Ariana Grande has earned high expectations. Her 2013 debut Yours Truly was spectacularly well received, earning the former Nickelodeon star glowing reviews and a Breakthrough Artist of the Year award. My Everything looked set to be a compelling follow-up: The lead single, “Problem,” is prime pop music, a jubilant breakup jam with catchy saxophone loops and a husky-whispered hook (“I got one less problem without ya”; a message for teen girls to absorb to their cores). “Problem” showcases a powerful, takes-no-shit attitude that Grande spends the rest of the album diluting, dribbling out lines like “I know, I know, I know she gives you everything/ but I got nothing here without you” on meek win-him-back tracks like “One Last Time.” Grande aims for heartbreaker and sexy-vixen poses throughout the album, but she ultimately sounds most at home as a pining ex.
The mid-section of My Everything offers a couple of impressive tracks: “Be My Baby” is a highlight, with a lilting, catchy hook and in-charge lyrics; and “Best Mistake” is Grande at her most mature-sounding, with moody piano riffs and a robotic yet romantic Big Sean verse full of dorky-cute lines like “You ask why I love your Ma so much, ’cause she’s an older you.” There’s also, unfortunately, a lot of fluff: The fist-pumping, EDM-drenched anthem “Break Free” lacks the necessary intensity; “Hands on Me” sounds like a Christina Aguilera outtake from 2002; and “Break Your Heart Right Back” wheels out a thoroughly tired “I’m Coming Out” sample, with Grande sounding like she couldn’t break a heart if she tried.
It’s got convincing moments, but too many of the tracks on My Everything are samey; a blur of insipid lyrics and forgettable hooks over maximalist, cluttered beats. Grande will no doubt be a star, but this won’t be one of the albums we look back on most fondly.