Ariana Grande’s debut album Yours Truly was released almost exactly a year ago, and over the past 12 months, the former Nickelodeon star has transformed from pop artist you ought to know to an undeniable superstar, with three singles in the Top 10 of the current Hot 100 chart, a slot opening the MTV Video Music Awards, red-hot dating rumors and millions of followers watching her every move. Grande is expanding as both a brand and a musician: as her profile has gotten bigger, she has pulled more sounds into her repertoire while keeping her biggest weapon, a remarkable vocal range, as a steady foundation. As a full-length, Yours Truly succeeded due to its consistency, with R&B producer Harmony Samuels concocting a buttery sound for Grande to embrace and keeping the subject matter uniformly kid-friendly. My Everything acknowledges that winning formula and disregards it, instead opting to turn Grande into a dance artist, a pop artist, a soul artist and an artist capable to singing the line “Picture me and you making/Making sweet love/Baby, give it to me” with no hesitation.
As a result, My Everything is a less cohesive project than Yours Truly, although its best moments eclipse the highs of Grande’s 2013 debut. The singles “Problem” and “Break Free” remain dizzying dance tunes, and back-to-back solo songs “One Last Time” and “Why Try” possess the types of flawless melodies that are typically reserved for the world’s biggest pop divas. The back half of the album’s many collaborations are hit-or-miss — “Love Me Harder” with the Weeknd amazingly meshes together two dissimilar types of artists, while the A$AP Ferg appearance on “Hands on Me” is lost amidst the song’s sexual vibe. The deluxe edition of the album is a similar grab-bag, with the explosive Top 10 hit “Bang Bang” giving way to the comparatively breezy “Only 1.”
One plea for Grande’s future albums: it’s time for her to own a stunning ballad. Songs on My Everything like the title track and “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” attempt to match the awe-inspiring effect of Grande’s voice but fall short, and one is left longing for the rising star to burst through with her own “I Will Always Love You,” “Un-Break My Heart” or “Someone Like You.” Grande has proven that her fizzy pop-R&B sound can get our hearts soaring, but next time, let’s hope that she breaks them.
Which songs on My Everything are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track review of Ariana Grande’s sophomore album.
1. Intro – Eighty seconds that welcomes Grande fans back into the fold, reminding everyone that her voice is still a wonder and that she’s still preoccupied with finding unconditional love.
2. Problem feat. Iggy Azalea – The subtle introduction leads directly into the irresistible, inescapable single “Problem,” in which Grande invites Iggy Azalea, Big Sean’s whisper and a raucous horn riff into the fold while still doing the heavy lifting herself. As time passes and the plays add up, one starts to notice the way Grande nimbly handles her start-stop vocals, rattling off a line like “And even though I can’t forgive you/I really want to, I want you” with a playful breathlessness before yearning on the following line, “Tell me, tell me, baby/Why can’t you leave me?”
3. One Last Time – A song like “One Last Time” demonstrates Grande’s newfound maturity and ambition on My Everything: while the downbeat admission of “I know/that you got everything/But I got nothing here without you” is the pained sound of a narrator racked with guilt, the chorus sets aside that humiliation and scoops up a sense of hope in front of pummeling drums and a three-note synth line.
4. Why Try – Co-written and co-produced by Ryan Tedder, “Why Try” is constructed as Grande’s “Halo,” an unabashed diva moment that bowls over the listener with vocal power and mid-tempo emotion. The lyrics might have needed some polishing, but Grande presents a line like “Now we’re screaming just to see who’s louder” as if her livelihood depended upon it.
5. Break Free feat. Zedd – With an assist from EDM maestro Zedd, second single “Break Free” is the total antithesis from its predecessor “Problem.” Whereas the Iggy Azalea/Big Sean/Max Martin collaboration was a kitchen-sink amalgamation of various talents, “Break Free” possesses a laser focus, with Zedd’s outlandish electronica serving as an icy platform for Grande’s towering hook and forced rhymes. An underrated, enthralling dance single.
6. Best Mistake feat. Big Sean – A moody ballad that grows stickier upon each listen, “Best Mistake” carries a tidy collection of impressive production details, the momentary string stabs among them. Big Sean’s guest verse is unnecessary, yet has morphed into an interesting confessional now that the dating rumors are on.
7. Be My Baby feat. Cashmere Cat – Grande’s voice has long invited comparisons to Mariah Carey, and on “Be My Baby,” the younger singer tries to evoke the nonchalant romance of Carey’s best early-90’s R&B cuts. Ironically, the song sounds like it would have been better served by another vocalist, as Grande’s booming pipes threaten to overpower the casual atmosphere. A solid track that moves the album along briskly, but far from Grande’s shining moment on My Everything.
8. Break Your Heart Right Back feat. Childish Gambino – The relative misstep “Be My Baby” allows the following track “Break Your Heart Right Back” to shine even brighter, as Grande sounds infinitely more comfortable with the scorned-lover track and slinky interpolation of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” When Grande needs a break from twirling, Childish Gambino steps in and thumps his chest; the guest verse works, even if you have to overlook the line “The flow so gross, my nickname school lunch.”
9. Love Me Harder feat. The Weeknd – Ariana Grande and the Weeknd come from different musical planets — Grande started on Nickelodeon, Abel Tesfaye started by singing “Codeine cups paint a picture so vivid” on his first mixtape — but as duet partners on the springy “Love Me Harder,” the pairing somehow makes sense. The driving guitar riff in the chorus is delicious 80’s cheese, and the Weeknd’s ultra-sincere crooning works well while serving as callbacks to Grande’s demands for romantic satisfaction.
10. Just a Little Bit of Your Heart – Also known as “the one co-written by One Direction’s Harry Styles,” “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” is another showcase for Grande’s stellar ability to emote all over your average love ballad… but this one does not rise above being average. The final chorus contains some spectacularly high notes, at least.
11. Hands on Me feat. A$AP Ferg – Whoa! An out-of-left-field banger that removes Grande from her teenybopper phase and finds the 21-year-old discovering her inner Rihanna with lines like, “Shirt off, keep the high heels on/Might be a little thing but I like that long, yeah/Don’t let these eyes fool ya/I can take it, hold nothing back, give it to me.” A$AP Ferg dances around the bold song like a court jester, but can’t distract from Grande essentially declaring that this is the end of jeer Nickelodeon phase.
12. My Everything – While Yours Truly ended with “Better Left Unsaid,” a hint at Grande’s foray into dance music, the title track to My Everything concludes the standard edition of the album on a somber note. A more affecting ballad than “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” “My Everything” calls back to the album’s intro and finds Grande struggling to regain the solid footing she once had with her partner.
13. Bang Bang with Jessie J & Nicki Minaj (bonus edition) – Jessie, Ari and Nicki team up for this decade’s version of “Lady Marmalade,” and one of the more uncompromisingly fun moments on My Everything. Grande lovingly cedes the spotlight to Jessie J’s massive melismas and Minaj’s double entendres.
14. Only 1 (bonus edition) – “Only 1” unspools like the best kind of bonus-edition track: one that doesn’t quite fit in with the standard edition, but deserves the chance to be digested by the artist’s rabid fan base. Short, snappy and sumptuous, “Only 1” is a light confection that succeeds due to its busy, intricate percussion.
15. You Don’t Know Me (bonus edition) – The deluxe edition of My Everything concludes with Grande’s very first anti-fame rant. “You want a perfect picture to believe in/Then you can’t be looking for me then,” she sings, suggesting further messiness on album number three.