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A vinyl of Ariana Grande’s single “Yes, And?” lying on a brown concrete surface..  The cover features a blurred, out of focus close-up of half of Ariana Grande’s face. Featuring her wearing bright red lipstick.

So, it seems that everybody is doing dance now. Because, of course they are.

And this really isn’t anything to do with Ariana at all. It’s just an observation. And to Ariana’s credit, she has consistently done dance music since the beginning. “Better Left Unsaid” on Yours Truly. “Break Free” on My Everything. Dangerous Woman’s criminally underrated “Be Alright”. “Motive” on Positions. And then there’s her guest feature on Lady Gaga’s “Rain On Me”, which would have been a far better song had Ariana done the whole thing herself, because it felt more her vibe than Lady Gaga’s. So, Ariana is not new to the genre. And her releasing “Yes, And?” doesn’t feel like some knee jerk reaction to capitalise on a trend, although it is very clearly capitalising on a trend.

But ever since My Everything, Ariana’s fanbase began to split down the middle. And as a result of this. Ariana’s brand of dance can largely determine how it’s received and by whom. Her younger, pop loving, mostly RGB (255, 255, 255) fans tend to love the likes of “Break Free”. Where-as Ariana’s slightly older, mostly melanated, R&B loving fans [Raises hand] tend to not care for that song. But we sure liked “Be Alright” – a song that the “Break Free” fans were lukewarm on. Ariana’s always had to balance these fanbases, running the risk of not pleasing one or the other depending on the singles she releases or which way an album of hers leans. So, smartly, “Yes, and?” falls right in the middle. It’s pop enough that the “Break Free” fans will like it. But it has enough of a bounce and a club / house influence that the “Be Alright” will fuck with it too.

Then there’s me. Who is not a fan of the song.

“Yes, And?” should be great. But despite having all of the right ingredients, it feels undercooked. I like the beat and that we’ve got a club record with pop sensibilities, but the song is too short. I like the message of the song, but it doesn’t feel like the declaration that it should. I like the song title, but it doesn’t really punctuate the chorus the way it should. But the most surprising element of this song is that I don’t really like how Ariana sounds on it. More specifically, her performance. Or lack thereof.

Diction. Enunciation. Still a problem. Compounded with the style of performance Ariana gives on this song.

Ariana has really settled into this soft and cosy way of singing, which works nicely on certain types of songs. But I don’t think it was the right choice here. You could argue that Ariana’s chilled way of singing adds to the nonchalance of the song title and the general message of the song itself. But the execution of it here does two things. One. The softness paired with her controversial diction, makes some of the lyrics hard to make out. Two. It feels slightly out of step with the sound, which needed Ariana’s vocals to be a lot more straight and forward. Even if it was a case of her starting off really soft and then having her vocals get bigger and brighter as the song progresses, it would have been something. But her performance on the song just feels very flat, which has become a bit of a thing with Ariana lately. And it’s tough to tell whether it’s a creative choice, or if how she feels is bleeding into her performances. Because every album since Sweetener has had her dealing with some shit in her life. When you listen to how Ariana was singing on Yours Truly, My Everything and Dangerous Woman, there is a discernible difference from how she sings on Sweetener, Thank U, Next, Positions and “Yes, And?”, separate from the technicalities and changes to her voice itself.

Ariana’s vocals, much like the song as a whole, is a case of the right things not working how they should. When you strip the music out of the song, the melody Ariana is singing for the verses is very stage musical and Disney song-esque, which I really like. It gives the song this nice twist and the element I was hoping would creep into Ariana’s music following her casting in Wicked and her tapping back into her theatre loving kid she grew up as. But she isn’t fully singing in a stage musical or Disney-esque manner, which I think she should have, because we would have gotten the improved diction and the forwardness that her singing on the song lacks. It also would have made the melody pop more and brought more of the characteristics associated with a house song vocal performance to the surface.

And let’s talk about that last point for a minute.

