Ariana Grande, who was one of pop’s breakout stars last year thanks to her excellent debut album Yours Truly, released her first single of 2014 on Monday. Anticipation was extremely high for Grande’s newest song, “Problem” featuring Iggy Azalea, as proved by the fact that it rose to the number one spot on the iTunes singles chart a record-setting 37 minutes after being made available for purchase.
However, despite the song’s immediate commercial success, “Problem” is a disturbing indication of the path that Grande seems to be taking for her new material. On “Problem”, Grande largely abandons the smooth blend of Mariah Carey-esque R&B and throwback doo-wop of Yours Truly in order to chase the hottest pop fads of the moment. Grande’s outstanding voice still soars, and her verses are actually pretty good, with powerful synths and strong drum production. But the hook, with its awful saxophone loop accompanied by some random dude creepily whispering, doesn’t only sound disgusting but is unoriginal, as well.
The comically ridiculous horn loop is an obvious rip-off of another terrible song that’s somehow a hit, “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo (whose name I can’t say without singing it in his voice), which itself was influenced by the prominent saxophone in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ torture soundtrack “Thrift Shop”. As for the disturbing whispering, it has been recently utilized by artists like Justin Bieber and Tyga to little success, and no one in the last few years has even come close to matching the quiet mastery displayed by the Ying Yang Twins on “Wait (The Whisper Song)”.
The most troubling part of “Problem”, though, is the inclusion of Iggy Azalea, who has rapidly ascended to become one of the most popular female rappers of today while being almost completely devoid of any basic rapping skills or artistic ability. Azalea, an Australian who immigrated to the United States in 2006 to pursue a rap career, delivers a bland, pop-rap-by-numbers verse with an unconvincing attitude that sounds blown up with hot air.
Her debut album The New Classic, which dropped on April 21, is similarly uninspiring. For someone with such a fascinating backstory, Azalea’s lyricism and rapping style are both incredibly boring, and the only thing that’s novel about the album is the twinge of her still-present Australian accent, which she mangles with a fake Southern drawl. Azalea has faced a lot of hardships to get to the point she’s at now, but she is unable to express those struggles in any interesting way, as the lyrics to songs like “Walk The Line”, “Don’t Need Y’all”, and “Impossible is Nothing” make Azalea seem like she’s been reading far too many poorly-written articles on Thought Catalog.
“Work”, her earliest hit, sees her delve into her difficult journey for a bit, but then she is immediately shut up as the song jarringly shifts into a gross twerk jam. The album’s other big single, “Fancy”, is the highlight of the album, but that has less to do with Azalea than and more to do with the presence of Charli XCX, whose work on the song is faintly reminiscent of Love.Angel.Music.Baby.-era Gwen Stefani.
Azalea is clearly severely talent deficient, and the production of the album tries to hide her shortcomings as much as possible. Most of The New Classic is inspired by a couple of simplistic styles of music recently utilized by relatively unskilled artists: glitzy EDM sleaze-pop, most notably done by the tone-deaf Ke$ha, and minimalist, bass-heavy hyphy music, the revival of which was brought about by Drake and Lil Wayne’s “The Motto” and furthered by Tyga’s “Rack City” and YG’s newest album My Krazy Life. Both of these styles have been commercially prosperous over the last few years, but have not really fostered anything of lasting artistic merit or substance. After an initial run of success, Ke$ha’s career has thankfully stalled out for the moment, and Drake, Tyga, and YG’s monotone bumbling is far inferior to the energy and skill of Bay Area artists like The Pack and E-40 who first popularized hyphy music in the mid-2000s.
Unfortunately, it seems that the type of music that Iggy Azalea is making can still bring untalented artists substantial commercial success and adoration. But we can be sure that if Iggy Azalea doesn’t step her game up and continues to make tedious, derivative songs, skilled, intelligent artists like Ariana Grande will begin to ignore her, and Azalea will eventually fade out of the spotlight. And pop music will have one less problem without her.