Ariana Grande steps into uncharted territory on ‘Dangerous Woman’

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Grade: B+

It’s clear that Ariana Grande knows what she’s doing after perfecting her craft for so many years. My Everything, her 2014 album, was already evidence of her growth as an artist and served as a manifestation of her pop star status. But her latest album Dangerous Woman reveals more to Grande’s artistic persona — a spontaneity and a dangerousness that wasn’t there before. Dangerous Woman is Grande’s graduation from the safety of her pop voice to a creative, expressive, risky and more enticing musical project.

What Ariana Grande does best on Dangerous Woman lies in the album’s stylistic diversity. In her earlier albums, Grande stuck with a unified stylistic theme; from the 1950s doo-wop feel of Yours Truly to the current day power-pop of My Everything, her focus was on building a thematic album. Given her incredible vocal talent and easily identifiable voice, it makes sense that she would focus mostly on vocal tricks and styles in earlier albums, paying much less attention to her instrumentation. Yet Dangerous Woman revisits familiar styles while taking risks and exploring new genres. In this album, Grande combines her best musical qualities and innovative pop techniques, branching out into new territory while capitalizing on her talents. Dangerous Woman is just more interesting and more dynamic than anything she’s done in the past.

Dangerous Woman’s best tracks are also some of the best tracks in Grande’s entire discography. “Into You” stands out as a clear personification of a more sophisticated, skillful execution of her sound and has an edge brought on by a heavy bass and synth that leaves the track as a standout on the album. On the more adventurous side is the fun “Greedy,” with an upbeat but funky feel with its horns and the best vocal harmonies on the album — and a key change never hurts when Ariana Grande’s powerful vocals are in control.

The album also brings new strengths to the table, with sonically interesting and complementary collaborations. “Let Me Love You” has a sultry and sophisticated feel, perhaps Grande’s most mature track yet. An anthem for finding someone new post-breakup, the smoky track is filled with Grande’s controlled, soft vocals and adds Lil Wayne’s low, nasally voice in the mix. The contrast between Lil Wayne’s classic autotuned sound with Grande’s velvety voice works well, and it’s a standout. Dangerous Woman takes her guest artists’ best qualities and interprets them through Ariana Grande’s pop lens. It does wonders for the album.

Of course, an Ariana Grande album wouldn’t be complete without some impressive power ballads, and Dangerous Woman delivers. The album begins with “Moonlight,” which is a simple but beautiful love song that calls back to the classic 1950s feel Ariana Grande so wonderfully executes. For a smoother, more classy feel, “I Don’t Care” is perfectly orchestrated for Grande’s voice. The introductory string section sets the yearning, tragic tone of the song, the ideal lead into the melodious synthesis that is Grande’s voice and a simple keyboard and brass accompaniment.

All this said, there are obvious risks when venturing into new musical territory. There are some songs that fall flat on the album, either by failing to stand out compared to the rest of the album or by exploring a new sound but not convincingly pulling it off. This is most evident in “Sometimes” which has an acoustic guitar but still feels overproduced and ultimately doesn’t quite reconcile Grande’s lyrical voice with the asymmetrical acoustic-but-synthy instrumentation. Even though the lyrics make it seem like it should be a love song, it’s very impersonal, empty and boring. It makes love sound tedious, as if Grande’s reading off a grocery list.

But Dangerous Woman is a testament to Grande’s growth as an artist and her versatility as a musician. Challenging herself to create something different and risky is refreshing from a pop artist, something we don’t tend to see from other pop stars who have comfortably settled into a particular sound. But Grande proves unique not only in extraordinary talent but in her ambition and creativity, illustrating exactly that which she draws attention to in this album — a dangerous woman, indeed.

Contact Paige Petrashko at [email protected].