Ariana Grande’s third album contains winsome orchestral pop, throbbing house, sparkling electro, a Nicki verse, a horn-flecked breeze called “Greedy” (our favorite), a Weezy verse, kind of a bluesy thing with Macy Gray, a Future verse, and a song literally called “Bad Decisions.” Yet there’s very little trace of the Ariana Grande who licks unsold donuts, has some private criticism for America, and allegedly transitions from meet-and-greet mode the way Patrick Bateman transitions from the dry cleaner’s. No doubt a great many hardworking professionals believe this to be a good thing, but of course it isn’t.
Grande is most complete on record when she’s playing a diva — a talent possessed by a selfishness so grandiose it’s almost a generosity. That’s why this album is called Dangerous Woman, and why “Bad Decisions” asks you if you’ve “ever seen a princess be a bad bitch.” But when the flashes of actual danger come, they’re on other songs — it’s “Greedy” and its insatiable love that really ring the alarm bells the title track merely promises to.
And it’s “Into You” and “Touch It” that really are in the tidal grip of the kind of feelings that make for bad, cruller-molesting decisions. The former, whose chorus pretty gracelessly squashes the gorgeous minimalism of its verses, redeems the floor-filling thud with a demand for “a little less conversation / and a little more touch my body,” a perfect line of scrambled, imperious passion that’s also well suited for Grande’s nimble trill.
These songs, which unite a strong persona — haughty, insatiable, a little manic, really into you — with a vivid pocket version of one style or another, are the core of a swift, heedless pop album, albeit one struggling to emerge from the false notes (“Dangerous Woman”) and rote 2016 obligations (Future) of what’s probably an executive-mandated bagginess. Cooing clichés over a nifty landscape of plucked and swooping strings on the almost-title-track “Moonlight,” Grande’s sweet and vivid; enraptured in “Into You” she’s enrapturing; giggling through love on “Greedy” or crooning promises on “I Don’t Care” she’s a free and gleeful agent — the bunny-masked miscreant of the cover.
In between, her edges are softened and her weird intensity diminished, and she becomes someone’s idea of something better than a diva: another hardworking professional. On “Side to Side,” Nicki Minaj, who knows this is bulls**t, makes her obligatory pop-in to announce, “I give zero f**ks and I got zero chill in me.” They should hang out more.