Ariana Grande continues her prolific speed of releasing albums with her latest character-driven work, Dangerous Woman. The project manages to combine some of the most positive aspects of her previous two albums into a final product which proves to be an extremely rewarding listen, even though at times it seems to be geared directly at pop radio. Many renovations were done over the course of this album’s creation, as numerous songs such as the meant-to-be lead single “Focus” were scrapped along with the previous title Moonlight – although the stunning title track remains the album’s intro – and well-known manager Scooter Braun, who also has artists such as Justin Bieber and Tori Kelly under his wing. The struggle of determining the creative direction in the album’s early goings possibly contributes to the scattershot range genres of present. However, while a similar feature may have existed as detraction to her previous effort My Everything, the thematic undercurrent on Dangerous Woman assists to tie the project together into a cohesive whole despite this. Grande embodies a leather-clad superhero – or perhaps a supervillain – of sorts on the album artwork and this character crosses over into the songs. While not completely overt, many tracks contain a subtle reference to living dangerously, or knowingly doing the wrong thing. Grande proclaims “Boy you make me make bad decisions” on one of the album’s standout tracks. The subpar My Everything can now be seen as a transition period from one image to another, and the dangerous woman we see now, under her own creative direction, presents exciting music indeed.
Most of the production is handled by Swedish pop masterminds Max Martin, who by now is a constant presence in the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10, and his frequent collaborator Ilya Salmanzadeh, though doo-wop and R&B producer Tommy Brown, who worked extensively on Grande’s first retro-R&B-leaning album, makes sporadic appearances as well. The presence of both of these sides of the production coin on this album creates the divide between radio-ready, pure pop and EDM style music and orchestral, cinematic R&B tracks which fall more in line with her debut which was mostly ignored by the general consumer – although critically acclaimed – for this reason. Known to anyone who has seen one of her live performances, Grande is an otherworldly talent and her vocals are similarly stratospheric on this project. While this voice is built to be the centerpiece of every song she graces, however, over the course of her career as a well-known pop star it has tended to be buried in synths and production for the purposes of making a hit song. Those who listen to her full albums, especially her first Yours Truly, know that past these radio hits she is also capable of minimally beautiful R&B tracks which focus on her instrument, such as “Moonlight” and “I Don’t Care” here. The difference from her previous work to this one, however, is that this new image presented on tracks such as “Into You”, just released to radio and sure to become possibly the biggest hit of her career, works extremely well for her. In addition, the presence of more experimental additions (perhaps inspired by her recent interest in Imogen Heap’s voice-bending invention Mimu Gloves) such as forays into vocoder use and booming guitar-based instrumentals makes for a more interesting listen than the majority of standard pop fare. The album is spiced up further with a reggae instrumental on the Nicki Minaj-featuring “Side To Side” which works surprisingly well, and an out-of-left-field appearance by none other than Macy Gray on the dramatic R&B torch song “Leave Me Lonely”, which sounds like it could easily be a Bond theme.
Grande proves to demonstrate on this album that she is capable of almost anything to the degree where the album threatens to lose the cohesiveness that ties an album together, but infuses the personality which lacked in previous years into her latest body of work to deliver an incredibly satisfying album. As Grande is now firmly cemented in the public eye, it remains more radio-driven than Yours Truly, and yet a great deal more fun than similarly-styled My Everything. Grande still has a lot of work to do to reach the level of an iconic and generational talent, which she is fully capable of achieving, but Dangerous Woman is a step in the right direction.
Favorite Tracks: Greedy, Into You, Bad Decisions, Moonlight, I Don’t Care
Least Favorite Track: Knew Better/Forever Boy