Single Review: Ariana Grande - Yes, And?

A vinyl of Ariana Grande’s single “Yes, And?” lying on a brown concrete surface.  The cover features a blurred, out of focus close-up of half of Ariana Grande’s face, and she is wearing bright red lipstick.

So, it seems that everybody is doing dance now. Because, of course they are.

And this really isn’t anything to do with Ariana at all. It’s just an observation. And to Ariana’s credit, she has consistently done dance music since the beginning. “Better Left Unsaid” on Yours Truly. “Break Free” on My Everything. Dangerous Woman’s criminally underrated “Be Alright”. “Motive” on Positions. And then there’s her guest feature on Lady Gaga’s “Rain On Me”, which would have been a far better song had Ariana done the whole thing herself, because it felt more her vibe than Lady Gaga’s. So, Ariana is not new to the genre. And her releasing “Yes, And?” doesn’t feel like some knee jerk reaction to capitalise on a trend. Although it is very clearly capitalising on a trend.

But ever since My Everything, Ariana’s fanbase began to split down the middle. And as a result of this, Ariana’s brand of dance can largely determine how it’s received and by whom. Her younger, pop loving, mostly RGB (255, 255, 255) fans tend to love the likes of “Break Free”. Where-as Ariana’s slightly older, mostly melanated, R&B loving fans [Raises hand] tend to not care for that song. But we sure liked “Be Alright” - a song that the “Break Free” fans were lukewarm on. Ariana always runs the risk of not pleasing one side of the fanbase or the other, depending on the singles she releases or which way an album of hers leans. So, smartly, “Yes, And?” falls right in the middle. It’s pop enough that the “Break Free” fans will like it. But it has enough of a bounce and a club / house influence that the “Be Alright” will fuck with it too.

Then there’s me. Who is not a fan of the song.

“Yes, And?” should be great. But despite having all of the right ingredients, it feels undercooked. I like the beat and that we’ve got a club record with pop sensibilities, but the structure doesn’t lean all the way into it being a dance record, even on the extended mix. Give the gworls passages to catwalk. I like the message of the song, but it doesn’t feel like the declaration that it should. I like the song title, but it doesn’t really punctuate the chorus the way it should. But the most surprising thing to me, is that I don’t really like how Ariana sounds on it. More specifically, her performance. Or lack thereof.

Ariana has really settled into this soft and cosy way of singing, which works nicely on certain types of songs. But I don’t think it was the right choice here. You could argue that Ariana’s chilled way of singing adds to the nonchalance of the song title and the general message of the song itself. But the execution of it here does two things. One. The softness paired with her controversial diction and mumbling enunciation, makes some of the lyrics hard to make out. Two. It feels slightly out of step with the sound, which needed Ariana’s vocals to be a lot more straight and forward, and feature more in the way of levels. But her performance on the song just feels flat and by numbers, which has become a bit of a thing with Ariana lately. And it’s tough to tell whether it’s a creative choice, or if how she feels is bleeding into her performances. Because every album since Sweetener has had her dealing with some type of shit in her life. When you listen to how Ariana was singing on Yours Truly, My Everything and Dangerous Woman, there is a discernible difference from how she sings on Sweetener, Thank U, Next, Positions and “Yes, And?”, separate from the technicalities and changes to her voice itself.

Ariana’s vocals, much like the song as a whole, is a case of the right things not working how they should. When you strip the music out of the song, the melody Ariana is singing for the verses is very stage musical and Disney song-esque, which I really like. It gives the song a nice twist and works in an element I was hoping would creep into Ariana’s music, following her casting in the live-action movie adaptation of Wicked. I’d really like to hear Ariana channel more of her inner theatre kid. But she isn’t fully singing in a stage musical or Disney-esque manner, which I think she should have, because we would have gotten the improved diction and the forwardness that her singing on the song lacks. It also would have made the melody pop more and brought more of the characteristics associated with a house song vocal performance to the surface.

And let’s talk about that last point for a minute.

