By John Hill
If you were listening to the radio a few months ago and thought you heard a new Mariah Carey song that didn’t quite sound like Mariah, you are not alone. There was “#Beautiful,” her duet with Miguel that sounded more like a Miguel record than a Mariah record, and then there was “The Way,” a breezy throwback to early-90s Mariah with a rap collaboration by Mac Miller that was not even Mariah singing it. Instead, it was Nickelodeon alum Ariana Grande with her first top ten hit preceding her debut album. But does Yours Truly sound like a Mariah disc or is there a more distinct sound?
The good news is that Yours Truly has more than just Mariah-inspired music, but the theme seems to be “back to the future.” From the girl-group-sounding “Tattooed Heart” to the Wicked-inspired “Popular Song” (a Mika track that was originally recorded with Priscilla Renea), it is clear that Ariana is guided by her musical influences in a big way. Even the opening “Honeymoon Avenue” uses a vocal intro that sounds very similar to a doo-wop riff Michael Jackson used in live performances of “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the late 80s. Despite the number of blatant influences from the past, Yours Truly sounds like a very current record.
This is not to say that Mariah’s influence doesn’t pop up elsewhere, because tracks like “Lovin’ It” could easily be recorded by Mimi with its layered harmonies and built-in vocal runs. However, the highlights on Yours Truly are decidedly non-Mariah. “Piano” is destined for the pop charts with its bouncy chorus and upbeat message, and “Almost Is Never Enough” pairs Grande with The Wanted member Nathan Sykes showing off some seriously soulful pipes on a beautifully understated ballad. In addition, let’s be honest…any hook that gets Mika’s “Popular Song” played on the radio in the US is a welcome one.
As debut albums by former teen stars go, this is a solid effort. It will be interesting to see Grande’s perspective begin to shine through as her recording career progresses, but fortunately Yours Truly should hold listeners over for a while as she begins that journey.
While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.