Monday, November 3, 2014

Ariana Grande - a curious breed of pop star

Ariana Grande can lay claim to being 2014's major breakthrough star. Sure, she'd troubled the US chart a couple of times before (including the sweet, memorable top 10 hit The Way) but in the UK, her chart record read like an obesity clinic weigh-in form: 145-113-92-132-155.

But with her second album, My Everything, the former kids TV star has turned her fortunes around. Two UK chart-toppers, a worldwide number one album, and awards up the wazoo.

So why now? She puts it down to her work ethic: "I love working, it makes me happy," she told Clash Music. "It makes me happy. When I have too much time off it makes me feel very weird."

She's certainly put in the hours - although it has alledgely come at the expense of her manners - but she's also the beneficiary of fame's most elusive factor: Good timing.

With Katy Perry at the end of a promotional cycle, Rihanna pursuing an alternative career on Instagram and Justin Bieber just making a mess of everything, there was a pop void waiting for Ariana to step into it. And she fills it admirably. She has a formidable voice - with the range, if not the control, of Mariah Carey - and she's staged some great award show performances.

But there's still something slightly off about the whole thing. For starters, Ariana always looks unbelievably awkward in her videos. Watch her eyes - it's like she's a kidnap victim, desperately trying to placate her captors (insert your own music industry metaphor here). If that's the end result with the benefit of hours of footage and edit approval, it makes me worry for her state of mind.

What's more, the best bits of her singles all belong to the featured artist - Iggy Azalea's rap on Problem and Zedd's production on Break Free.

It's true on her new song, too. The Weeknd gets a whole verse on the steamy electoballad Love Me Harder and, while he's a much more limited singer than Ariana, he sells the confessional lyrics with much more sincerity.

Maybe its the 20-year-old's relative lack of maturity, maybe its something more sinister. Either way, it'll be interesting to see how Ariana's career moves on from here. Because by all accounts, she's a genuine music fan (her favourite artist is DIY indie goddess Imogen Heap) who has been hand-picking her collaborators. And given the strength of her singles this year (yes, despite my misgivings) that can only be a good thing.

Ariana Grande - Love Me Harder (ft The Weeknd)

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