Culture | February 2, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Ariana Grande and the Focus Flop

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In the year since Ariana Grande’s album My Everything hit the market, the singer went on tour, appeared in FOX’s Scream Queens, and licked her way to a national scandal. Grande has wasted no time churning out new music–on November 30, 2015, she released Focus, the lead single to her upcoming LP Moonlight. And it is clear that the only change to her brand is the color of her hair.

Critics everywhere have denounced Focus as, in the words of Ultimate Music, a “carbon-copy” of Problem, the lead single off of My Everything. Both songs feature horns and uncredited, repetitive male vocals on the chorus. Problem saw Grande struggle to give up a lover as saxophones sounded and Big Sean whispered, “I’ve got one less problem without you.” With trumpets blaring, Grande is back to brass on Focus. She enlists Jamie Foxx, who cries “Focus on me” throughout the song. Her mantra seems to be, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But that does her no favors on the charts, especially when competing with industry titan Adele. Grande released Focus while Hello, the lead single to Adele’s 25, had begun to dominate the airwaves. Listeners wondered whether Grande could outshine Adele–and the answer was a resounding no. Whereas Hello nabbed the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, Focus debuted at number seven, an underwhelming performance for a singer of Grande’s stature. The song has been inching down the charts ever since.

Focus interrupts the upward trajectory of Grande’s career. Critics dubbed her breakout single The Way the song of the summer, and her debut album Yours Truly topped the charts. Problem peaked at number two, falling shy of number one to John Legend’s All of You. My Everything marked Grande’s second number one album and spawned two more top-ten singles. As her popularity flourished, Grande was poised to release her first number-one single on her third LP.

Instead, in an effort to deliver a surefire hit, Focus verges on self-plagiarism. Everything about this song screams “commercial”—Grande always delivers radio-friendly singles, but this song is cotton candy: sweet without substance.

The music video is also a miss. Grande begins by writing “Focus on me” on a Samsung phone. The blatant branding foreshadows the commercial overtones to come. The video proceeds to spotlight an overly made-up Grande caressing herself, squatting in a tiny room, and pouting at her audience while on all fours. The baby-doll image fails to do her vocals any justice, and the opening sequence would be better suited for a cosmetics advertisement.

By layering glamor on top of sex on top of glitter, Grande loses her artistic voice altogether. She caters to the tastes of her audience at the exclusion of any evolution in her sound. In doing so, she fails to excite her fan base. Not even her new hair color, which she claims is inspired by her grandmother, can save Focus.

The quick turnover between My Everything and Focus only compounds the issue, as promotion of Grande’s sophomore LP lasted until February 2015. Considering that many artists wait upwards of two years between albums (and, in the case of Rihanna, an eternity), Grande wasted no time with Focus. Releasing new music so quickly solidifies her name on the charts, but it feels as if Focus belongs to her previous album instead of introducing listeners to something new.

Yet Grande remains enthusiastic. The pop star stated that Moonlight differs dramatically from her previous work and includes her favorite song that she has recorded. So perhaps there is something in store for Arianators besides repackaged goods. If that is the case, her team erred by selecting such a familiar-sounding single, as the Focus flop diffused the excitement leading up to Moonlight’s release. Let’s just hope the rest of the album, unlike her hair, is not also inspired by her grandmother. Otherwise, we are in for a total snooze.

Image Credit: Flickr/Viih Arianator

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