Pop Song Review: Ariana Grande feat. Zedd – “Break Free”

I’ve been trying to avoid Ariana Grande as much as I can recently – well, except for reviewing a song she featured in. She had promise when she first emerged on the scene, but now that the marketing team’s had their way with her she just gets on my nerves. Her cutesy diva image feels so manufactured and phony it comes off as a parody of itself, while the sheer ubiquity of her marketing is making my internet travails that little bit more irritable – I do not need to see this woman everywhere I go, internet, so lay off already. Apparently she’s not a very nice person, either, so that’s a shame.

But with the dry well of fresh new pop singles to review that are the charts being what they are (dry, that is), I’m forced to revisit this human poodle in one of my posts: therefore today’s pop song review is “Break Free” by Ariana Grande featuring Zedd.

NOTE: Skip to about thirty seconds in to save yourself a whole heap of nonsense.

First impressions: You’re kidding me, surely – now they’ve got her making mindless club-pop? I could tolerate her when she was making half-decent music, but this? I wanted to stop writing about these sorts of songs as well – how am I back here? Why won’t this torment end?!!

The music: This is just cruel. Look, I’ve already reviewed three club-pop songs in the past three weeks – I have nothing left to say on the subject, so permit me to skim over certain details here. Is the music generic and the structure simple? Yes. Is it something I’ve heard before in another club song? Undoubtedly. Is any of it good? Not on your life, and that’s where songs like this really fall flat.

Look, I can put up with generic music: I don’t mind when a song re-uses ideas that have been used a thousand times before because I know it can work if done right, but the song still has to be catchy, interesting and at least show some hint of original thinking and effort if it wants to be entertaining or memorable. “Break Free” sucks because none of its overused ideas are any good: its dance-pop production is atrocious and abrasive, its songwriting is laughably pedestrian and its melody is so bereft of energy it sounds like the song is actually yawning into my ears.

As for Grande, yes, technically she is an excellent singer, but even amazing singers need something decent to work with. Vocal gymnastics are only impressive if the song itself is at least solid. Showing off powerhouse vocals on an absolute dud of a song like this is like amazing brushwork on a painting of a toilet cistern.

The worst part of this, though, is that none of it matters. “Break Free” is not a good song by any margin but it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares about writing good music for Grande because she’s all marketing at this point. It’s the same reason they’re making a third Cars movie: so many stupid kids are buying the merchandising, all Disney have to do is secrete some semblance of a film and sling it into cinemas so there’s some sort of backdrop to all the new toys coming out. Ariana Grande could be responsible for making classy, interesting, emotionally and musically complex songs that excite the imagination and ignite the soul in glorious passions, but what would be the point in that?

The lyrics: Grande has been stuck in an unpleasant relationship, but now it’s over and she’s about to, you guessed it, break free: “This is the part where I say I don’t need you / I’m stronger than I’ve been before.” Yep, it’s one of those songs, apparently because there’s a mandate requiring every female pop singer to touch on this subject at some point. What do you want to bet her next single is about how she can’t live without you or something, just to underscore the point that nobody cares about consistency in pop songwriting anymore?

“You were better, deeper / I was under your spell / like a deadly fever, yeah babe / on the highway to Hell”. Seriously, it’s like the Live Aid of pop lyric clichés, except there’s no good cause to be seen. Also, “highway to Hell”? You’re not seriously trying to score points with the classic rock crowd, are you, Grande? As if Miley Cyrus’ overwrought stab at covering Zeppelin wasn’t enough.

“Don’t want to hear you lie tonight / now that I’ve become who I really are.” Okay, let’s talk about this lyric: according to Grande herself she fought co-producer Max Martin to exclude this grammatically incorrect line from the song, but Martin insisted on putting it in there because he thought it would be funny. Yeah, heh heh… is it me or does this cutesy argument of theirs sound far more sinister than advertised? What are the odds they actually got into screaming matches over this in the recording booth? I could see it happening.

As for the line, yeah, it’s intentionally stupid, but intentional stupidity is still stupidity so… I don’t really know what to say. If this somehow becomes acceptable grammatical usage as a result of this song’s popularity, though, we really should consider just nuking ourselves and getting this whole “decline of Western civilisation” thing wrapped up for good.

Verdict: 1 out of 5. I’m not even coming up with a joke or some sarky add-on to put here – just get this song away from me.

Today’s double-up is – don’t say you didn’t see it coming -“I Want to Break Free” by Queen. If Freddie Mercury in a dress can’t cleanse you of this song then nothing can.

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