Ariana Grande, pop music’s reigning Lolita of the moment, is enjoying massive success. But will she continue to grow musically or keep cashing in with generic hits? Grande performs at KeyArena Tuesday, April 14.
You’re not alone if you have unsettled feelings about Ariana Grande, the 21-year-old pop singer hitting KeyArena on Tuesday (April 14) on “The Honeymoon” tour.
Grande came into the pop-music game a few years ago under the wing of Scooter Braun, the same impresario who inflicted Justin Bieber on us. She is a former Nickelodeon teen actor turned pop star, a breathy vocalist whose range spans multiple octaves and who clearly idolizes Mariah Carey.
She’s had several multiformat radio hits lately, which means she’s hitting many demographics — Macklemore’s key to big money — and seems primed for more successes. It seems like she’ll be here for a while.
With Cashmere Cat and Rixton, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at KeyArena, 305 Harrison St., Seattle; $25-$65, 206-684-7200 or keyarena.com).
But Grande’s imminent reign is problematic. For starters, she is a frustratingly unrealized performer. Theatrical physicality is a central part of being a pop star, but Grande is not good at dancing and comes across as green, unable to pull off the arena concerts her popularity allows.
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As for image, she is pop’s Lolita of the moment. This is a style common all over the world, but it’s creepier coming from a person who seems to become more popular the younger she looks (currently, about 12). As Grande poses for photos wearing Halloween cat ears (which she has popularized as an accessory for teens) or rolling around in bedsheets, she might want to think about diversifying her portfolio beyond giving the patriarchy what it wants. But it’s unclear what her next move might be.
Musically, competence is not her problem. She can sing. And it’s evident, from her karaoke-ing of her boyfriend Big Sean’s hip-hop anthem “Guap” on YouTube, that she also can rap — more likably than Sean, at that.
But her recordings lack a unique sound. Her hit “The Way” is a blatant Carey rip-off. Her smashes “Problem” and “Love Me Harder” are catchy but anonymous.
Weirdly, that blank quality has served her well. When her Nickelodeon co-star Jennette McCurdy argued with Grande on social media, writing emotionally charged status updates, McCurdy was deemed “crazy” (a common characterization of women who speak freely), and Grande, who played it exceptionally cool, went unscathed.
So far, the glimmer of hope for Grande has been her music with Norwegian producer and competitive turntablist Cashmere Cat (also in the Seattle show). The song “Be My Baby,” for example, from Grande’s current album, “My Everything,” has a twinkling grind and a sticky melody. Cashmere Cat’s heavy, slowed-down single “Adore,” featuring Grande, is so good that a complete Grande/Cashmere Cat album of ballads would be welcome.
These songs show Grande has good ears (not the cat ones) and a willingness to go against a radio-friendly grain — with a slower tempo, at least. But Grande’s album cuts with established, bankable pop producers Max Martin and Ryan Tedder are like every other song you hear at the gym.
Are we ready for the reign of Grande? Warily, yes.
Here’s hoping for growth.