New York Times music writer Jon Caramanica wrote about former Nickelodeon TV star Ariana Grande’s second album last Sunday with the simply inaccurate headline “Staying Safe, Exploring Sassy.” It’s a misleading headline, because Grande is beginning to walk the path to what might be called “the full Xxxtina,” when Christina Aguilera felt the need to “grow up” and sing very overt sexual songs.
Caramanica just grew silly by arguing Grande’s first album last year was some sort of throwback to Fifties “Puritanism,” as if she was singing Annette Funicello songs about pineapple princesses (okay, that was early Sixties):
''Yours Truly,'' her 2013 debut album, was an unlikely collision of flamboyant 1990s pop-R&B with 1950s Puritanism -- novel and at the time, unfashionable. ''I wanted to be a little '50s pinup girl,'' she said. ''A good girl, goody two shoes, Audrey Hepburn, classic, safe, feminine, soft, girlie.'' She asserted her maturity by not making the aesthetic choices that would likely be expected of a singer of her age and provenance -- high-energy dance-pop, or hip-hop carpetbagging -- but kept her music largely clean.
''We had the liberty to take that risk because of who she was,'' Mr. Braun said, acknowledging her built-in fan base.
A sterling singer with impressive range, Ms. Grande was a genuine presence -- and for those who hadn't seen her on the kids' show ''Victorious,'' an out-of-nowhere one -- and had cultivated a mien just shy of coquettish. It often felt as if a wink were forthcoming, but never arrived.
Caramanica is right that Grande is a sterling singer, but a nervous parent of teenage girls who wants “1950s Puritanism” in the lyrics wouldn’t find them in “Right There,” for example:
Said your bed be feeling lonely,
So you’re sleeping in mine.
Come and watch a movie with me,
“American Beauty” or “Bruce Almighty” that's groovy,
Just come and move closer to me
I got some feelings for you,
I’m not gonna get bored of
But, baby, you’re an adventure
So please let me come explore you
It’s not pornographic, but it’s not exactly chastity-belt material. Caramanica then acknowledges what the Times headline doesn’t: she’s not “staying safe” on the second trip around the musical bases:
But even though she is expanding her palette, perhaps the clearest way to underscore the difference between the two albums is by comparing the main duet on each. On ''Yours Truly,'' the duet was with Nathan Sykes, of the British pseudo boy band the Wanted (and also a onetime paramour of Ms. Grande's) on the elegiac ''Almost Is Never Enough,'' a tragic ballad about a love that was never destined to work.
This time, the duet is with the Weeknd, dark lord of erotic shock and dysfunction, on ''Love Me Harder.'' Over moody, thumping production, Ms. Grande sings, ''If you just let me invade your space/I'll take the pleasure, take it with the pain,'' and the Weeknd retorts, ''If in the moment you bite your lip/When I get you moaning you'll know it's real/Can you feel the pressure between your hips?''
So much for prim, then.
As I noted before, Grande’s video for “Break Free” from the new disc was hailed as a “gay-friendly intergalactic dance party” where she does “cool, fun things like slowly strip while floating in an anti-gravity chamber. If you liked Ariana’s white corset ensemble (aka ‘daywear’), you’ll love her metallic bra and space diaper. At this point, we also get to see Grande shoot a big transformer-type fellow with rockets that blast out of her breasts...”
Grande is the hottest star going among teenage girls. She led off the MTV Video Music Awards last Sunday with her participation in the catchy Jessie J song “Bang Bang” (alongside Jessie J and the naughty rapper Nicki Minaj), which is quite obvious about promising a man some backseat action (“bang bang all over you”). So much for the 1950s puritans, there, too.