My friend group is pretty into music; we all went to the same performance college, and we all listen to similar stuff – or so I thought. Recently, one of these friends and I have been assigning each other an artist we have never listened to whose discography we have to “deep-dive”. This process has not only gotten me to experience and appreciate new types of music, but has made me more adventurous. I decided that I want to document my thoughts and introspectives to share what I’ve learned. The first entry in this series is Ariana Grande.
I have been somewhat in the eye of the storm that is Ariana Grande. The name reverberates around me constantly, yet I have never taken notice – at least, until now. Like everyone else I’ve heard her on the radio at work - which, in retrospect, is probably what drove me away from investigating her music myself. This friend so happens to be a die-hard Arianator (yes, that’s actually what the fanbase call themselves, look it up) and so here I am, six Grande albums older.
Grande’s first album debuted in 2013 hot off the heels of her appearance on Nickelodeon’s Victorious. Desperate to appeal to the show’s established fans, the songwriting on this record is very inoffensive and kid friendly. It’s like if the 4Kidz translation team got their hands on the Frozen soundtrack and somehow took issue with it. We see most of the same hallmarks as the tracks from High School Musical – a statement which will divide the readers.
This album falls into the same trap as many before it – in that, the general feeling behind the tracks rarely changes. After my first listen I would not be able to tell you which song is which. It is very easy to get tired of the formula when it is recycled so vigorously before you. The way an album is structured is just as important as the writing, the performance, or the cover. There is not much downtime in Yours Truly, I felt subjected to a constant sugary sweetness - which as I’m sure you all know, ends up becoming a real pain.
The one track from Yours Truly which stands out me is Almost Is Never Enough - the only track on the album which feels as though it was written by a singer rather than a corporate songwriter - and what a singer. This is the one song where Grande’s voice is viewed at the angles it should be. It is finally given the spotlight it deserves. This is the track that made me stick around for the next album – because behind everything, there is an incredible talent lying in wait.
My Everything is what I was expecting when I started listening to Ariana Grande. The album, admittedly, does not have much to say. I heard a few of its tracks on the radio, and in retrospect, those songs are still all I recognize about it. The stylistic shift from Yours Truly, into a more standard “pop album” however, is a welcome one and while I can’t say that this album is bad – I would not be tempted to listen to it again.
Unfortunately, there is not much else to say about the thing, I still think of it as “the album with One Last Time on it.” Most certainly the weakest of the bunch.
Dangerous Woman is the first album I can say that I would listen to again. Most of Ariana’s songs that I had heard come from this album, and for good reason - this might as well be her greatest hits. I get the impression that Grande found her footing on this one, and she does not slip.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There is a song on this thing featuring Lil Wayne that you have my blessing to skip. It’s alright, don’t be shy. Besides, what is art without controversy? Beauty without flaw? I put it to the readers that Lil Wayne is the Darth Vader to Dangerous Woman’s Rebel Alliance. A dark and menacing figure to be conquered, attempting to turn Dangerous Woman to the shit side of the force. Jokes aside, Lil Wayne butchers this song. Sure, it’s a real shame - but in a way, it grounds the whole album. With one “Ooh Wayne” we are reminded that everyone shits, everyone dies, and everyone hates Lil Wayne.
Fortunately, Ariana manages to make me love this album despite what is the leprosy of featuring artists. It is at the feet of this triumph on her part that I am forced to score Dangerous Woman an 11/10.
A very strange album. Sweetener houses some of Grande’s (in my opinion) best tracks, yet the first half of the record is as if it doesn’t belong - like two albums mashed into one. One much more… experimental than the other. blazed, sweetener, and successful stand out from the other songs on this album like Lil Wayne on a previously listenable track.
Now, when Sweetener hits, it does not hold back, the only issue is that it has Regigigas’ ability slow start. Pretty much every song in the second half is fantastic, however, I cannot say that the album, as a whole, is all that great.
One positive I can mention is that, unlike My Everything, the tracks that don’t immediately grab you will do on the second listen. They still don’t belong on this album, however. Perhaps if you separate them yourself you could salvage a moderately experimental EP.
We’re in the big leagues now girls and boys. thank u, next is the first Ariana album I can say that I loved from front to back. You show me a bad song on this thing, and I will show you the flying pig, the perpetual motion machine, and the justice for all bass tracks sitting next to it.
Jokes aside, thank u, next feels very different to her previous work and in the best way possible. The impression I get is that Grande is much more comfortable with her voice and its limitations (or seemingly lack-thereof). She has nothing left to prove and is just doing her own thing, this record is chilled out and low down – yet still exciting and insightful. Where Dangerous woman is chock-full of hit singles rammed into a chart-topping collection, thank u, next is an ALBUM. Remember those? An honest to God album that I could put on and listen to from start to finish without skipping a single track.
Maybe it’s just me; but I miss that. There is a lot left unsaid about the art of albums – how each song resonates with one another contextually and stylistically. It takes talent to write a great song, but writing a great album is a lot more than just doing that twelve times – there’s a nuance which, sadly, has been all but cast aside with the rise of streaming.
That nuance is effervescently present on thank u, next, and for that reason it is one of the albums that I will revisit again and again.
My favorite of Ariana Grande’s work. Positions is truly the culmination of everything I have heard previously. The resolution of past ideas and the kindling of new ones.
This album really feels like a sequel to thank u, next. It has the same effortless vibe as the previous album, but it is as if the ideas conjured in that album were but seeds of what they could become. Positions – again, similarly to thank u, next – is not only full of bangers, but also a fantastic ALBUM. The lows of thank u, next, when they meet the highs of Positions, put me into a Ratatouille-like state where combining sounds and styles rotate above my head. This album is as close to perfect as you can get.
I can say that I adore every track from Positions; motive and just like magic have become my two favorites - that being said, I would rather listen to them on positions than listen to them alone. Not because they cannot stand for themselves – but because besides being great songs, they fit into this album perfectly. It would be a crime to listen to either of them without the rest of the album, which makes me love Positions even more.
The final impression Positions gives me is that Grande is making what she wants to make, and what Grande wants to make it what I want to hear.
What more could an artist want?
Ariana Grande’s discography sits on an ascending scale, she just keeps getting better and better. Not only am I glad that I took the detour through her music, but I am very much looking forward to whatever she decides to do next. I can’t say that I would call myself an Arianator (tragic, I know) but I have become a fan.
I’ve taken away two albums that I truly love along with some upbeat poppy stuff for my massive, shadow-casting playlist. thank u, next and Positions are truly fantastic albums – if you take anything away from this… Review? Essay? Diary entry? Whatever you want to call it, listen to these albums. You will not regret it. Hell, listen to it all – just make sure you skip the Lil Wayne song.