club thumper “Break Free.” Produced by Russian-German electronic artist Zedd, “Break Free” is not only a perfect song to pump up parties, but it also demonstrates Grande’s unique artistic tastes and melodious vocals.
For the most part, “My Everything” is a huge improvement on “Yours Truly.” The record gives Grande the musical tools and creative freedom to construct a commendable modern pop album rather than another set of formulaic and conventional songs. However, “My Everything” is not without its faults; the sentimentality of “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” screams trivial teen pop. In addition, the lackluster, Notorious B.I.G.-sampling “Break Your Heart Right Back” is unbecoming, especially with a tedious feature from rapper Childish Gambino (who ironically also used to be a TV star). Nonetheless, the rest of “My Everything” showcases Grande’s undeniable talent and that’s something to look out for. On “Yours Truly,” Grande was basking in the spotlight, timid but optimistic; On “My Everything,” Grande is center stage, sitting confidently on a pedestal of promise.
*(Original date of article: September 5th, 2014)