PLENTY of people can sing: American Idol runners-up, your cousin in the school choir, Vanessa Hudgens (disputably). Ariana Grande, on the other hand, can sing. When the 21-year-old is in the zone—eyes closed, head tipped back by the weight of her Samsonian ponytail—her precision is uncanny, her lows lush and her highs vibrant enough to inspire whispers among people who care (gays, music critics, gay music critics like yours truly) that she might just be ”the new Mariah Carey,” as though that name could be reassigned, Dalai Lama-style. Suffice it to say, the girl has talent.
Taste is another story. Like Carey, Grande sometimes seems worried that her skill will distract from more important things: how sparkly her lipstick is, say, or how cute she looks shooting missiles from her boobs in the video for the EDM rave-inducer ”Break Free.” For her second album, My Everything, Grande has picked a set of songs so lyrically bland, sonically inoffensive, and artistically empty that they produce a zero-impact experience—musical vanilla fro-yo poured directly into your ears. It’s by no means painful; there are even moments of fun, including the thigh-high-boot swagger of summer smashes ”Problem” and ”Bang Bang,” both of which borrow their strut from coheadliners Iggy Azalea and Jessie J with Nicki Minaj, respectively.
On her own, the singer fares best on ballads, such as the swooping aria ”Just a Little Bit of Your Heart.” But even there, it’s hard to spot anything specific to Grande—an ethos that would help her find a niche in the crowd of Top 40 prima donnas. She’s got the voice. Now she just needs something to say with it. B-
”Problem,” We don’t have one with this zippy jam
”just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” A destined-for-The-CW ballad