Ariana Grande has never been less apologetic than with her most recent album, “Dangerous Woman.”
Last July, the tween-pop singer was caught on a bakery’s surveillance camera licking a doughnut she did not buy and then proclaiming “I hate America.” Grande’s words generated massive backlash from people who accused her of shaming overweight Americans.
Grande issued a public apology, but nothing of that apology remains in “Dangerous Woman.” The album, released Friday, is a nonchalant dismissal of the artist’s critics: Grande is not sorry for anything, nor will she ever be.
In “Dangerous Woman,” Grande flirts with a rebellious, diva image. She is trying to be the next Rihanna, the quintessential bad-girl icon, or the next Mariah Carey, the pop queen of a prior generation.
Unfortunately, Grande does not reach such lofty heights in “Dangerous Woman.” Her voice still has an impressive range, but it lacks the depth, maturity or emotion that brilliantly defines those of stars like Rihanna or Carey. The album is better suited as a playlist to thump out at a club, rather than as an album to cherish and play over and over again.
The 15-track album opens with “Moonlight,” a song reminiscent of her holiday singles like “Santa Tell Me,” but sans jingle bells. “Moonlight” is an odd opener for an album titled “Dangerous Woman” though: The delicate string melodies and snappy doo-wop vibes cement an impression of Grande as the eternal Disney Channel singer.
The perennial-teen image clashes with the more adult themes of intimacy later in the album, courtesy of guests Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, who appear to be featured on the album solely to support Grande’s newfound “dangerous woman” personality.
However, their explicit features, on “Let Me Love You” and “Side to Side” respectively, are jarring and awkward paired with Grande’s girlish vocals and innocent, almost naive lyrics such as “I just broke up with my ex / Now I’m out here single, I don’t really know what’s next.”
Grande has worked with artists with more outwardly raunchy reputations than hers’ in the past – think Big Sean and The Weeknd – but featuring Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj emphasizes her naivete even more.
Most of the tracks in the first half of the album are memorable, not because of the lyrics, but because of the music production that spans a spectrum of genres from dance to reggae to traditional pop.
“Let Me Love You” is a slow, woozy song that is a beautiful throwback to ’90s R&B production, á la Destiny’s Child. “Side to Side” is an upbeat, reggae-inspired confession, though it comes off a bit unoriginal because its beat and syncopated percussion are too similar to Magic!’s “Rude.”
“Greedy” shows off Grande’s voice, which is arguably her greatest asset. The brassy, percussion-heavy chorus supports sassy falsettos that seamlessly transition into full-bodied vibratos in the verses.
Unfortunately, the second half of the album loses the strength of interesting production: The songs past track seven, “Greedy,” are difficult to distinguish because they all begin to sound the same.
The result is that the second half of the album is utterly forgettable. One of only a few even remotely memorable lyrics is “Cause we’re collectin’ moments / Tattoos on my mind” in the song “Sometimes.” The line is the sort to appear on Forever 21 T-shirts by the end of the summer.
The album, which cannot claim benefits from strong lyrics or well-placed guest artist features, should have capitalized on Grande’s voice pairing well with the consistently good production. The problem, however, is that Grande’s voice is only suited to one genre – pop – which makes it difficult for songs to cross genre lines while simultaneously matching Grande’s voice.
Though Grande remains steadfastly unapologetic on “Dangerous Woman,” she should apologize for trying to be a bigger, more genre-bending star than she currently has the ability to be.