Ariana Grande, star of Nickelodeon's Victorious and Sam & Cat, can now add music star to her growing list of star-studded entertainment accomplishments. And, yes, it is all about racking up as many gold stars as possible when it comes to claiming that fleeting and elusive pop-princess crown.
What Ariana brings to the star-studded table that few of her peers do (or maybe competitors would be a better word choice, whether they be from Nick or Disney) is a vocal prowess that's earned enviable comparisons to both Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Further setting Grande apart is an often nostalgic, pop-meets-R&B vibe that winks at musical motifs from the '50s to the '90s … while ultimately pairing them with a decidedly 21st-century attitude toward love and sexuality.
Love is the name of the lyrical game on Yours Truly, with all but one of 13 songs sitting snugly in that context. Positivity includes Ariana's insistence that a relationship mired in conflict (on "Honeymoon Avenue") can be revitalized ("I could be wrong, but I know I'm right/We gon' be lost if we continue to fight/Honey, I know, yeah/We can find our way home"). "Baby I" gushes, "Baby, I got love for thee/So deep inside of me I don't know where to start/ … If it's even possible, I love you more/Than the word love can say it." Similarly innocent and well-meaning twitterpation permeates a whole bunch of other tracks, including "Right There," "Tattooed Heart," "Lovin' It" and "The Way." On the latter, we hear this promise of faithfulness: "Stay by your side, I'll never leave you/And I ain't going nowhere, 'cause you're a keeper."
"Almost Is Never Enough" and "You'll Never Know" exhibit self-respect as Grande scolds passive former beaus who weren't able to commit. "But if you would'a manned up, put your hand up, stand up," she tells an ex on the latter song, "Tell me how you really felt/Then maybe it'd be different/If you spoke, I would've listened/But now I'm with somebody else."
"Popular Song" is the only track that doesn't deal with romance. On it, Grande teams up with British singer Mika to exhort young fans to find their identity in being true to themselves instead of getting obsessed with their social and economic status: "Popular, I know about popular/it's not about who you are or your fancy car/You're only ever who you were/ … And all that you have to do is be true to you/That's all you'll ever need to know." (Which, of course, isn't really "all you'll ever need to know." And Ariana doesn't probe beyond the me in that equation. But not falling for the social pressure around you is ultimately a good thing.)
"Right There" trots out this tired-but-still-dangerous rationalization: "How could this be wrong/When it feels so right?" (The song also finds guest rapper Big Sean misusing God's name.) On "Better Left Unsaid," Grande instructs a suitor, "'Shut up and kiss me!'" When she then brags, "Tonight I'm gonna lose some things," it's hard not to wonder whether her list starts with clothes and ends with virginity.
On Grande's duet with Mac Miller, "The Way," we hear these unambiguous references to sex: "'Cause, boy, I know just what you like/So if you need it, I got it every day/Be your lover, your friend, you'll find it all in me." He responds, "You're a princess to the public, but a freak when it's time/Said your bed be feeling lonely/So you're sleeping in mine/ … Baby, you're an adventure/So let me come and explore you." In similar territory, a woman on "Tattooed Heart" tells her guy, "All I need is your loving/To get the blood rushing through my veins/ … And so just call me, if you want me/'Cause you got me, and I'll show you how much I want to be/On your tattooed heart/ … Wrap me in your jacket, my baby/And lay me on your bed/And kiss me underneath the moonlight."
"Lovin' It" tells a guy, "Boy, you change the way I breathe/When you put your lips on mine." "Daydreamin'" drools, "Now I can't wait/To hold you in my arms/ … I don't wanna wait for tonight/ … I want you/Got to have you/And I need you/Like I never have loved before."
Some music commentators are describing Ariana Grande as a conservative alternative to Miley Cyrus. And that's an accurate statement, given Miss Cyrus' determination of late to steer her career into the steamiest, most controversial territory possible. But even if Grande is comparatively less problematic than Miley right now, even a quick look at her lyrics shows that while the aforementioned pop princess tiara may be within her reach, she's not really ready to be fitted for a role model crown.
There's plenty of superficial, innocent gushing about love on quite a few of her tracks. But "puppy love" quickly drifts in a significantly more sexual direction on a couple of songs that talk openly about sleeping with someone and several more that steam things up with the giddiness of new physical contact.