The title of Ariana Grande’s new release is “Dangerous Woman” … yet the contents of this album are not very dangerous. But that’s not to say they’re not good or surprising—there are both unexpected treats and artistic merit to be found throughout the record, in scientifically calculated doses.
The first surprise comes in the opening seconds of track one, “Moonlight.” While the album title conjures images of speed and aggression, the opening tune begins with only glockenspiel-like keys and a gentle crooning over a tempo that clocks in under 70 BPM—only slightly faster than the human heart at rest.
The next track—the album’s namesake—actually pulls the metronome down lower, with a thick R&B groove of 44 BPM. The apparent message is that rather than competing with the Taylor Swifts of the world, Ms. Grande is going to lay it down, slow and heavy, as if claiming ownership.
Track three shifts things up to a traditional pop-song tempo, with the Janet Jackson-esque “Be Alright.”
The arrangements throughout the album hold pretty consistently to recent Top-10 EDM standards, with production that appears deceptively minimalist, yet complexly layered. The lyrics mostly focus on the starting phases of relationships and sexuality, befitting a 22-year-old pop star.
Guest appearances are chosen carefully and logically. Nicki Minaj brings her tasteful nastiness, while strong performances by Lil Wayne and Future bookend a cameo by Macy Gray, who is featured like a sampled vintage masterpiece. The co-writers are chosen more shrewdly, with Savan Kotecha (Bieber, Britney, Maroon 5) and Max Martin—the King Midas of producers—figuring prominently in the credits.
Even the album artwork shows Grande exercising control of her art. While some critics might dismiss her as a puppet, in every photo where she could show more skin under someone else’s creative direction, she is covering up. Other photos even portray her wearing a mask and a sweater or jacket—more proof of her making her own decisions, as her feminist declarations in recent interviews indicate.
Standout tracks include the neo-Britney “Into You;” the reggae-infused “Side to Side,” which features extra-spicy rapping from “big sister” Nicki Minaj; and the Martin-assisted “Touch It.”
All in all, those looking for an intellectual challenge or high art will not find it on an album featuring lyrics like “Good s***,” but this is not meant to be high art. It’s called “pop music” due to its capability of being “popular” and enjoyed by the general “populace.” In this sense, Grande has released an album that stands up against her peers, stuffed full of grooves that are fulfilling enough to shake your head and ass to at parties in the summer of 2016.
Dangerous Woman out now.