For a lot of people, house music is just about the oontz. But a key part of house music is also the vocals. Especially diva house songs, which is where Black women with big voices really came through to such a degree that they became the staples of not just diva house, but house music in general. And some of the big voices on these types of songs are ones Ariana is a fan of, such as Aretha Franklin (“A Deeper Love”) and Whitney Houson (“I’m Every Woman”). But diva house isn’t just about singing big. It’s about giving a performance, and this is probably where the gospel overlap comes in, as a result of the Black women who wound up on many of these house songs having sung in church. But that’s a whole other post.

A key component of delivering a good house vocal is giving a performance which truly sells the story of the song, regardless of what your vocal ability is. This is something that Robin S’s “Show Me Love”, Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman”, CeCe Peniston’s “Finally”, Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” and RuPaul’s “Supermodel (You Better Work)” all share. Performances telling the story. Even the white girls get it. Madonna’s performance on “Vogue” fully embodies what she is singing about. You can envision the poise. And if you can’t, then just watch the music video. Katy Perry’s “Walking on Air” (which was also produced by Max Martin). Same thing.

A shot of Ariana Grande in a photoshoot on the set of her music video for “Yes, And?”.
Ariana Grande – Yes, And? | Republic Records

THIS is the element which is missing from Ariana’s performance on “Yes, And?”, because Ariana is singing the song the way she tends to sing most of her songs, when it required her to really straighten her back, snatch back that ponytail and sing it like she wants us to truly hear it and feel it. And it’s strange that Ariana didn’t, because she knows her craft and has a far better understanding of her voice and music in general than she’s given credit. And we have an example of where she fully got it. “Be Alright”.

The muted performance Ariana gives really undercuts the hook, which needed to be bigger. The ‘Yes, And?’ doesn’t punctuate the song in the way it should have. The ‘Yes, and?’ should make me wanna stop dead in my tracks and swing my imaginary ponytail over my shoulder as I turn and look at the bitch talking shit. But that’s not what it does, because Ariana sounds so bored and passive as she sings it. It’s a good thing the beat is so hot that it just about carries the chorus, which is probably the Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh of it all. But it is surprising to me how little impact the chorus has. It feels almost non-existent.

The spoken bridge is also lacklustre as hell and doesn’t feel as grand and as defiant as it should, given the point she’s trying to make during it. The whole song is leading up to this moment and yet it just comes in on a whimper and then it’s over. The only memorable thing about the bridge is the line where she says ‘Whose business is it whose dick I ride’, but even this doesn’t punch through the way it should, between how bad that entire verse is, Ariana’s hushed performance and the way in which her vocals are mixed. The bridge is the switch up of the song. So it should have been a whole entire moment. When Madonna hits that bridge and starts running off classic names of Hollywood, we know it’s time to start striking poses and feeling out fantasies. When Beyoncé says ‘The queens in the front and the doms in the back’, then we know we back outside in the worldwide hoodies with the masks outside. When Ariana whips out the tuning fork and starts talking about her energy, it’s like ‘Yes, and?’.

There’s no respect for the bridge in music these days and it’s a shame.

Ariana is a non-factor on “Yes, And?” to me, because it’s the music which is carrying the whole thing. The beat is fire. I cannot listen to the song and stay still. I feel the urge to catwalk every single time. But I could just listen to the instrumental. In fact, I’d prefer it. And it’s crazy that this is how I feel about a song from a woman who has a really good singing voice that I rather enjoy listening to. A voice which should be the centrepiece of all of her songs. And yet because of Ariana’s flat performance, it’s one of the things about “Yes, And?” that I don’t like.

I have a feeling that live performances of “Yes, And?” will probably have Ariana give the song the energy it needed on the recording.

