Less than a year's time separates Ariana Grande's debut album, Yours Truly and her sophomore effort, My Everything. But listening to them, you'd think a decade of hard living had gone on in between.
Grande's acting stint on Nickelodeon's Sam & Cat is over. And the 21-year-old is wasting absolutely no time plunging into that all-but-obligatory child-star rite of passage: singing explicitly about sex. This pop/R&B phenom seems dead-set on proving she can be every bit as nasty as Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj or Lana Del Rey.
The title track revisits this regretful old nugget: "I guess you don't know what you got 'til it's gone/ ... You weren't my everything 'til we were nothing," and tells a departed-but-beloved man, "If I cross your mind, just know I'm yours/'Cause what we got is worth fighting for." Grande realizes a corrosive guy needs to be discarded on "Break Free": "I was under your spell/Like a deadly fever, yeah, babe/On the highway to hell, yeah/ ... This is the part when I say I don't want ya/I'm stronger than I've been before/This is the part when I break free."
Guest contributor Iggy Azaela demonstrates self-respect and emotional resolve as she too offloads a toxic dude on the hit "Problem": "The best thing now/Is probably for you to exit." Another guest, Big Sean, ponders dreams of family on "Best Mistake" ("I had a dream we branched out and started a family tree").
The first lines of album opener "Intro" sound merely romantic: "I'll give you all that I have/And nothing less, I promise." But Grande quickly starts dropping hints that the gift she's giving is a sexual one ("We'll be shining every night, I promise you"). A few of the following songs also suggest physical intimacy. "Problem," for instance, pants, "Every time you touch me/And say you love me/I get a little bit breathless." And note that the feeling is so strong for Ariana that it keeps her from disengaging emotionally from a loser lover. "Break Free" gives us more of the same. And "One Last Time" begs an ex (who's moved on to another woman) for one final night of passion ("Baby, I don't care if you got her in your heart/All I really care is you wake up in my arms/One last time").
Then Grande dives into more explicit thoughts about sex. "Be My Baby" tells a new man, "If you know how to be my lover/Maybe you can be my baby/ ... You know how to touch me/Baby, then you'll get the chance/The chance to love me/ ... I'll be on you/Night to the morning." "Love Me Harder" croons, "If you want to keep me, you gotta gotta gotta gotta got to love me harder/ ... Harder, harder, harder." Guest contributor The Weeknd plays the part of Grande's lover, singing, "When I get you moaning, you know it's real," before moving on to a sensual description of the couple's merged anatomies.
"Hands on Me" finds Grande telling her man, "Keep your hands on me/Don't take them off until I say so/ ... We'll be taking off/Or maybe making love/You just keep your eyes on my you-know-what." She adds, "Picture me and you/Making sweet love/Baby, give it to me/ ... Skirt off, keep da high heels on/ ... I can take it, hold nothing back, give it to me." More lyrics talk about intimate touching and arousal. Bonus track "Bang Bang" (a Jessie J song that also features Nicki Minaj) has Ariana cooing, "She might've let you hold her hand in school/But Ima show you how to graduate/ ... You need a bad girl to blow your mind."
Ms. Grande isn't done yet. "Break Your Heart Right Back" informs us that her latest lover cheated on her with ... well, let me let her tell you: "You said it was your best friend, I'm guessing/I wasn't your type, hey/ ... Now he's gone, you're alone." Guest Childish Gambino then adds, "And he with them other guys, you know it's true."
And then there's this "celebration" of the emotional wreckage produced by a verbally abusive relationship on "Why Try": "I'm loving the pain/I never want to live without it/So why do I try?/You drive me insane/Now we're screaming just to see who's louder/ ... Through it all, you could still make my heart skip, heart skip, oh yeah/Even when you're yelling at me/I still think you're beautiful." Grande also says of the relationship, "We been living like angels, living like devils." And she furthers her dedication to dysfunction on "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart," where she's content to share her promiscuous, cheating man with another woman ("I don't ever ask where you've been/ ... But I can tell/that you were just with her/ ... Just a little bit of your heart is all I want/ ... I know I'm not your only/But at least I'm one/I heard a little love/Is better than none").
A brand-new study out of Michigan State University indicates that 18- to 24-year-olds who've read E L James' sex-and-bondage-filled Fifty Shades of Grey books are more likely to be promiscuous and have verbally abusive partners (among other things). So what happens when even younger music lovers soak up Ariana Grande's My Everything?
When Grande's not breathlessly bragging about bagging boys and asking them to prove their sexual prowess before she'll even consider an honest-to-goodness relationship with them, she's unpacking quite a lot of baggage full of emotionally entangled (failed) relationships and (failed) break-ups with really gross guys. She says she's willing to stay with a cad she knows is cheating on her because (as she tries hard to convince herself and us), "A little love/Is better than none." She says she thrives on the pain a man inflicts and thinks he's awesome even when he's screaming at her.
So it's not really a question of whether, but rather how deeply the reckless, dangerous lie that casual sex and abusive relationships are just a normal part of growing up will get under the skins and into the souls of Sam & Cat fans.