With the release of her third album earlier this year, Ariana Grande continues to carve a new image of herself as a sexually empowered woman, leaving behind her days as a Nickelodeon popstar. With vocals often compared to Mariah Carey and Celine Dion and a range of four octaves, Ariana does not fail to project the power of her talent into her songs and show how much she has to offer the music industry.
In the summer of 2015, the shocking ‘donut scandal’ hit the media. Despite Ariana showing a more mature side with songs like Love Me Harder, featuring the Weeknd and Bang Bang, a collaboration with Nicki Minaj and Jessie J, Ariana was still seen as the innocent celebrity prancing around on stage in varying floral dresses and her iconic ponytail. Then a video was leaked of a presumably drunk Ariana licking donuts in a Californian bakery and saying how she hated America. This was whipped up into quite the controversy, earning the star a lot of perhaps undeserved hate, tarnishing her previously very clean and good-girl image.
After a hiatus, the singer returned with the release of her single, Focus, towards the end of 2015, which reinforced the pop star's ‘cute’ image with the music video showing Ariana in outfits from miniskirts to crop tops and bodysuits; the most daring part being Ariana’s iconic ponytail, this time in silver. This song was later scrapped from the album after a poor critical reception and was replaced by Dangerous Woman. This title song presented a new persona for Ariana. Leaving behind the somewhat simple structure of Problem and Focus, Ariana experimented with a slower song, favouring more of a live band over synthesised backing tracks. With elements of a ‘Bond song’, the star owns her sexuality and womanhood; she feels “like a dangerous woman”.
The album cover continues the black and white theme of her previous two albums, but this time Ariana lurks behind a latex bunny costume, which distorts the contrast between cute and sexual and aids her transition in creating a new image for herself. A new simplicity can be found in the video, featuring Ariana letting her hair loose from the ponytail, in simple black lingerie. It has a dark ambiance to it, as though it were the missing record from the Fifty Shades of Grey album. A later video on the star’s Vevo, of Ariana singing the song acapella, demonstrated the raw power and depth of her voice.
The album begins with Moonlight, a previous title for the album and a powerful love ballad. Ariana’s voice is softer, gentler and while it becomes louder during the chorus, it still retains the soothing effect with the plucking of strings and the light, repeated pattern of the drum. The song creates an almost wedding-like atmosphere and has a more romantic sound to it making it stand out compared to the rest of the album.
Later singles include Be Alright and Into You. Into You is a nod towards ‘2014 Ariana’ but the lyrics are more suggestive with “a little less conversation”, and “a little more touch my body”. It eases you into the song with the sultrier side of her voice and then grows in power for a chorus accompanied by a strong bass.
Later, at the VMAs, Ariana previewed her next single, Side to Side featuring Nicki Minaj. The performance began weakly, thrown off by the choreography; she started to sing whilst peddling on a fitness bike, losing her breath quickly. However, she soon regained her strength, with Nicki Minaj’s verse the highlight of the performance. The video is set in a gym with Ariana working out and Nicki Minaj resting in a sauna surrounded by shirtless men. The song talks about how she goes against her friends’ advice to continue a relationship and mixes reggae with pop to quickly become the second most well-known song of the album.
On a first listen of Dangerous Woman, a few songs clearly stand out, with others more forgettable. However, on a second listen, you begin to hear the beauty behind each and every song on the record. Greedy, a personal favourite of mine, has such a powerful start with an infectious melody, talking about how she wants more from her new man as she is “physically obsessed” and “greedy for love”. Bad Decisions is a song that makes you want to get up and dance, and Let Me Love You, featuring Lil Wayne, is dark, slow and sexual, presenting Ariana as looking for one night stands. These are just a few songs from an overall incredible album, one that deserves much more recognition than it is currently being given. Ariana’s new style, embracing her sexuality, in a world where a woman who is open with her sex life is often disrespected and degraded, is of great significance, and arguably elevates her position as a role model .
Original Illustration by Elise Randall-Thomas