It’s better than her debut, but Ariana Grande is still a singles artist and this is an album so … download “Problem,” “Break Free” and (bonus cut) “Bang Bang” for a good time. The rest: one of the cutest songstresses of the new decade sounds positively lost when attempting the raunchy sex of “Hands on Me” (“Might be a little thing but I like that long, yeah”) and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” remains the only good rap song doing the birthday shtick; the piano line of “Best Mistake”‘s a goodie, but Big Sean doesn’t realize the song’s meant to be taken seriously and his “You asked me why I love your mom so much, ’cause she’s an older you” will make a pacifist consider inflicting harm on another human being; ditto Childish Gambino’s “Yes, I’m a G, from the A, and they ask Y” on “Break Your Heart Right Back”; the title track is a dime-a-dozen soulless ballad that populates so many pop albums. And though there’s nothing wrong with “One Last Time,” there’s nothing exactly right about it either.
So the singles, then. “Bang Bang” is mostly Jessie J’s show, though Ariana Grande helps elevate the chorus with backing vocals. Nicki Minaj’s verse ain’t one of her good ones, from continuing the no-no of self-promoting her own drink (see her verse on Ciara’s “I’m Out”) to continuing her fascination with the little engine that could (see her outro on 2 Chainz’ “I Luv Dem Strippers”), but it’s all speed and internal rhymes and she rides the beat well so who cares? Meanwhile, “Break Free” is all about its choruses, whether it’s the phrasing and melody of “This – is – the part where – I-say-I-don’t-want-yah”, Zedd stretching out the last word over the subsequent breakdown or the backing vocals in their last instance. The line, “I don’t want to die alone,” makes me cringe, but whatever; apparently, it made her cringe too (“I fought [Max Martin] on it the whole time: I am not going to sing a grammatically incorrect lyric!”).
But even if those two songs didn’t exist, I’d still give My Everything a B, because “Problem” is the best pop joint of 2014 (so far, anyway). Here, we get to see Ariana Grande capitalizing on her cuteness (the way she sings “I got one less one less problem”) before exercising the full range of her voice (her forte), climbing to a peak and dropping us immediately to the menacing whisper of Big Sean’s additional hook. But the catchiest part of the song isn’t Ariana Grande or Big Sean, it’s the most indelible sax riff you done heard on a pop song since – oh, I dunno – A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime” (better than, if you ask me). And I know a ton of people have issues with Iggy Azalea’s verse, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why – at the very least, she doesn’t drop any cringe-worthy lines that the aforementioned other rappers are guilty of. She’s got good flow (“Small money betting that I better off without you / In no time I be forgetting all about you”) and frankly, she sounds more assertive than Ariana Grande does anywhere on the album.