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Review: Ariana Grande's 'My Everything' likable but tame

Ariana Grande, shown performing Sunday at the MTV Video Music Awards, seems comfy playing the wailing good-girl wallflower next to the party stars on her new album.
Ariana Grande, shown performing Sunday at the MTV Video Music Awards, seems comfy playing the wailing good-girl wallflower next to the party stars on her new album.
Published Aug. 25, 2014

Ariana Grande is polite in lieu of provocative, a reigning pop princess with scant interest in pushing buttons a la the Mileys and Nickis around her.

In the panache department, the hottest thing in Top 40 these days is benign at best, beige all the way. Even her Nickelodeon persona, the bubble-headed Cat on sitcom Victorious and spinoff Sam & Cat, was devoid of personality. She spoke in breathy non sequiturs and ditzy surrealities.

The 21-year-old has yet to reveal much of her true self, but that refusal to let it all hang out, literally and figuratively, may be the multihyphenate Grande's greatest strength.

In the year 2014, we have enough twerking troublemakers. Instead, the song's the thing with this Mariah Carey remake. And if the octave-spanning Florida native sings on it — she possesses a good elastic voice that never quite achieves jaw-drop wowness — there's a decent chance it'll reach No. 1.

New album My Everything was released on Monday, and yet the LP, poised to put up gargantuan sales figures, is already stacked fat with hits you've been hearing for a while: Problem, Break Free, Bang Bang. All three of those feature cameos from far more dynamic stars — Iggy Azalea, EDM star Zedd, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, respectively — but Grande is comfortable playing the wailing good-girl wallflower next to the party stars.

My Everything is safe but catchy, flirty but clean, a batch of smartly produced songs (by smart producers including Shellback and Darkchild) that deal in single-girl strength and boys who don't deserve a second chance — but every now and then get one anyway.

Grande can't make up her mind when it comes to love, so the sax-stuttery Problem, in which a boyfriend is jettisoned, is followed by the tribal chug of future dance-floor staple One Last Time, in which a boyfriend is reinstated. Break Free is a synthy swirl of yay-me freedom; up next, the midtempo Best Mistake, with a machismic rap by Big Sean, validates dependency. Indecisiveness is a hot topic here.

Much like the artist herself, My Everything is perfectly fine and likable enough, never arresting but never boring, either.

There are even a few instances when Grande shows signs of something truly special. The ballad Just a Little Bit of Your Heart has a spare, ethereal quality, almost Kate Bush-like, allowing Grande to explore textures both high and low, especially a middle-range that's as rich as her Mariahesque trilling. The title track is another weeper, an update on the Jackson 5's I'll Be There, and Grande seems genuinely liberated by the lack of modern clutter.

The final track on the iTunes deluxe version of My Everything is called You Don't Know Me. It's a middling slug of R&B, and yet there's certainly something in that song title. We really don't know Ariana Grande. And yet, in these share-everything social media days, when the MTV VMAs are graded on how many backsides were flaunted, less-is-more is turning out to be downright novel sales strategy.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife.

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