When Ariana skipped onto the scene in 2013 with her debut album Yours truly, she filled a void that none of us really knew was there, as nobody ever occupies this void for long and end up gone as quickly as they arrived. Before Ariana, there was Esmée Denters. Before Esmée was JoJo. And in between this there were the likes of Samantha Jade, Nikki Flores and Staccie Orrico, all of whom succumbed to the struggle or remaining commercially relevant and holding the title of the young 'white' girl who dabbles with R&B. But where-as the likes of JoJo has transitioned on the sidelines into a young woman with a self assured sense of style, being and her sound, and Esmée is...well...back to doing covers on YouTube after being dropped like a hot brick by Justin Timberlake - Ariana still feels like a bit of a wandering girl. Coming off way younger than she is and lacking the substance to go with the vocals. When you think about what girls her age were putting out in R&B in the early 2000s and how JoJo was handling her business on her debut at the age of 14, Ariana can not even.
A problem I've always had with Ariana Grande is her musical identity, or lack there-of. The girl can sing. This is not in question. But singing is but one part in a machine which makes a bona fide artist and Ariana is still a long ways from that. Ariana sings every song near perfectly and flutters her notes in all of the right places, but she feels so pedestrian and replaceable on everything she sings. Ariana is oft compared to Mariah Carey, but Ariana does not take ownership of her songs vocally the way Mariah had done from the very start. When Mariah hit that whistle register in "Vision of love" she had made her mark. She had pissed all over the music game and marked her territory. Ariana is yet to do anything of the sort.
The first thing that catches you about Ariana's sophomore effort from looking at the tracklist is how top heavy it is with guest features. A true singer should be able to hold their own, but here she is surrounded by so many guest features, producers and songwriters, that Ariana isn't even left with a tenth of platform on which to showcase her own self. Even if you strip out ZEDD and Cashmere Cat (who both 'feature' in the capacity of being the producers of their respective songs) that still leaves five guest features. Seven if you include Jessie J and Nicki Minaj on "Bang bang" (a bonus track on the limited edition release of the album). I decided to reserve judgement on this bloating of guest features until I heard all of the songs. Having heard them, none of these guest features with the exception of Iggy Azalea feel vital. They all feel like second choices or understudies. Drake would have been better suited to "Best mistake" and even taken a shot at singing his own take on the hook, but instead we get Big Sean. Chris Brown would have been a better fit on "Love me harder", but instead we get The Weeknd. A$AP Rocky was clearly too busy to have featured on "Hands on me", hence A$AP Ferg.
People may mention that Mariah has guest features littering her albums these days, but Mariah went five studio albums deep without a guest feature and by this point she had more than proven that she can hold her own for 10 tracks of an album. Ariana seems surrounded by so much, whether it's a team or songwriters, producers or a troupe of dancers in a music video or a performance, that she's not seeming like a vital element to anything. As good as her voice is, it doesn't shine on this album. If we want to talk parallels with another artist who came up in kids TV shows, Demi Lovato can sing too and quite frankly owned her shit on her last studio album in a way Ariana doesn't here, despite her being more than capable of doing so.
At the moment, music feels like nothing more than a soundtrack for Ariana as she plays Barbarella. None of it feels like it's her choice because she's not selling any of it or looking comfortable enough doing it, and I feel the same about the music. Either Ariana does not care about 80% of these songs she's singing or she's rubbish at faking that she does. To me, there's nothing tangible about Ariana on this album at all. She's just a vessel, bringing very little of herself to this album save for 4 tracks which feels all too fleeting in an album which should have been all about Ariana, yet she's nowhere to be found. She claims this album is her everything, but she gives nothing.
This album should have been a chance for Ariana to prove herself. Her debut was an ambiguous affair which left many questioning whether Ariana could deliver anything which would allude to her being able to leave behind a form of musical legacy, but nothing on My everything alludes to her being able to.
None of the songs on this album are terrible and Ariana doesn't hit a bad note. But so many of the songs are forgettable. Yes, Ariana has a good voice, but it doesn't take a good voice to make a good song. And whilst a good voice helps, it takes more. It takes a level of sass and character and these are things I don't get from Ariana. When she's singing about her deadbeat ex on "Problem". I'm not buying it. When she's telling her boy in the club that she can break him off, I instantly assume she's talking about a finger of her Kat-kat, because there's no way given her dry delivery that she's referring to throwing that p***y on him. Ariana has no conviction.
What really hurts this album is that it feels as though nobody really tried to get a sense of who Ariana is or what works for her sonically. "Best mistake" is one of the very few moments on the album where Ariana comes through and delivers. "Love me harder" is another. These darker, sombre stripped back songs where Ariana sings within her low to middle registers seem to be her comfort zone, but these songs are sandwiched between track by track run downs of every familiar musical style which has sat in the charts over the past 3 years with Ariana's vocals over the top. Nobody at any point seemed to try to go for consistency or cohesiveness. Very few of the personnel involved on this album seemed to care about trying to find who Ariana is and bring her out in the songs, which is a shame because she has character. Her Twitter and Vine accounts confirm as much. And recent accounts of her making ridiculous demands, walking out on photoshoots and being an all around bitch to fans, show that there's more to her than pigtails and batted eyelashes - but you wouldn't know that from 80% of the material of the album. And whilst I can vouch for that, not everybody who listens to this album will be able to.
Between the likes of hitmakers Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Benny Blanco, Rodney Jerkins, ZEDD, and Ryan Tedder, My everything should have been a much better album than this. This is a line-up most acts in pop would kill for. But each of their efforts feel diluted and half arsed. They deliver nothing but forgettable tripe and mediocrity here. It seems as though at some point in this albums development the songwriters involved forgot about the hooks and choruses, as these are either a case of:
- There being no chorus at all
- The chorus being "La la la" or "Hey hey hey's"
- The chorus being the song title sung over and over
■ Break free
■ Best mistake ★ J's fave
■ Love me harder
■ Hands on me