The female lane in Pop and R&B is pretty congested. But with many of our faves getting older, giving less fucks and not being able to deliver how they used to, America is ready for the next thing to wear that wig and give it to us all. In this instance, Mariah needs to watch her weave pieces. Ariana isn't coming for them, but she's being herded in her direction. A young girl with big vocals, long flowing locks, with the radio friendly R&B featuring Hip-Hop up-starters. Mariah had better watch herself.
Ariana can sing. Of this there is no question. Many have compared her vocals to Mariah Carey, who every white girl with more than a 3 octave range in R&B gets compared to. But when you listen to Ariana's songs you can hear the clear influence of Miming Mimi. Mariah was one of the pioneers at being a female with a multi octave range singing R&B with a top 10 radio pop gloss and fusing it with hip hop, and this is exactly what Ariana does on her debut. The problem with Ariana's vocals is that they never really wow you because the way she sings is so predictable and samey on each song. There is never a defining vocal moment on this album where you are taken aback. When I cast my mind back to JoJo and Esmée Denters debuts I remember there being many moments when I was rewinding songs because of how the girls put it down vocally. JoJo riffing the shit out of "Butterflies" and running circles around SWV's "Weak". Esmée delivering intricate vocal stacks which you just don't generally get with a debut album. On Yours truly, I'm stumped to come up with a song which defines Arianna vocally. She can really sing. Really frickin' sing. This is never hidden or downplayed. But she sings to a template on every song, and as a result there are lots of different facets of her vocals and singing style which go neglected and untapped. Namely because most of the songs themselves on this album all sound more or less the same. If we're not getting doo-wop style high school musicals, then we're getting piano chords, 808s and finger snaps.
What this album doesn't properly represent is Ariana's age. The songs are nice, but they're wholly pedestrian. Every song is about the same thing. It's easy to forget that Ariana is 20 years old when she's singing a bunch of songs about what is essentially nothing and is prancing around in long floral skirts and ribbons like a 16 year old. Gurl, step yo' game up! Chloë Moretz was walking red carpets in sheer lace tops and high waisted leather pencils skirts at age 15. JoJo was popping at a fun fair in denim skinny jeans, cut off tops and telling a dude to get out of her house at 13 whilst sat in her high school hallway in heels. Get right! I don't need the songs from Ariana to be overly grown. But a 20 year girl surely has more to say on love and life than a 14 year old girl. Apparently not, according to this album. JoJo had a great deal more to say and had more variation in her song subject matters at ages 13 and 16 for her debut and follow up respectively. This is what it boils down to for me when I take in the themes of the songs on this album. The subject scope is too narrow and too similar from song to song. There are a million ways to write a song about falling for a boy, but only about three of them are explored here. It's a shame the album opens with one of the more inventive written songs - likening the peaks and troughs of a relationship to driving a car, because it's pretty much all the same old shit from there on out.
The songs on this album tread a line very carefully. Far too much so. But the production is tight and the beats knock hard enough that adults (both guys and girls) can ride with this album. The problem is that none of these songs feel wholly memorable and Ariana isn't really singing about anything on any of the songs. "Honeymoon avenue", "Baby I" and "You'll never know" are songs on this album where I feel Ariana is in her sweetest spot and in her element. The songs where I feel she could really transition through or just hone on future releases. They strike that balance between being familiar to older R&B lovers from the eras of early Mariah and Toni Braxton, whilst throwing in elements that the new kids can familiarise themselves with. This generally seems to be the theme for the entire album, but it works best on these three tracks more than on the others. Elsewhere, as a whole this album doesn't offer you as much in the long run as it does when you first listen to it. The songs are so one dimensional and transparent that the surface is literally all there is to scratch and this is where the album falls short for me.
Whilst technically Ariana's vocals are good and visually she's a pretty young lady, all of this feels far too contained and controlled at this point. Ariana is such a fun, sassy, clued up and sharp young lady with an eclectic taste in music which ranges from 60s doo-wop and Hip-hop to J-Pop (she's a big fan of Kyary Pussy Pamyu) - but you get none of this from her album at all. Yours truly feels wholly void of character and who Ariana really is. I really hope this is something producers bring out of her for her follow up, because there are many avenues which went un-explored on this album. If it weren't for social media providing Ariana with an outlet to show her true self, you would swear blind there is absolutely nothing to the girl if this album were all you had to go on.
Yours truly is a polished debut. As harsh as it seems I am being on this album, I do understand why this was handled the way it was. But everything about it feels too formulaic. From the song writing, to the production and Ariana's vocals. The first time I listened to this album I sat thinking to myself how much I enjoyed it. But the more I listened to it, the more the formulaic the whole thing sounded to me and I then resided with myself that this album, whilst polished isn't all that memorable. There is enough here to leave you wanting to see where Ariana goes next for her follow up. But she needs to make sure her next album is steered in a direction where she's creating her own lane and showing her true self, as opposed to reversing in the lanes of what others did 10 years ago.
■ Honeymoon avenue
■ Baby I
■ Right there
■ You'll never know ★ J's fave