On her third album, the former Nickelodeon star sheds the cute popstar image, adopting a message of empowerment that rings true
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. Grande came to fame via her role on Nickelodeon’s teen sitcom Victorious and has since carved out a tween-friendly pop career almost as unblemished as Taylor Swift’s – but she’s spent the past few months publicly loosening up, showcasing pinpoint J-Law and Britney impressions on SNL in March and now, with ‘Dangerous Woman’, being what your nan might term ‘risqué’. Club anthem-to-be ‘Into You’ sees her informing a Stupid Boy, “A little less conversation and a little more touch my body“, and pushing her astoundingly malleable voice into what’s known as the whistle register. The frequent comparisons made between Mariah Carey and Grande are apt.
That track was co-written by hitmaker Max Martin, the Swede behind everything from The Weeknd’s ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ to Grande’s 2014 mega-smash ‘Problem’. His hand is in a variety of other tracks on the new album, including lusty disco cut ‘Greedy’ and the waltzing title track, on which she proclaims, “I’m bulletproof and I know what I’m doing”. Nudge-nudge moments come thick and fast throughout the album, most explicitly from collaborators – Nicki Minaj rides a “dick bicycle” on cheesy reggae cut ‘Side to Side’, Lil Wayne pictures her “grinding on this grande” on sultry slow-jam ‘Let Me Love You’.
It’s not only the consistent songwriting clout that elevates this album from recent efforts by Grande’s teen-star peers, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Even if most of it is co-written, the modish message of empowerment feels honest coming from Grande, especially after an essay she shared last year that railed against the media’s description of her as Big Sean’s ex: “I do not belong to anyone but myself,” she wrote. By the time the sublime closer ‘I Don’t Care’ comes around, it’s genuinely satisfying to hear her put that sentiment on record so resoundingly. “I used to let some people tell me how to live and what to be,” she ponders, “But if I can’t be me, the fuck’s the point?”
Release date: 20 May, 2016