Release Date: May 20, 2016
Record label: Republic
Genre(s): Vocal, Dance-Pop
Ariana Grande took her first tentative steps into adulthood with My Everything, the 2014 album that tempered her retro-diva stance with modern R&B. Released two years later, Dangerous Woman consolidates this soulful shift while offering a snazzier, sophisticated spin on the '90s pop that provides the foundation of Grande's music. Much of the latter comes from a fruitful partnership with producer Max Martin and his colleague Ilya, a team responsible for over half of the standard album's tracks (they also have their hands in several of the deluxe edition's bonus cuts).
While Ariana Grande’s second album, 2014’s My Everything, was a commercial success, it also felt like she’d lost her identity, her debut’s pristine, retro R&B lost in the pop melee. Dangerous Woman is a refinement of her sound, shifting from the low-slung groove of the title track and Moonlight’s jazzy refrain, to the throbbing electro of new single Into You and the pulsating, Future-assisted Everyday. Elsewhere, she tries her hand at disco (the lustful Greedy), 90s house (Be Alright) and even finds time to bring Macy Gray out of retirement on the dramatic Leave Me Lonely.
“You need a bad girl to blow your mind,” Ariana Grande taunted us in 2014 on “Bang Bang,” her smash-hit collaboration with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj. In that crowd, Grande didn't really seem like the bad girl; maybe she knew one she could fix you up with? As she told Complex the year before,“I don’t see myself as sexy and I’m not comfortable being sexy and dressing sexy. I don’t see myself ever becoming a sex symbol.” But she seems to have taken the “Bang Bang” lyric as a mood-board inspiration for her third album Dangerous Woman, which finds the 22-year-old trading in the mini-skirts, go-go boots, and cat ears for a Sasha Fierce-like alter ego.
Review Summary: As one of the year's best pop albums, Dangerous Woman delivers where it counts but also could have been so much more.For Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman had all the markings of becoming her definitive ‘breakout' record. Sure, Grande’s entire career has been – to some extent or another – a constant indulgence of the spotlight, but consistency has been the Achilles heel preventing her from ascending into the pop titan status of women like Adele and Taylor Swift. We’ve always been left with a hit single here, a guest rapper there, and an extra side order of fluff.
Last year's underwhelming “Focus,” a transparent rehash of her star-making smash “Problem,” was dropped from the tracklist of Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman, but the album still has one eye fixed squarely on the past. “He's giving me Elvis with some James Dean in his eyes,” Grande sings chastely on the opening track, “Moonlight,” a doo-wop throwback. Though the album immediately shifts gears with the decidedly more contemporary title track, a sultry waltz in which the singer implores her man to “test [her] limits,” assuring him that, underneath, every 21-century woman is a “bad girl,” there are smart, unexpected nods to yesteryear throughout the remainder of Dangerous Woman.
Ariana Grande’s third album contains winsome orchestral pop, throbbing house, sparkling electro, a Nicki verse, a horn-flecked breeze called “Greedy” (our favorite), a Weezy verse, kind of a bluesy thing with Macy Gray, a Future verse, and a song literally called “Bad Decisions. ” Yet there’s very little trace of the Ariana Grande who licks unsold donuts, has some private criticism for America, and allegedly transitions from meet-and-greet mode the way Patrick Bateman transitions from the dry cleaner’s. No doubt a great many hardworking professionals believe this to be a good thing, but of course it isn’t.
Pop costume-changer Ariana Grande has had seven Top 10 hits and we're still no closer to figuring out who she wants to be. Is Grande still the retro-minded melodicist of "Bang Bang"? Is she still the house diva pulsing along with Zedd on "Break Free"? Still the hip-hop party rocker sharing space with Iggy Azalea on "Problem"? Still the narcotized night-crawler taking a midnight ride with the Weekend on "Love Me Harder"? On third album Dangerous Woman, the answer to all of the above is "yes. " Most of the deluxe version's 15 tracks fit fairly neatly into one of those categories, highlighting a singles artist who's capable of practically anything (the monster title track mixes Dap-Kings with "Trap Queen").
Most reasonable people would call Ariana Grande a huge success, but her unreasonable talent makes success relative. She jumped from Nickelodeon to radio in 2011 with a voice like Mariah, a children’s TV resume like Britney, and a sense of style that recalled Lolita — nothing to hurt sales there. Since then pop guru Max Martin has penned most of her hits; Martin had already taken Katy Perry to the top of the pops, and Perry couldn’t sing her way out of a Victoria’s Secret bag.
Nine months ago, Ariana Grande‘s greatest act of rebellion was daring to lick a donut in a California bakery, then reacting to the piles of junk food in front of her with the doomed sentence, “I hate America”. Two disregarded apology videos and a Justin Bieber collaboration later, she emerges transformed, donning a leather bunny outfit for the cover of third album ‘Dangerous Woman’; in one of its more understated IDGAF moments she declares simply, “I love me. ”Her 38 million Twitter followers suggest she’s not the only one.
Pop music in 2016 has been defined by contradictions. On the one hand, mega-selling artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake jolted the “Billboard” charts with surprise releases that sent listeners scurrying to Tidal and Apple Music, ready to hear the latest missives from the biggest stars; that the songs resulting from those releases managed to sound good-to-great was a bonus. On the other, the top-40 wilds have largely been populated by inert personalities either mimicking trends of yore (overly precocious singer-songwriters, Internet-beloved MCs, R&B hits from 15 years ago, et cetera) or riding social media’s rocket fuel to Blandsville.
In Scooter Braun’s pop-star factory, every misdeed must be owned before it can be left behind. We saw this last year when the talent manager’s highest-profile client, Justin Bieber, used his album “Purpose” to take responsibility for a recent stretch of tabloid shenanigans. Now it’s happening with Ariana Grande, a singer until very recently in Braun’s stable whose new album, “Dangerous Woman,” follows an incident that threatened to undo her wholesome image.
Pop stars need to stop trying to convince me they’re dangerous and just fucking be dangerous already. This is officially tiresome. All these Disney-to-jailbait transitions have been going on since Britney strutted down that school hallway in pigtails for the “…Baby One More Time” video, but let’s talk about that song for a second from a musical standpoint: the piano riff, the bass line, the crushing, slow-burning tension that builds right through the refrain until the riff returns and plants you back where you began, and Britney’s sexed-up robot voice — it’s a brilliant piece of music, a masterful example of how to sustain a pop hook with conservative instrumentation.
When Ariana Grande recently hosted Saturday Night Live, she played a shy Tidal intern able to mimic the singing voices of Britney Spears, Shakira, Rihanna, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston. The sketch worked because the role played to her strengths—an impressive vocal range and dynamic delivery—and used her chameleonic tendencies for comedic effect. In terms of her own music career, Grande’s reverence for pop stars of yore occasionally causes missteps.