Two of the biggest music “newcomers” (one is technically not a newcomer, but let’s go with it) of 2013 both released their “debut” albums this week. 20 year-old Nickelodeon actress-turned pop/R&B superstar Ariana Grande released her debut effort, Yours Truly, to stores today, and it’s already #1 in over 30 countries. Preceded by the hit singles “The Way” and “Baby I”, Ariana found the perfect bridge between pop and R&B, thanks to her executive producers Harmony Samuels & Babyface. 36 year-old sister of Toni Braxton, turned reality TV gold, turned R&B superstar Tamar Braxton also released her album to stores today. Love and War is Tamar’s second album, but first in 13 years, so it’s acting as her debut, since the first wasn’t popular, and she has a brand new fan base. The veteran, who’s vocals are far superior than 95% of the entire music industry delivered an amazing effort that appeases young fans with ratchet anthems like “Hot Sugar” and “Tip Toe”, but keeps it classy for majority of the album, with songs like “Pieces” and “All The Way Home.”
Ariana’s Yours Truly is a slice of pop perfection. Ever since the release of her first single, “The Way” featuring Mac Miller, she’s drawn instant comparisons to Mariah Carey, thanks to their similar tones, and Ariana’s whistle register. And it seemed as though Ariana was becoming a MC tribute act after the release of 2nd single “Baby I”, which again emulated Mariah’s pop/R&B vibe of the 1990’s. But once more material was released, and the full album was released today, it was easy to see that Ariana is definitely influenced by Mariah, but a MC tribute act she is not. The early singles were used to draw listeners in, and get them interested, to spark the “New Mariah” conversations, but the album as a whole, delves into 1950’s doo-wop, contemporary R&B, and even a slice of EDM. “Honeymoon Avenue” is the first song on the album, and it’s an R&B mid-tempo banger at its core, but passes as pop thanks to Ariana’s softer vocals. most importantly, it doesn’t have the Mariah vibe at all, which will put many listeners at ease right away. The majority of the album does have a lot of late 90’s/early 00’s mid-tempo R&B vibes, but where the strengths truly lie are in Grande’s ballads.
The 1950’s doo-wop ballad “Tattooed Heart” is by far one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year. Seriously, if I had any doubt in my mind that I liked Ariana, this record shunned all those doubts instantly. The pure power of her vocals over the throwback Babyface production is pure magic to the ears. Another super powerful moment comes with the R&B ballad “Almost Is Never Enough,” which features Nathan Sykes (of The Wanted), and was produced by Harmony Samuels. You look at Ariana, and though she’s 20, she comes across as a 14 year old girl in Junior High. So for her to be able to belt out the vocals she does on this piano ballad is just jaw dropping. So tender, yet so powerful; as if she’s been in the game for years. A truly impressive feat that’s again repeated throughout the entire album.
Tamar Braxton’s album, on the other hand, is pure R&B. No true pop leanings like her contemporaries (Beyonce, Ciara, etc.). At this point in her career, Tamar is a R&B veteran. She’s been writing and recording and singing with sister Toni Braxton for years, and at age 36, she doesn’t have room to try and be a sexy pop star. It wouldn’t work. Though, with Tamar’s huge personality, she couldn’t completely disregard fun, uptempo club records; so her album does have ratchet moments like “Hot Sugar” and “She Did That.” However; the strength lies in the ballads and mid-tempos, which is why they’re being selected as her singles. Tamar’s husband and manager, Vince Herbert, completely understands the audience that is going to support Tamar, so he made sure this album catered to that audience. “All The Way Home” and “Stay & Fight” are two amazing ballads that exemplify that theory. With vocals that tread between her sister Toni, and another legend in Mariah Carey, Tamar proves again and again why she’s one of the best acts out right now. Seductive lower tones, powerful high belts, she can do it all. She even writes amazing lyrics, as showcased by songs like “Prettiest Girl” & “Sound of Love” There’s literally no wrong this woman can do, and it’s rather impressive.
The purpose for this psudeo-rant/album review was to congratulate the mainstream music audience on finally getting it right and supporting true vocalists again: Ariana’s album is #1 on iTunes; Tamar’s is #2. When was the last time a POP vocalist like Ariana ruled the charts? Probably not since Christina Aguilera has there been such a successful young, pop vocalist. And in R&B, for years now, it’s been all about the pop leaning club bangers and mid-tempos: Beyonce with “Single Ladies” & “Irreplacable”, Keri Hilson with “Pretty Girl Rock”, Trey Songz with “Say Aah”, etc. When’s the last time a R&B power ballad like “Love and War” reached #1 on the overall iTunes singles chart? I don’t think it’s EVER happened. Even on the Billboard charts, I can’t remember there being a super popular R&B power ballad charting near (or at) the top of the Hot 100 since Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”, which was 7 years ago. Melanie Fiona’s “It Kills Me” is probably the most recent, and though it was #1 on the R&B charts for 10 weeks, it only reached #43 on the Hot 100.
It’s super ironic that both these ladies released their albums today. I imagine that if Ariana released “Tattooed Heart” as a single, it could possibly be THAT song, though it wouldn’t necessarily spark a trend because Ariana’s not look at as a R&B singer. Same thing with Adele and Bruno: there’s a interest for the power ballad sound on radio again, but not a full fledged movement like we saw with EDM music. In due time though. in due time. Here’s to hoping that the success of these two newcomers (alongside people like Miguel & Bruno Mars) begin to push forwatd the trend in mainstream music. For every Rihanna and Katy Perry, there’s 10 Ariana’s and Tamar’s lined up to reach their dreams. And I’d damn sure love to hear more of the latter on the radio.