My Everything (Republic Records)
Avoiding hearing any Ariana Grande songs until now would represent quite a feat in itself, given her ubiquity this summer.
But those who have only read about the precocious, 21-year-old former TV/Broadway star before listening to this second album could be forgiven for thinking that Grande is reinventing music itself. Let's be straight from the start: she's not. My Everything is just another record steeped in modern pop's flawlessly produced traditions.
Yet in its outward unremarkableness lies its devilish cunning: it’s a record destined to be stuck in your skull for the next few months by virtue of pressing all the right pop-zeitgeist buttons in one place at the same time. It’s imbued with a familiarity that comes via subtly re-tweaking the past 15 years of pop history without ostensibly doing anything remotely new or daring.
There's an unshakable feeling that much of My Everything is half-inched, from Break Free (reminiscent of Nicki Minaj's sojourns into EDM territory) to Break Your Heart Right Back (which hijacks the same Diana Ross sample that brightened Notorious BIG's stone-cold classic Mo Money Mo Problems).
A lot of the album’s devious nous is provided by its clever selection of guest stars: the Floridian popstrel is alone on the mic for less than half of the entire record. Grande certainly has all the urban-crossover demographic boxes ticked, too, with appearances from Iggy Azalea, A$AP Ferg, Childish Gambino and her rumoured beau, Big Sean – cameos that are, almost without exception, more compelling than anything that comes out of Grande’s mouth.
There’s no denying that her voice is a formidable tool, but it’s not always employed in the smartest ways. The Mariah Carey/Beyoncé-lite histrionics within her huge, Azalea-embellished hit single Problem are the most prominent example. It’s a song that also perpetuates one of 2014’s most irritating pop-music motifs: the repetitive saxophone loop.
She's far more effective when she leaves the musical school of "why sing one note when you can stretch it out for several bars across three different octaves?" – such as the lower-key likes of One Last Time (co-written by David Guetta), Why Try and Love Me Harder (co-starring the foul-mouthed R&B chap The Weeknd who, worryingly, hits higher-pitched peaks than Grande).
There's still time for Grande to do a Miley Cyrus, so to speak – and her third album will be all the more fascinating if she does. In the meantime, Grande is aptly named – not so much big as blooming massive, My Everything seems guaranteed to replicate the chart-gobbling success of her debut, Yours Truly, and then some.