With a flurry of lush strings, opening track “Honeymoon Avenue” declares thatÂ Yours Truly will not be like other albums from tween pop stars. Ariana Grande, who earned her fame on the Nickelodeon TV showsÂ VictoriousÂ and nowÂ Sam and Cat, didn’t release a bubblegum pop album or a safe pop rock album.Â Yours Truly,Â instead, is a sophisticated pastiche of musical styles. It brings together modern dance pop, ’90s R&B, and ’50s doo-wop. It does this not by juxtaposing songs of different styles, but by blending style signifiers together. It takes the erratic drum programming of R&B and mixes it with the piano-driven chords of a doo-wop song or by infusing the dense chords of R&B with powerful hooks and a naive and flirtatious sentiment found in ’50s and ’60s pop. This balancing between styles is key to Grande’s success. At a time when nostalgia (or false nostalgia, more precisely), is so prevalent, Grande has embraced the post-modern appropriation of musical styles and cultures that she recalls listening to growing up. To her, and her memory, these sounds belong together, despite their temporal differences. At the beginning of lead single “The Way,” a voice exclaims, “We gotta go back…back into time.” Grande and her team do just that, but not just to one “time” at a time.
The real star here, though, is Grande herself and her impressive vocal performances. Typically, widespread comparisons to a star like Mariah Carey would not be a good thing. But onÂ Yours Truly, the young singer proves that she can live up to the hype. Her range is huge, but in control. Her voice is mature, but still has a cutesy timbre to it. She can belt, but she doesn’t over-sing. And that kind of artistry, especially for a relatively young star, is not to be overlooked.
Despite a few minor missteps, particularly by way of the duet with Mika on “Popular Song,”Â Yours Truly stands out as one of the year’s strongest albums.