For a lot of people, house music is just about the oontz. But a key part of house music is also the vocals. Especially diva house music, where Black women with big voices really came through to such a degree that they became the staples of not just diva house, but house music in general. And some of the big voices on these types of songs are ones Ariana is a fan of; Aretha Franklin (“A Deeper Love”) and Whitney Houston (“I’m Every Woman”). But diva house isn’t just about singing big. It’s about giving a performance. And this is probably where the gospel overlap comes in, as a result of the Black women who wound up on many of these house songs having sung in church. But that’s a whole other post.

A key component of delivering a good house vocal is giving a performance which truly sells the story of the song, regardless of what your vocal ability is. This is something that Robin S’s “Show Me Love”, Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman”, CeCe Peniston’s “Finally”, Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” and RuPaul’s “Supermodel (You Better Work)” all share, despite the vast differences in vocal talent and range. Performances telling the story. Even the white girls get it. Madonna’s performance on “Vogue” fully embodies what she is singing about. You can envision the poise. And if you can’t, then just watch the music video. Katy Perry’s “Walking on Air” (which was also produced by Max Martin). Same thing. She sells the song with her performance. And it also happens to feature a gospel choir.

A shot of Ariana Grande in a photoshoot on the set of her music video for “Yes, And?”.
Ariana Grande - Yes, And? | Republic Records

Performance. THIS is the element which is missing from Ariana’s performance on “Yes, And?”, because Ariana is singing the song the way she tends to sing most of her songs, when it required her to really straighten her back, snatch back that ponytail and sing it like she wants us to truly hear it and feel it. And it’s strange that Ariana didn’t, because she knows her craft and has a far better understanding of her voice and music in general than she’s given credit. And we have an example of where she fully got it. “Be Alright”.

How can you be singing on a house song and not give a performance!?

Ariana’s muted performance paired with how by numbers her approach is Ariana gives really undercuts the chorus, which needed to be bigger. The ‘Yes, And?’ doesn’t punctuate the song in the way it should have. The ‘Yes, and?’ should make me stop dead in my tracks and swing my imaginary ponytail over my shoulder as I turn and look at the bitch talking shit. But that’s not what it does, because Ariana sounds so bored and passive as she sings it. It’s a good thing the production and the beat is so hot that the chorus doesn’t fall completely flat, which is probably the Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh of it all. But it is surprising to me how little impact the chorus has where Ariana’s singing and the lyrics are concerned. But the lyrics of the song in general just aren’t great. Was Max’s pen broken? Was it out of ink? Was the laptop not charged? Dude, what happened!?

Ariana’s ‘whatever’ approach to singing the song also highlights how not great the lyrics are, which really comes to a head with the bridge section.

The spoken bridge is also lacklustre as hell and doesn’t feel as grand and as defiant as it should, given the point Ariana is trying to make during it. The whole song is leading up to this moment, and yet it just comes in on a whimper and then it’s over. The only memorable thing about the bridge is the line where she says ‘Whose business is it whose dick I ride’, but even this doesn’t punch through the way it should, between how bad that entire verse is, Ariana’s hushed performance and the way in which her vocals are mixed. I also had to look up the lyrics to realise this is what she even said.

The bridge is the switch up of the song. So it should have been a whole entire moment. When Madonna hits that bridge on “Vogue” and starts running off Hollywood legends, we know it’s time to start striking poses and feeling our fantasies. When Beyoncé says ‘The queens in the front and the doms in the back’, we know we back outside in the worldwide hoodies with the masks outside. When Ariana whips out the tuning fork and starts talking about her energy being hers, it’s like ‘Yes, and?’.

There’s no respect for the bridge in music these days and it’s a shame.

Imagine how Alex Newell would have sang “Yes, And?”. And that’s basically what I needed from Ariana.

