There's really a time and place for everything, when you realize and relish how things go in the music industry. And 4 (5 when the album releases) years isn't ultimately very long either. I just have one very simple question: what the hell happened to Ariana Grande?
Regurgitation At It's Finest
I'm not one for criticism when there's nothing to blatantly "criticise", and the albums that I've criticised have ultimately not been very good to say the least (Magic!). In 2014 (last year actually), Grande released her sophomore release titled My Everything, in which I gave it a mediocre score of 5. I wasn't impressed and surprised by the lead singles (Problem, Break Free) and what was left of the album was damn-near disappointing. The flair and nuance of Yours Truly went from roaring to cowering within 3 straight years. And at this point Grande's fans will say anything to claim that Focus, her newest single, is the "older sister" to Problem. Do you not see why? That's the Goddamn problem.
I readily admitted that Yours Truly was a fantastic album because the production actually served to help build up each and every song. Piano was by far her best record, and still is, when compared to the lackluster ache that is Love Me Harder featuring The Weeknd, amongst others. It's easy to say her debut album is her best considering it's the only one that really lights the match while the others can't even match up, but at this point I just don't see why Grande's music is compelling anymore. She's not only lost her touch with soft ballads, but instead she's drawing gigantic EDM tracks with artists that don't even know what's good for themselves (Zedd) and then teaming up with some rather step-aside acts like Iggy Azalea.
Focus if anything, focuses on what's the weakness here: over-used production, lack of what made Grande special with her vocals and the regurgitation of using the same formula that got her big. Problem wasn't really all that fantastic to be honest, and the chorus is basically some artist rapping / singing / saying / whispering words while Grande does her "usual" by singing over it. It's catchy yes, but if anything shows lack of effort and the sleaziness of the songs. To use it again in Focus, the lead single for her upcoming third album? That is just the lowest of lows.
I've seen many others compliment My Everything, and most critics whom I respect to a degree. I could never really understand why with the utter lack of incompetence in songwriting, production and downright disappointing direction. Grande and her album lost so much of her roots that it made the album a 'cash-grab' and nothing more. It's not like she had vocal talents, right?
"Focus On Me", Not The Song
With Grande's disconnection to her alternative pop sounds and rather sticking to a more punk, spunky style, the songs have taken a massive hit. It was like Titanic crashing into the iceberg. There will be people calling others "haters" because "you didn't like this song" or "that song" and thus you're "not a true fan". I think that's biased and a little unjustified. Most fans agreed that Focus is utter rubbish, and others lauded because it sounded like Problem. Do you see why now? The song's video literally puts your eyes to the test and forgoes your ears because, that's not what you came for.
"Cause I'm about to blow them all away," and proceeded to line up the same generic one line from a random artist that isn't even listed as a feature (Big Sean wasn't on Problem). Yeah the production has the horns and the claps, but does it have the personality? Nope. Max Martin produced the song which should already set off a signal if anything. Not to mention the guy also produced for Taylor Swift's solid album 1989. So what's really out of focus? Grande herself.
On Demi Lovato's album, while the cymbals and synthesizers came crashing down like a burnt house, she was able to shine through because of her fantastic vocals on tracks like Stone Cold and Old Ways. Compared to Grande's previous album, there was nothing of that sorts. Maybe One Last Time to an extent, but even that song was accompanied by a decent piano line for the most part. If there's something that needs to change, is the name that appears next to the album title. The lack of singing and attention to Grande's vocals when it's her against the instruments, she crawls up flat-footed and does nothing else to help her cause. If anything Focus is a proof that she needs to dive out of the way because frankly, she can't do it anymore. Or maybe she can? Like I said, 4 years in music isn't exceptionally a long time, but to have a dip in form faster than a footballer? This is incredible.
We're going to hear more of singles like Focus from Ariana Grande in the next few months. Whatever it may be, it's not worth a second listen anymore.
Benny Ong: Just your regular guy who likes soccer more than most people, and also a little downtime is pretty nice.