The third album a female pop sing is always an interesting one. Traditionally it’s the album they flex their artistic muscles and demonstrate some control over their image and sound. The third album was where Beyoncé introduced her alter ego Sasha Fierce, where Rihanna reinvented her image and became the Good Girl Gone Bad and where Kelly Clarkson went against her label to record and release an album she co-wrote in a bid to present herself as more than just an American Idol but a legitimate artist with “My December”. And most recently it was where Carly Rae Jepsen gave us E●MO●TION…need I say more?
So for Ariana Grande, who released her third studio album “Dangerous Woman” on May 20th, the pressure was on to see if this album could take her career to the next level and with an album named “Dangerous Woman” it’s a bold statement to make. Especially when up until now Ariana’s aesthetic has been the cute girl next door with her high ponytail and flowery dresses.
The roll-out for “Dangerous Woman” hasn’t been a smooth process by any standards. In 2014 Ariana confirmed via Twitter that her album would be called “Moonlight” and then subsequently changed the title to “Dangerous Woman”. She released “Focus” at the tail end of 2015 but it failed to connect with the public on the same level as “Problem” or “Break Free” and was subsequently relegated to a buzz single to bridge the gap between the albums. #JusticeForFocus. When there was no album at the end of 2015, Ariana opted to release a festive EP titled “Christmas & Chill” to tide her fans over.
But low and behold, it is now May 2016 and Ariana’s third studio album has finally seen the light of day, even if a CD copy of the album was already purchased in a Walmart store in America over a week before the album’s official release date. Did I mention that the roll-out for this album hasn’t been a smooth one?
The album’s lead single “Dangerous Woman” is a sultry mid-tempo number with a tinge of RnB about sexuality and being the empowered one in a relationship. If this was Ariana’s attempt to shrug off any kid friendly image that followed her and announce to the world she is a grown woman, then she achieved her mission. With the music video just showing her writing around (with her hair down for once) it was impossible to ignore that Ariana isn’t sweet little Cat from Nickelodeon anymore.
Sexuality and sex in general is a common theme on the album. Ariana teams up with Nicki Minaj for a third time on “Side to Side”, a tongue and cheek ode to having such good sex that it leaves you walking “Side to Side”. The infusion of reggae and pop on the song works a complete treat and joins a long list of other pop songs which have incorporated West Indian sounds into the production. I’m just happy for Ariana’s sake that she didn’t attempt to sing in an ill-sounding patios accent.
Reggae isn’t the only sound Ariana dips her angelic vocals into on this album. She explores 90s House on fan favourite “Be Alright”, complete synth pop perfection thanks to Max Martin on “Touch It”, throbbing electro pop on second single “Into You” and she even tries her hand at disco on the sickly infectious “Greedy”. The song features a key change that you would never see coming and a chorus so commanding that I can already picture large groups of gay men (myself included) throwing their hands up in a jazz fashion style completely in their element.
While we are on the topic of being in one’s element, “Knew Better / Forever Boy” is the most pleasant surprise on the album. The song starts off as “Knew Better”, a blurry RnB song with an infectious finger snap and then out of nowhere the song transforms into hypnotizing synth as Ariana’s vocal continue to excel. It’s the kind of blending sounds that we’re used to seeing with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland but if Ariana wants to be the one to do it for the girls then I completely support it.
“Moonlight” and “I Don’t Care” feel like familiar (and safe) ground for Ariana with their retro RnB sound, which made up the bulk of her outstanding debut album “Yours Truly” and part of me, feels that they would have fit better on her debut than on “Dangerous Woman”. But “Bad Decisions” with its bold and brassy production make up for the minor lulls on the album. A special mention must go to the line “Ain’t you ever seen a Princess be a bad bitch” spoken so seductively just at the end of the middle eight before the final verse and chorus. Expect that line to be the caption of every millennial’s Instagram selfie at some point during the rest of 2016.
As an album, what “Dangerous Woman” does best is it refines Ariana Grande’s sound. Her sophomore album “My Everything” was a huge success but it felt as like a disjointed collection of songs all exploring different genres without a unifying sound. “Dangerous Woman” feels a lot more cohesive as an album and it plays to Ariana’s strengths as a singer – she even seems to be enunciating her words better! I think the album has helped discover her identity again and she doesn’t feel so out of place as she did on “My Everything”.
After seeming somewhat lost amongst crowd on her sophomore effort, “Dangerous Woman” has put Ariana back on track and put her back in the running as a key player in the game of pop. I think she still has a lot to offer in terms of music, her raison d’être is still to come, and it will be exciting to see where she goes from here but one thing is for sure; Ariana Grande has (finally) found herself on “Dangerous Woman” and has shown just a glimpse of what she is capable of and there is nothing more dangerous than that.