Also, there is a disconnect between how Ariana’s voice sounds and the music. The music is super crisp and has lots of clarity to it. But Ariana’s vocals aren’t mixed in a way to balance with the music. It’s a really weird mixing choice, especially from a mixing veteran like Serban Ghenea. So I can’t help but chalk it up to him having to do the best with what he had, and that it was Ariana’s vocal takes that resulted in it. The balance between the music and the vocals on pop and house songs in particular is so important, because you want both to punch through without them sounding like they’re competing, or one is doing more than the other. But on “Yes, and?” the music is what is driving the song more than Ariana, purely because of the type of performance she’s giving and how she’s mixed on the song. So when I’m listening to “Yes, And?” I feel like I’m having to consciously shift my focus between the music and Ariana, rather than taking in the song as a whole, all because there’s no balance between the two.

A shot of Ariana Grande in a photoshoot on the set of her music video for “Yes, And?”.
Ariana Grande – Yes, And? | Republic Records

But there are bright spots that Ariana brings to the scaffold in the warehouse for “Yes, And?”. She has a great chemistry with Max Martin. I wouldn’t say the two of them have cultivated a sound in the same way that I felt he had done with Britney at one point. But there is a definitive chemistry there. Even if it didn’t manifest into a particularly great song this time around.

Also, the branding of the song is strong. Just from the title alone, coming off the back of “Thank U, Next” and K Bye for Now. Her imprint is clearly on the song from a branding perspective, which is why it’s a shame she didn’t seal the deal with her vocal performance.

Ariana has also become pretty fearless as a songwriter, which I really dig. This can be pretty divisive, as we saw with “Thank U, Next”, and understandably so. (Ariana really seems okay being the villain). But from Sweetener onward, Ariana treated her music like journal entries. Sometimes telling us perhaps a little too much. But it’s a really cool development to see in her from the days of Yours Truly, My Everything and Dangerous Woman. And “Yes, And?” continues that, being a song where Ariana is being unapologetic in her feelings on matters. The song is basically the musical version of her famous ‘And what about it’ meme. Over the past year, Ariana’s dealt with people commenting on her weight and then there was the mess about her allegedly contributing to the wrecking SpongeBob’s home. Things which were her business, became everybody else’s businesses. I even have to check myself here. Because I wanna say ‘Well, you keep making your shit too public’. And ‘Well, it’s looking like you didn’t help matters’. But I don’t actually know what went down. And Ariana has every right to be as public as she wants about her relationships. It’s her life and she’s grown. It’s truly none of my business. There may be something to be said about her ‘Yes, and?’ mentality over a something she can brush off in a way the other parties cannot. But again, I don’t know her, I don’t know the situation and it’s none of my business. But Ariana is bolder than I think many give her credit. And her boldness contrasts a lot with her physical image of being cute, petite and sweet. The contrast is really interesting to me, because it’s been a thing with her since the beginning when she was pulling up to late night talk shows looking like a Stepford Wife and swearing like a sailor. And “Yes, And?” does a great job of showing that duality and putting it front and centre. Even if I don’t particularly like how the song itself turned out and do wonder if this instance was the best way to frame a response to the things people have said.

“Yes, And?” is a nice upbeat song which will get you moving. But it’s also a song I can imagine liking mashups and fan versions of far more, purely because of how little Ariana brought to the song. I just wish Ariana had done a little more of her homework on house music, so that she could have upped the ante on her performance and given the song the energy it needed. Because this is what made a house throwback like “Break My Soul” work. Beyoncé did her homework. Ariana just glanced at the wiki page.

“Yes, And?” really could have been a great gay house song for the younger generation that makes up Ariana’s core fanbase. To some it may already be that, which is great for them. I’m not a part of that generation, so maybe that’s part of why I’m harsher on the song and lukewarm on it. “Yes, And?” could have been something great, but Ariana slept at the wheel when it came to her performance and Max Martin wasn’t loud enough in speaking up on the ‘more’ factor the song needed. Resulting in what is a pretty underwhelming song.

Girl. Release the instrumental.

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Single Review: Ariana Grande – Yes, And?