Grande's debut LP shines as a beacon of bubblegum pop
A week after Miley Cyrus' havoc-wreaking raunch fest at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, Ariana Grande delivers a gust of fresh air with her G-rated debut Yours Truly. While the Nickelodeon-bred starlet (you've probably peeped her in Victorious and its current spin-off Sam & Cat as Cat Valentine) already comes equipped with the loaded fan base to cement her success as an American idol sans the reality show drama, Grande marks the return to innocence in pop that seemed to be buried with Britney Spears' shaven hair post-breakdown.
From first note, the comparisons to Mariah Carey are blatant. With a whistle register and Babyface lending his pen game to several records, the 20-year-old Grande finger-wags and tugs at the heartstrings in all the right places without trying too hard. She takes the '90s pop/R&B formula of old (think the come-hitherness of Mandy Moore's first album blended with Carey's sweetness on Charmbracelet) and infuses that uptempo urban feel that complements both a Z100 and Power 106 rotation.
Take her carrier single "The Way" co-starring Mac Miller, which pays tribute to Big Punisher's "Playa No More" and her Big Sean-assisted single "Right There," that takes from Lil Kim's catalog with a "Crush On You" sample. While the melodies may exceed her time, her lyrics reside within her 20-year-old boundaries. It should be noted that a cover of her in lingerie laying on a bed of roses was tossed to keep her image extra clean. Even the usually explicit MCs she duets with keep their bars parent-friendly, with Sean's reference to missionary being the closest thing to explicit.
Still, the rap features serve more as entry points into the hip-hop market—or favors to her manager Scooter Braun, who also handles Justin Bieber—than anything else. With a 9.1 million following on Twitter and 6.3 million strong on Instagram, Grande barely needs assists for promo. Within 19 minutes of sale, Yours Truly shot to the top of iTunes and it has since been No. 1 in more than 30 countries.
It's actually when Grande skips into the spotlight solo that she shines as a beacon of bubblegum pop. Whether it's willing a love back to its glory days on "Honeymoon Avenue" or channeling classic Presley ballads on "Tattooed Heart," the pint-sized chanteuse caters to the High School Musical audience but perks the ears of those outside her target simply off the strength of nostalgia.
The only knock against her is that the content is kiddie-pool shallow. That and the EDM-teetering "Better Left Unsaid" (Ariana, baby, it's better you stay out of the EZoo population's reach for now). Still, it's part of the pop debut package and Grande's introduction to Top 40 calls to mind the excitement of blossoming upstarts like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera without the belly-baring midriffs and suggestive wordplay. Yours Truly is genuine in nature, much like its hostess in live performance settings. But by the final riffs of the last track, you can't help but hit rewind in hopes she won't fall victim to the Cyrus effect and hold on to her innocent youth just a little longer. —Adelle Platon (@adelleplaton)