Ariana Grande’s second record, My Everything, is a slick throwback to melodramatic ’80s and ’90s pop—and specifically, a determined nod to the days when melismatic divas ruled the airwaves. For starters, the ex-Nickelodeon star channels a more powerful version of On The 6-era Jennifer Lopez (the electronica-dusted David Guetta co-write “One Last Time”), Beyoncé circa Destiny’s Child (the panting R&B-pop stutter “Hands On Me,” which features A$AP Ferg), and early Christina Aguilera (the syrupy, piano-and-string-augmented ballad “Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart”). But most obviously, My Everything is a faithful homage to old-school Mariah Carey—everything from her coquettish playfulness to her penchant for exaggerated vocal mannerisms. Grande warbles breathlessly on “Break Your Heart Right Back” (which, in another ’90s nod, samples Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and—by extension—Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out”), while “Be My Baby” even begins the same way as Carey’s “Always Be My Baby”: with octave-climbing, wordless trilling. The disappointing thing about all these overt inspirations and familiar influences is that Grande’s own unique vocal identity rarely surfaces; My Everything is so well-constructed and designed to succeed, it rarely loosens up enough to let any depth of character (or real surprises) surface. It’s no accident that the album’s best songs—collaborations with Zedd (the dizzying, EDM-based “Break Free”) and Big Sean (a slinkier cut of languid hip-hop minimalism, “Best Mistake”)—are also the ones where she lets her hair down. My Everything further establishes Grande as a consummate performer and vocal interpreter, but also serves as a reminder that she’s still working toward figuring out her own pop star niche.
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