With each of her studio albums, Ariana Grande exposes a core component of her artist. On her debut, Yours Truly, the singer showcased her ability to merge retro elements with modern pop-R&B. By the time of Dangerous Woman, she was flirting with bad-girl themes in her lyrical subject matter. In between came, My Everything, which paired on her diva pipes with slick R&B and EDM beats to create a new kind of pop statement.
A confident new direction
Released on August 25, 2014, My Everything opens with the mostly a cappella “Intro,” as Ariana breezily sings, “I give you all I have and nothing less, I promise,” over a light piano and spellbinding synthesizers. It’s at this moment that listeners are immediately hooked by Grande’s new confident direction.
“Intro” rolls into the first single from My Everything, “Problem.” Over a jazzy suite of saxophones, trumpets, and bass, Grande hits every impossible-seeming note and returns to the 90s-era R&B sound that influenced Yours Truly, but with this time more bite. From Big Sean’s Ying Yang Twins-inspired whispered interludes, to Ariana’s Amerie-influenced vocals, “Problem” is the perfect concoction of throwback influences. And, once again, she teams up with an MC, in this case, budding rapper Iggy Azalea, who ups the song’s sass factor, taking it to No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A dominant pop force
What makes My Everything stand out most from Grande’s discography is the string of hit singles that officially placed her among the dominant pop forces of the 2010s. The album’s second single, “Break Free,” saw Grande venturing into EDM territory with spacey synth-pop production courtesy of Zedd. Over a pulsating beat, the singer becomes a renewed woman, belting, “This is the part where I say I don’t want it/I’m stronger than I been before!/This is the part where I break free!” The song instantly became a gay anthem, was adopted by her LGBTQ fanbase, and turned Grande into a bona fide gay icon for her generation.
For the follow-up hit, Grande linked up with vocal powerhouse Jessie J and her soon-to-be frequent rap collaborator Nicki Minaj. “Bang Bang”, was an anthemic pop single that celebrated female empowerment while channeling a 60s girl-group sound. While the track first appeared on Jessie J’s record, it would later appear as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of My Everything.
Upon first listen, “One Last Time” appears to be another downtempo cut from an artist who eats ballads for breakfast, before it picks up the pace and turns into a dance-pop number. “One Last Time” sees Grande at her most vulnerable, even pursuing infidelity as a means of rekindling her relationship.
A collaborative effort
What’s also fascinating about Grande’s discography is how she often dips her ponytail in the lane of hip-hop soul. While her style doesn’t occupy the same realms as a Mary J. Blige, Grande adds her own depth to the genre and has been integral to how hip-hop soul has evolved in the 2010s, creating a more uniform sound that caters to millennial and Gen-Z pop audiences.
Just as her pop predecessor Mariah Carey became one of hip-hop’s biggest champions, Grande also teamed up with some of hip-hop’s brightest talent to give My Everything crossover appeal. Along with Azalea and Minaj’s guest spots, Big Sean re-emerges on the keyboard-aided “Best Mistake,” on which Grande shows off her lower register with a knocking bassline in support. Childish Gambino also makes an appearance on “Break Your Heart Right Back” (which samples Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems,” while A$AP Ferg guests on the bouncy “Hands On Me,” a precursor to the party tracks that would dominate Dangerous Woman.
Shedding her sweet image
My Everything was not only a sonic step forward, but saw Grande shed the sweet, almost fairytale-like image established on her debut, Yours Truly, for a more grown-up attitude to life and love. The Weeknd-assisted “Love Me Harder” takes a cue from his seductive synth-wave and, ultimately, broke him as a mainstream artist, proving Grande was now in the position of giving co-signs. With its throbbing synths and not-so-subtle sexual innuendos, it was clear Grande was not a teen-pop novelty.
Hip-hop heavyweights aren’t the only cameos who help push My Everything into edgier territory. Grande also had the world’s top EDM producers at her disposal, from Zedd to David Guetta, and Norwegian producer Cashmere Cat on the fan-favorite, “Be My Baby.” Even with a heavy emphasis on electronic-tinged R&B, however, My Everything is not without its quiet moments, from the Harry Styles-penned “Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart” to the title track and tender album closer, “My Everything.”
At the end of the deluxe edition of My Everything is “You Don’t Know Me,” a perfect closer to lead into the Dangerous Woman era. Grande understands that she’s the “center of attention once again”, as the production twists and turns from a slow tempo to a hopping beat. She imparts her final sentiments by singing, “Think you know me but there’s more to see, my love.”