When My Everything arrived as the summer of 2014 drew to a close, it was clear that Ariana Grande was poised to be the reigning pop diva of the mid-decade. Possessed with greater vocal chops than any of her peers -- her effortless runs revealed the limitations of Katy Perry and Rihanna -- she luxuriated in her debt to Mariah Carey on her 2013 debut Yours Truly, working mainly with Babyface to re-create the vibe and feel of the '90s. On My Everything, Grande takes a decisive step into the future, breaking away from Babyface so she can bring in a host of modern producers -- Max Martin, Shellback, David Guetta, Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, Darkchild, and Pop & Oak among them -- not to mention a parade of guest stars highlighted by Iggy Azalea, A$AP Ferg, the Weeknd, Childish Gambino, Zedd, and Big Sean. All this suggests Grande is resolved to inhabit her time, which is true. She remains anchored in '90s soul on My Everything -- and it's hard to deny her love of Mariah, although Ariana rarely indulges in the high-flying melisma that's her idol's specialty -- but there are serious EDM flourishes and a facility with hip-hop, something that's showcased via the countless cameos that eat up the midsection of the album. At times, all these performers threaten to overshadow Grande because, for as skilled a singer as she is, her precision isn't necessarily charismatic; she seems determined to hit her marks and her diligence leaves plenty of space for her guests to suck up the spotlight, whether it's Iggy swooping in on "Problem" or the Weeknd on "Love Me Harder." Often, these cameos are used as flair -- not dissimilar to the washes of analog synths, the "I'm Coming Out" sample on "Break Your Heart Right Back," or stuttering EDM beats -- on songs that keep focus on the melodies Grande delivers with exacting grace. Ultimately, this emphasis on song is to the benefit of My Everything. Perhaps Grande doesn't embody the songs the way an old-fashioned diva would, but she functions as a likeable pop ringleader, stepping aside when the track calls for it and then unleashing a full-throated wail when it's her time to shine.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: The Weeknd