Ariana Grande was never in danger of being a one-hit wonder. Anyone who heard "The Way," her Top 10 debut single featuring Mac Miller, when the song was first released last spring quickly understood that the co-star of "Victorious" possessed a musical ability too magnetic to be contained to one radio hit. "Yours Truly" carries the expectations of a young singer who has already proven herself on the pop charts, and even if the songs on her debut could not equal the quality of "The Way," Grande had the fan base and powerful pipes to survive a misfire.
Thankfully, Ariana Grande's debut LP is a surprisingly varied affair for a 20-year-old Nickelodeon star with a devastatingly strong voice. The R&B effort could have easily featured 11 carbon copies of her breakout single, but "Better Left Unsaid" is a slow-building club banger and "Piano" is an uptempo pop track that should make Sara Bareilles envious. "Yours Truly" benefits from ace production by Babyface and Harmony Samuels (among others), but credit Grande for making the most of her mainstream bow. There is a lot to like about "Yours Truly," and a lot to look forward to in Grande's career.
1. Honeymoon Avenue
The album's greatest assets -- pinpoint production, sleek beats and Grande's commanding vocals -- are unveiled immediately, as "Honeymoon Avenue" allows the singer to ask her romantic partner "What happened to the butterflies?" without sounding too distraught.
2. Baby I
The zooming sound effects and stuttering drums announce a fluttering love track that doubles as a logical follow-up single to "The Way." More than any other song on the album, "Baby I" invites -- nay, embraces -- the comparisons to Mariah Carey's early work.
3. Right There feat. Big Sean
While Big Sean boasts about his sexual prowess, Grande (who expressed interest in collaborating with the G.O.O.D. music rapper earlier this year) flaunts her typically impressive melismas before ratcheting up the emotion for the finale.
4. Tattooed Heart
Grande digs into doo-wop on "Tattooed Heart," which carries a bouncing piano line and finger snaps that eventually morph into a patient rhythm. The singer even gets into the retro act on the lyrics: "I wanna say we're going steady/Like it's 1954," she croons.
5. Lovin' It
The album's shortest track is also one of its loosest, as Grande sounds giddy while tossing off romantic declarations both sweet ("You give me chills/Everytime we chill") and direct ("Shut up and kiss me, babe"). "Lovin' It" serves as a transitional track of sorts on the album, but one that's not to be skipped.
Pop fans skeptical of Grande's power should only need to listen to about half of "Piano" to change their minds. The pristine, rollicking love song is "Yours Truly's" centerpiece in regards to sequencing as well as sonic daring; "The Way" may be more accessible, but "Piano" contains the best payoff when the percolating verse slides into the assured groove of the chorus. Please allow "Piano" to lay waste to everything else on your favorite playlist.
Even the songs that don't soar on "Yours Truly," like the pleasant but unremarkable "Daydreamin'," sport pockets of rhythmic joy: the "la-da-da" harmonies, and trickling pulses of energy at the 2:25 mark, are details that push "Daydreamin'" forward.
8. The Way feat. Mac Miller
Grande's first single was a well-deserved breakout hit, as Harmony Samuels' breezy arrangement (built around a Big Pun's sample) and Mac Miller's playful flow cannot overshadow the lightness of Grande's forceful vocal delivery.
9. You'll Never Know
Stuffed on the second half of "Yours Truly" in between the album's first single and two other flashy collaborations, "You'll Never Know" could be in danger of being glossed over by listeners. With a squelching beat and one of the album's most immediate hooks, however, the sparkling jam effortlessly extends the album's momentum.
10. Almost Is Never Enough feat. Nathan Sykes
The Wanted's strongest singer stops by for a heartstring-tugging ballad that also appears on "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" soundtrack. Both vocalists step up to the plate admirably, and one can't help but wonder if "Almost Is Never Enough" is a prelude to Sykes' own solo album.
11. Popular Song feat. MIKA
Whereas Grande and Sykes were soulfully straight-faced on the previous track, the former shakes off the seriousness for "Popular Song," a duet with elastic U.K. star MIKA. The most guitar-driven song on "Yours Truly" features some handclaps and clipped inspirational phrases, but the duo too often sounds like they're having more fun than the listener.
12. Better Left Unsaid
Grande sneaks in an uptempo club offering at the very end of "Yours Truly," as "Better Left Unsaid" quickly strides away from his demure beginning to include pounding synths and DJ calls of "If you wanna party, put your hands up!" The entire affair is overwhelming but ultimately irresistible, as Grande once again flashes the versatility that has made her a star.