[Ellis O’Connell | Contributing Writer]
Doughnut-licking woman of impending hazards, Ariana Grande, has released her third studio album, the alter-ego tinged Dangerous Woman. And blimey, what an album it is.
Following 2014’s My Everything, which helped Ariana achieve immense commercial success, Dangerous Woman serves as a maturation of Ariana – because it’s all about SEX. How dangerous of her! Where My Everything floundered in its wide range of genres, Dangerous Woman attempts to resolve; it feels more streamlined.
Splitting the production of the 15-track long album between the maker of sultry R&B hits, Tommy Brown, and God of Swedish pop production, Max Martin, Dangerous Woman incorporates varying genres while still feeling cohesive. The result is an eclectic collection of songs with Ariana’s stamp running through it. It could be her best work to date.
Right, the album.
I feel like Ariana is setting us up for a sucker punch with the first track. The ethereal opener, featuring violins aplenty, feels like she’s looking back on her Yours Truly (her debut album) past, as well as her relationships. You can imagine her driving up to Malibu with her love interest, sat on the beach, staring up at the stars as they fall asleep listening to this song. It’s a perfect opener.
Suddenly, Ariana leaves her sleeping “bae”, reaches into the “trunk” of the car, and grabs her bunny mask, assuming her “Dangerous Woman” alter-ego. Now we’re off. The song features an uncommon-for-pop 6/8 time signature; it was made for Ariana to sing live. While not exactly lead single material in comparison to the rest of the album, it’s definitely one of the best songs of Ariana’s career.
Ariana reaches into her Bag of Genres and draws out some ’90s deep house. “Be Alright” epitomises the idea of a subtle banger; it doesn’t hit that hard, but there’s something very appealing about it. Accompanied by breathy vocals and minimal production, it feels like “Be Alright” is merely a chilled-out interlude and introduction to prepare us for the next song. And well, if that’s the case, it’s doing its job.
“Into You” (Song of the year alert!)
Picture this. You’re inside the Tate Modern. It’s quaint and quiet. But then, throbbing synths catch your attention in the distance. Following the sound, a portrait hangs in front of you, featuring the bunny-masked album cover, and “Into You” is playing. This song, being as close to perfection as possible, deserves to be on display. “I’m so into you / I can barely breathe,” Ariana yearns in the opening line, potentially the greatest pop lyric of recent years. A gargantuan, thudding chorus, featuring subtle vocals from Ariana, culminates to a juxtaposing Madeon-esque middle eight as Ariana goes full blast. I shall say no more except listen to it. Now.
“Side to Side” (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Even though Nicki’s verse isn’t as hyper or full on as I would have liked, there’d be something missing if she wasn’t there on this one. My favourite thing about this reggae-tinged track is the clicks in the chorus. Instead of being one note, they make a tick-tock sound, giving the feeling of it moving side to side. I love Sweden.
“Let Me Love You” (feat. Lil Wayne)
“I just broke up with my ex / Now I’m out here single, I don’t know what’s next.” Give over, Ari, we know exactly what you’re doing next. A track we heard fairly early on in the campaign, the pre-chorus is quintessential breathy Ariana vocals, slowing it down compared to the previous two tracks. Lil Wayne’s feature, while somewhat unnecessary, adds an element of danger because, well, prison, etc.
And the Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance goes to The First Three Seconds of Greedy! A disco-infused, uptempo number, apparently Ariana isn’t worried about any money, she’s just “physically obsessed”. Well, don’t get caught up and forget your bills, Ari. Greedy also has a trick up its sleeve: a key change. In a Top 40 Radio pop song. In the 2010s. Amazing.
“Leave Me Lonely” (feat. Macy Gray)
The lyrics “Dangerous love / You’re no good for me darling,” open the song. The song literally starts with the word “dangerous”. Fantastic. In a Radio 2-meets-Capital FM collaboration, Macy Gray’s raspy voice complements Ariana’s well, as they sidle across a ’60s-inspired production.
“Everyday” (feat. Future)
Ah yes, the token give-the-chorus-to-a-male-vocal song, this time coming in the form of rapper, Future. The production is on the cusp of pop and R&B; dirty, tinny synths are present from the off. Ari claims “Any time / I’m alone / I can’t help / thinking about you,” in the first line – the melody of which is hauntingly fab. A potential single? Definitely.
Imagine you’re on a beach. It’s sunset, you’re with your friends, you have a fire going, it’s very chilled out, and you’re drinking (responsibly). Someone’s brought their speakers. This would be the song to play. “We’re collecting moments / Tattoos on my mind,” Ariana belts over a perfect mix of campfire guitar and synth heaven, intertwining whistle-worthy melodies. The last minute is rather incredible.
“I Don’t Care”
It’s quite an ironic title, as I don’t really care for this song. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s rather forgettable in comparison to the other tracks. The elongated instrumental outro, which oozes Old Hollywood, does make for a great close to the standard edition though.
Am I the only one thinking the title of this bonus track is about Doughnut-gate? Whilst it’s undeniably catchy, for the first time on the album, the production feels sub-par; it feels like a bonus track. The annoyance of this is further accentuated by the fact it has some of the best lyrics, and lyrical flow, out of any song on the album. “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” Oh Ari, how dangerous of you.
Potentially peak danger for Ariana, “Touch It” is a massive synth-sex-banger. Nickelodeon who? It features a very quaint first verse, with Ariana asking, “How do I make the phone ring?” – She has some great first lines on this album. But then, a literal plane-taking-off noise brings on a synth-tidal-wave of a chorus where Ariana emotionally soars over rich, full production, courtesy of the Swedes. Why this was a bonus track, I’ll never know.
“Knew Better / Forever Boy”
Unpopular Opinion Alert: I prefer “Knew Better” and wish that it was a song in its own right. However, the transition into Forever Boy at the 1:30 mark is undeniably the highlight of the whole album, taking Ari to new EDM-laden highs. Sidenote: to still be captivated by an album fourteen songs in is quite the feat.
“Thinking Bout You”
“I don’t have you here with me / But at least I have the memory,” Ariana yearns on the album’s final track. This is the kind of song that would feature in a high budget rom-com, specifically at the point where the two protagonists are on train journeys in opposite directions, leaning up against the window, staring outside, welling up. It really is a sad-banger-and-a-half, allowing Ariana to showcase her vocals as the album draws to a close. A perfect, melancholically-euphoric album closer.
You’ll notice that there’s no “ridicu-banger” in the form of “Focus” on here. As much as I love it, I’m glad it slightly underperformed and was met with mixed critical reception. It caused Ariana and her label to go back to the Swedes to “refine” the album, and it worked wonders.
The result is a set of songs that manage to captivate you to the end – with very few fillers. Some would argue that Ariana still doesn’t have a sound or identity, giving the mix of sub-genres present throughout, but Dangerous Woman is a step closer to solidifying her on pop’s A-List.