Sex has certainly been selling for former Nickelodeon darling Ariana Grande. And the title track and lead single—an incendiary, sensual, guitar-spiced R&B jam—from her third solo album, Dangerous Woman, indicates that she's not even close to done with her sensual marketing plan.
Despite some lyrics early on that pay lip service to independence and empowerment, really all she wants to use her lips for is kissing. And so all those ostensible virtues are quickly put to work in the service of making herself sexually "dangerous."
That means spending "skin to skin" time with a guy who helps her get in touch with her inner naughty girl.
Talking about the song in a YouTube video, Ariana proffers an unusually thorough summary of the themes she believes it communicates:
"This song is about an empowered woman who meets another person that brings out a different side of her. It's her decision to put her fears aside and explore these new feelings. It's about letting someone into your life in an intimate and vulnerable way and not letting that take away from your independence and strength."
She adds, "'Dangerous Woman' is about choice and empowerment and strength and romance. As a person, as a character, as a persona. 'Dangerous Woman' is a fearless, honest, no bulls--- superhuman, and I think all of us have her inside of us and it's just a matter of when we decide to let her out."
So is "Dangerous Woman" all about empowerment and strength and romance? Or is it just plain old dangerous?
The first verse does explore some positive themes, albeit from a fairly feisty, in-your-face stance. "Oh yeah/Don't need permission/Made my decision to test my limits," Grande begins before (perhaps surprisingly) bringing the Almighty into the mix. "'Cause it's my business, God as my witness/Start what I finish." Then she sings, "Taking control of this kind of moment/I'm locked and loaded/Completely focused, my mind is open."
Depending on the context, being focused, testing one's limits, keeping an open mind and being aware of God's constant oversight can be good, empowering things. Though one suspects that Ariana's invocation of God's presence here is more the appropriation of a cliché than something she's taking literally.
And … unfortunately …
What Women Want (And by Women, We Mean Men)
All that empowerment talk serves only one purpose here. Sex. (Are you surprised?) Here's what she sings: "All that you got, skin to skin, oh my god/Don't ya stop, boy."
So from that point, tepid talk of empowerment flies out the window in exchange for the sultry, saucy and suggestive. "The way we're movin' like introducing/Us to a new thing/I wanna savor, save it for later/The taste of flavor, 'cause I'm a taker/ … I live for danger," Ariana coos. "Somethin' 'bout you/Makes me wanna do things that I shouldn't."
Grande then insists that lurking beneath the skin of every woman is a similarly rebellious 'n' naughty girl just waiting to be uncaged: "All girls wanna be like that/Bad girls underneath, like that."
But is it really girls who wanna be like that? Or is it actually boys who wanna make girls wanna be like that? It's worth noting here that the "bad girl" fantasies Ariana's unleashing aren't actually ones she came up with. The song was written by two men, Johan Carlsson and Ross Golan, and produced by Swedish hit maker extraordinaire Max Martin. An argument could—and probably should—be made that even as this 22-year-old woman is making a show out of how empowering to women her song is, it's men behind the scenes who are quietly and savvily exploiting her sexuality … all the way to the bank.
And Speaking of Exploited Sexuality
Ariana Grande also willingly exploits her body for the camera throughout the video for "Dangerous Woman." She wears skimpy lingerie while striking all manner of sexually suggestive and pouting poses as the camera repeatedly zooms in for close-ups of her skin. There's not even the pretense of narrative here. It's just Ariana putting herself on display.
You know, as an exhibition of female empowerment.