Ariana is a non-factor on “Yes, And?”, because it’s the music which is carrying the whole song. The beat is fire. I cannot listen to the song and stay still. But I could just listen to the instrumental and get the same level of enjoyment from the song. More, in fact. Because I don’t have the distraction of the vocals. And it’s crazy that this is how I feel about a song from a woman who has a really good singing voice that I rather enjoy listening to. A voice which should be the centrepiece of all of her songs. And yet, because of Ariana’s flat performance and singing in a key which makes her sound child-like and rendering the song as a track on Kidz Bop Dance Party, her singing is one of the things about “Yes, And?” that I don’t like and the thing which drags it down the most.

I have a feeling that live performances of “Yes, And?” will probably have Ariana give the song the energy it needed on the recording.

A shot of Ariana Grande in a photoshoot on the set of her music video for “Yes, And?”.
Ariana Grande - Yes, And? | Republic Records

But there are bright spots that Ariana brings to the scaffold in the warehouse for “Yes, And?”. She has a great chemistry with Max Martin. I wouldn’t say the two of them have cultivated a strong sound in the same way that I felt he had done with Britney at one point. But there is a definitive chemistry there. Even if it didn’t manifest into a particularly great song this time around.

Also, the branding of the song is strong. Just from the title alone, coming off the back of “Thank U, Next” and K Bye for Now - Ariana’s imprint is clear. Which is why it’s a more of a shame she didn’t leave enough of an imprint with her performance.

Ariana has also become pretty fearless as a songwriter, which I really dig. This can be pretty divisive, as we saw with “Thank U, Next”, and understandably so. (Ariana really seems okay being the villain). But from Sweetener onward, Ariana treated her music like journal entries. Sometimes telling us perhaps a little too much. But it’s a really cool development to see in her from the days of Yours Truly, My Everything and Dangerous Woman, where she didn’t seem to have much of anything to say. “Yes, And?” makes Ariana’s point of view very clear and she is very unapologetic in her feelings on certain matters. The song is basically the song version of her ‘And what about it?’ moment.

Over the past year, Ariana’s dealt with people commenting on her weight and then there was the mess about her allegedly contributing to the wrecking of SpongeBob’s home. Things which were her business, became everybody else’s businesses. I even have to check myself here. Because I wanna say ‘Well, you keep making your shit too public'.And ‘Well, it’s looking like you didn’t help matters in that relationship’. But I don’t actually know what went down. And Ariana has every right to be as public as she wants about her relationships. It’s her life and she’s grown. It’s truly none of my business. There may be something to be said about her ‘Yes, and?’ mentality over something that she can brush off in a way the other parties cannot. But again, I don’t know her. I don’t know the situation, and it’s none of my business. But Ariana is bolder than I think many give her credit. And her boldness contrasts a lot with her image. The contrast is really interesting to me, because it’s been a thing with her since the beginning when she was pulling up to late night talk shows looking like a Stepford Wife and swearing like a sailor. And “Yes, And?” does a great job of showing that duality and putting it front and centre. Even if I don’t particularly like how the song itself turned out and do wonder if this instance was the best way to frame a response to the things people have said in regards to the alleged infidelity.

“Yes, And?” is a nice upbeat song which will get you moving. But it’s also a song I can imagine liking mashups and fan versions of far more than the original mix, purely because of how little Ariana brought to the song. I just wish Ariana had done a little more of her homework on house music, so that she could have upped the ante on her performance and given the song the energy it needed. Because this is one of the things which made a house throwback like “Break My Soul” work. Beyoncé did her homework. Ariana just glanced at the wiki page.

“Yes, And?” really could have been a great LGBTPONYTAIL+ house song for the younger generation that makes up Ariana’s fanbase. To some, it may already be that, which is great for them. But to me, Ariana slept at the wheel when it came to her performance and Max Martin wasn’t loud enough in speaking up on the ‘more’ factor the song needed. Resulting in what is a pretty underwhelming song. The beat really is great though.

Girl. Release the instrumental.

✏️ Edit (18 January 2024): She has released the instrumental.

💿 Album reviews: Yours Truly | My Everything | Sweetener | Positions