Dangerous Woman might just be the best produced pop record I’ve heard in a while. Sticking with a team this time around, unlike on My Everything, Ariana Grande works with producer/hit-maker Max Martin, responsible for mostly every mega-pop hit you’ve enjoyed since the Backstreet Boys. Most notably, Martin has written Backstreet’s “I Want It That Way,” Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time,” “Hold It Against Me,” NSYNC’s “It’s My Life,” Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl,” “Teenage Dream,” “E.T.,” “Last Friday Night,” “Roar,” “Dark Horse,” Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space,” and “Bad Blood.”
As Billboard reported back in 2014, Martin is the songwriter with the third-most number one singles on the chart, behind only Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26), placing Martin (19). He’s also at second for number one’s from a producer, behind only George Martin, producer for the Beatles. Now Max Martin turns his attention to pop’s biggest new sensation: Ariana Grande.
The result? Probably her best record yet. Sure, her voice is still in the stratosphere. And yes, her “I’m so sexy” and also kind of a child act is still really present, especially with her album cover looking half like she’s going for a Playboy bunny kind of thing and half like Lucille from Bob’s Burgers. As I said though, the production on this record is fantastic. I can’t stress that point enough. If this record doesn’t have anything to give lyrically, which it honestly doesn’t, it’s incredibly well produced and crafted pop music. There’s been times listening to this record where I had to stop and think, “do I like this song? Or am I just in love with how it sounds?” It’s pretty much 80% the latter.
Lyrically, Grande sounds like she just wants to be thought of as a sex symbol and is enjoying this “secret” relationship she has maybe a little too much. Sometimes it’s honestly like, “whoa Ari, calm down.” There’s also some really odd moments, like all of “Touch It,” or especially “Let Me Love You,” where Lil Wayne does the same uncomfortable thing he & Drake did on “Only,” by Nicki Minaj, by rapping about how much he wants to sleep with the primary artist, except instead of someone like Nicki, who is the same age as Wayne, he’s rapping about Ariana Grande, who is ten years younger than him. Wayne isn’t the only shortcoming on the record however, as there’s little nit-picky but still very important decisions that while I can admit, are pop staples, just aren’t what I want to hear. Examples are the glitch chorus vocals on “Let Me Love You,” the dumb-pop of “Greedy,” mostly all of the lyrics, the vanity of “Into You,” and the super awkward cringe worthy “Touch It.”
There are some great moments though, but most of them, at least in my opinion, come from the production side of the record. Sure Ariana can sing, that’s nothing I’m not going to deny, and Nicki Minaj and a surprising showing from Macy Gray have amazing features, but I can’t help but think how much better this record would be if they just cared about lyrical content a bit more. Take Lemonade for example. I’m not saying every album can be like Lemonade, but there’s no reason that pop music can’t have just as much depth and meaning in their lyrics as Beyonce put into her record. I get that Ariana is still harping on her brand as a 20-something female-pop sex symbol, but a whole 15 tracks of the same exact theme gets a little monotonous after awhile. The production and songwriting are there, as this record sounds fantastic, but now it’s just time to step up the game lyrically and thematically.