The year of 2014 saw Ariana Grande rise to superstar status. After scoring four top ten hits on the Billboard 100, including the multi-platinum sophomore lead single, Problem, and the notoriously catchy collaboration with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, 'Bang Bang', she spent 34 consecutive weeks in the top 10, the longest of any artist that year. Her second album, 'My Everything', which debuted at number one and three in the US and UK, respectively, was a tightly constructed, pristine pop de force, with an undeniable hit-making formula. Despite this, however, it felt like such commercial success came at the expense of musical substance and personality, and whilst it established no doubt that Grande was one of the most promising, technically-able singers in contemporary pop music, it remained unclear exactly who she was, either as a person or as an artist. Enter the formidable 'Dangerous Woman', Grande’s most recent, voluptuous offering, that breathes much needed life back into a saturated and tired pop market.
“Don’t need permission, made my decision to test my limits” Grande croons on the title track, a slow-jam R&B affair, with an arena rock chorus. It’s one of her most empowered and confident vocal performances to date, and perfectly introduces the poised, self-assured archetype embodied throughout the album. While 'My Everything' suffered from a lack of strong charisma or identity, 'Dangerous Woman' oozes self-confidence, from the reassured, “I know they will be coming from the right and the left” on the subdued ‘Let Me Love You’, to the self-proclaimed “bad bitch” attitude on the pulsating ‘Bad Decisions’. Grande’s new-found buoyancy is infectious, and introduces a much-needed opulence to her previously superficial artistry.
Throughout the album’s 15 tracks, Grande demonstrates impressive genre versatility, occupying the diverse emotional spaces of each song with ease. She dabs in doo-wop on 50’s-tinged ‘Moonlight’, EDM on the sultry ‘Into You’, disco on the brazen ‘Greedy’ and even reggae on the Caribbean-tinged ‘Side to Side’. Grande is at her best, however, when her captivating voice takes centre-stage, exemplified perfectly on standout tracks, ‘Leave Me Lonely’, a breath-taking ballad featuring Macy Gray, and the gloomy, electronic ‘Touch It’. Admittedly, some tracks are markedly better than others; 'Sometimes' and 'Knew Better/Forever Boy', despite being catchy, lack the inventiveness of the rest of the catalogue, but there are no real duds or failures here.
“If I can’t be me, the fuck’s the point?” Grande concludes on ‘I Don’t Care’, a noteworthy valediction to the criticism she has received over the past few years (we needn’t mention the donut incident again). It seems that, with 'Dangerous Woman', Grande has finally begun to trade style for substance. The end result is a singer who is not only unashamedly herself, but one that is finally ready to live up to their mammoth potential.