Of this seasons crop of mainstream, Billboard Hot 100 pop songstresses, Ariana Grande is definitely my personal favorite, mostly for her sheer vocal talent. Even when she was a child actress, playing the role of ditsy singer, she showed a remarkable propensity for high notes as well as a voice so smooth it could still an earthquake. Sweetener seemed to be marketed as the singer coming into her own with these qualities, and this may have been the most honest way to present this record.
From the very first song, you know that this album is going to play to Grande’s strengths. Ariana’s acapella performance is proof of how the way she carries a tune is what carries her career. Her upper register is at full force and even though the song itself is lyrically sparse, her voice is able to give it this dramatic air. If the album could have been only songs like this, it would have been perfect. Sadly, the only time this is repeated is on “pete davidson,” an ode to the singer’s fiance which glides over some of the albums more minimal production and uses these stunning backing vocals to support the glamour and shine of Grande’s voice.
Most of this album is dedicated to that mainstream pop audience, but Grande’s style, accepting a major r&b influence onto a bubble gum pop tradition, allows for them to transcend many of the boringness or corniness that seems intrinsic to artist’s like Selena Gomez or Halsey. Songs like “Goodnight n Go” as well as “Get Well Soon” both manipulate basic pop production but layer it with beautiful vocal work and melodies which, while catchy, demonstrate a least a level of creativity higher than what usually gets overplayed on the radio.
Ariana Grande’s ability to create a vocal atmosphere may also contribute to why I like the album in the first place. “God is a Woman” is where this became apparent. The song sounds both intimate and grandiose, like someone whispering something of desperate importance to you. A lot of this album is that way, very majestic but also toned down at times.
The only place this album really falters is on “Blazed” with Pharrell. Though Pharrell’s production across this album has been extremely cohesive, he messes up on all fronts here. The beat isn’t fitting, the songwriting and melody are uninteresting, and the song just becomes a hot mess. Otherwise, this album is probably the best one I’ll ever hear from a mainstream pop artist this year.
Obviously, there’s a lot of typical pop sexual innuendo, as well as occasional moments of basicness, but overall the album is great. The melodies are sticky, the flow across the tracks is there, and Ariana Grande’s performance is spectacular. You really can’t ask for more.