Ariana Grande's debut album Yours Truly is the number one album in the country, spearheaded by the infectious single "The Way" with Mac Miller. Under the guidance of producer Babyface, the 12-song set harkens back to the playful, breezy R&B of the '90s with light and airy songs about a young girl in love, ("Baby I," "Daydreamin'") grappling with fitting in ("Popular" with Mika) and heartbreak ("Honeymoon Avenue").
The cherubic-faced singer garnered her chops on Nickelodeon’s Victorious but it was her remarkable covers of songs like Justin Bieber's “Die in Your Arms” and Mariah Carey's "Emotions" that made the music industry take notice. The 20-year-old has since signed with uber manager Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen) and to no surprise, has scored several high-profile gigs including a spot on the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards pre-show. Rolling Stone spoke with Grande earlier this week about the making of Yours Truly, why people should stop judging Miley Cyrus and her future recording plans.
You’ve said that "Honeymoon Avenue" is your favorite song on the album. Why?
It strikes a chord with me. It's been a part of my life for three years now and it's come full circle. In the beginning, it sounded like an upbeat, Motown pop song and I was like "This song is really sad and it means a lot to me so we need to make it sound like the lyrical content." Then we made it sound like what the song's about. It's even more special to me now. It gives me this weird, bittersweet feeling that almost makes me want to cry.
It’s an emotional song for you to perform live.
Depending on what’s happening in life, yeah.
Babyface's '90s R&B influence is heard throughout your debut. How was it working with him in the studio?
He watched over the project and supervised. He's iconic and legendary, but I did most of the work with the Rascals. They were responsible for most of it and just did an incredible job and Harmony Samuels as well.
Harmony Samuels is largely responsible for the inclusion of interesting samples like Big Pun's "Still Not a Player" on "The Way" and Lil Kim's "Crush on You" on "Right There." Do you remember the originals at all? It might have been before your time.
Of course! It was before my time a little bit, I was born in '93, but I can still appreciate it. I wouldn’t have let him use the samples if they didn't mean anything to me.
Your vocal style draws parallels often to Mariah Carey. Do you worry that such comparisons will overshadow you?
It's a blessing to get the comparison. When you look at "The Way" it's obvious, but I’m not worried about it. It's a massive compliment; she's the greatest singer in the world, like literally, the Guinness Book of World Records. It's an incredible compliment but it doesn't worry me, because when you listen to my album as a whole, you get to know me.
You have great chemistry with Mac Miller on "The Way." How did that collaboration come about?
Everybody on the record is a very close friend of mine. Mac Miller came about because I heard "The Way" and I was like, "Oh my gosh. This song is amazing. Malcolm, will you come be on this record with me?" and he was like, "Absolutely." I went over to his house. I engineered the session. I recorded him rapping, while I was simultaneously baking cookies for him and that was that.
A lot of people probably don't know that you're a sound engineer and producer.
Yeah. I love, love, love just being hands on at all times in the studio. [Mac Miller] taught me how to work Pro Tools real quick. It was really fun.
Do you want to produce for other artists?
I would love to do that. Not yet, because I want to focus on my music for that but yeah.
You recently performed on the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. I’m sure you caught Miley Cyrus’ infamous twerk performance.
She looked like she was having the time of her life. She’s happy. I’m happy. We’re both doing our different things. There's nothing wrong with having fun. Nothing wrong. I think all the people who are saying mean things about it and who are judging, need to spend less time judging other people and more time worrying about how to have as much fun as she’s having in life right now.
While so many female singers seem to be compelled to live up to a certain provocative image, you seem to be very much grounded. Have you faced any industry pressures to change or fit in?
Thank you! No, I don’t feel much pressure to fit in. I never have. I've always just wanted to do my thing. I have really good friends and good family and if I don’t fit in somewhere else, I fit in at home. I feel like when I try to fit in, it comes across as not genuine and that is not good. I'd rather just do me and have people say, "Oh. That’s interesting" than try to fit in.
You just released Yours Truly but your sophomore album is slated for February. How is it coming along?
I've started working on it. I've come up with a few, two songs already that I want on it. It's an album that I want to do a little bit different. I don't want it to sound like an extension of Yours Truly. I want it to sound like an evolution. I want to explore more sounds and experiment a little bit. I have a bunch of ideas I'm very excited about and a lot of stuff cooking.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week