There’s a secret to being a successful mainstream pop artist. If an artist has made it to the top 10, they’ve most likely followed this well-known tactic. The secret to success is to surround yourself with a team of talented songwriters, producers, and features to do nearly everything else for you except sing.
This applies strongly to Ariana Grande. On her new album, My Everything, she has surrounded herself with an impressive roster of artists. She collaborated with pop mainstays such as OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Swedish uberproducer Max Martin, but also oddballs like Norwegian electronic artist Cashmere Cat and the goofball of the A$AP Mob, A$AP Ferg.
The important thing to recognize from the variety of producers and features is that Everything is a vehicle for Grande’s voice, not her creativity. Vocally, the singer can be compared to Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, and many times channels them.
The album tells of becoming an adult romantically. This reflects Grande’s identity as a Nickelodeon star, but the album’s sensual and dramatic tones show a more mature side to her.
The central themes are breakups, struggles, and yearning for what is either lost or unattainable. These themes display a range from breakup anthems like the two smash singles, “Problem” with Iggy Azalea and “Break Free” with Zedd, and sad ballads like the title track and the Big Sean-assisted “Best Mistake.”
There are three standouts from this album: “Be My Baby” with Cashmere Cat has an EDM overtone, but not one that is aggressive, rather it takes full advantage of the producers use of snares and soft guitar samples. “Break Your Heart Right Back” is equally funny and well done. The song is about Grande’s lover leaving her for another man. It brilliantly samples the signature Nile Rodgers’ riff from Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” the same one used in the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems.” The song features another left-field collaboration with Childish Gambino referencing the Biggie hit.
Finally, there’s “Love Me Harder,” Grande’s collaboration with The Weeknd. “Harder” is the most adult song with the most sensual lines. It’s also the most mature with the Weeknd’s joyless lothario image juxtaposed to Grande’s Nickelodeon stardom.
There are still some cookie-cutter pop songs on Everything, most specifically, “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart,” and “My Everything.” These songs are not necessarily bad, but they feel unoriginal.
The following two songs are the album’s real low point. “Best Mistake,” a somber collaboration with Big Sean, is generally boring with an all-too-simple piano accompaniment. Sean’s verse is, as usual, full of corny lines that take away from any real message.
The collaboration with A$AP Ferg, “Hands on Me” is chaotic. It’s a bit too heavy on the synthesizers with a Middle Eastern vibe, which doesn’t really make sense. The collaboration between Ferg and Grande is a disappointment because his contribution could have been more edgy and out there, but that is the limitation of a mainstream pop album on a vulgar rapper.
The production is fairly standard for pop outside of the interesting collaborations. Lyrically, no one should be upset, but don’t compare Grande to Bob Dylan. Everything is a channel for the pop star to wail with her lovely set of lungs.
Overall, this album is about heartbreak and how it defines us. Grande shows that hard choices ultimately better us. She conveys that while painful, heartbreak is necessary for growth. Everything is equally fun and emotional and is a current favorite for pop album of the year.