Ariana Grande took her first tentative steps into adulthood with My Everything, the 2014 album that tempered her retro-diva stance with modern R&B. Released two years later, Dangerous Woman consolidates this soulful shift while offering a snazzier, sophisticated spin on the '90s pop that provides the foundation of Grande's music. Much of the latter comes from a fruitful partnership with producer Max Martin and his colleague Ilya, a team responsible for over half of the standard album's tracks (they also have their hands in several of the deluxe edition's bonus cuts). Tommy Brown and Mr. Franks are the other chief collaborators here, shepherding many of the cuts with a heavier R&B influence -- the stuttering "Let Me Love You," featuring a verse from Lil Wayne, the slow-burning torch of "Leave Me Lonely" -- but their productions aren't far removed from the Martin/Ilya cuts. "Everyday," a heavy thrumming jam featuring Future, is helmed by Ilya alone and the Rihanna-copping "Side to Side" bears a Martin credit. What all the producers do is keep the focus on the individual track, carving it into a seamless sculpture of rhythm and melody where Grande winds up as the accent to the song. Restraint serves her well: there are times she lets go with a full-throated roar, but she spends most of Dangerous Woman at a simmer that reinforces the sultry seduction of the title. A fair chunk of the album is devoted to cinematic ballads, which makes the bright blasts of disco -- "Be Alright," "Greedy" -- so alluring, but the entire record benefits from this single-minded concentration. Track by track, Dangerous Woman has sly, subtle distinctions -- a little bit of torch gives way to some heavy hip-hop only to have frothy pop surface again -- and while some of these cuts work better than others, the range is impressive, as is Grande's measured, assured performance.
Dangerous Woman Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine