Artistic progression is a natural progression in an artist’s career. It might even be expected for some, as they try to reinvent themselves in a bid to maintain relevance or as a challenge to themselves or even both. These albums below are products of these change, to the point where both albums feel like the absolute polar opposite of each other.
Ariana Grande — Yours Truly \\ Thank U, Next
When Ariana Grande first debuted in 2013 with her sweetly nostalgic debut album Yours Truly, she was still hot off her popularity as Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious”. Harkening back to the era of 50s piano pop and 90s R&B, the album served as the perfect platform for her to showcase her incredible vocal range. Mariah Carey comparisons aside, it was a solid offering by the newly actor-turned-singer that proves her adeptness at crafting inoffensive pop tunes.
Yet fast forward 6 years later, after being subjected to a plethora of controversies and high-profile relationship drama, Ariana’s latest album Thank U, Next is her best yet but also her most mean-spirited one. Gone was the innocent themes of infatuation and forlorn, replaced with the bitterness of heartbreak and acceptance. Switching out the bubblegum pop aesthetic to one that’s heavily inspired by 2019’s trap-rap scene, Ariana Grande completely sheds her carefully crafted ‘sweet girl’ persona for something that’s decidedly more human, and one that gives her a lot more depth that she’s been given credit for.
Kanye West — The College Dropout \\ Yeezus
Back before Kanye went all MAGA crazy, he was the underdog of hip-hop. Hot off his incredible production streak with Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella records, Kanye was gearing up to infiltrate the mainstream with his debut record — The College Dropout. Somewhat of a lone combatant against the gangster rap zeitgeist of 2004, Kanye represented the common man; one that advocated for the normalization of religion while also shining a light on minimum-wage workers in America. Kanye became the poster boy for backpack rap.
Still, Kanye the man has always been bigger than Kanye the musician. Infamous for running his mouth at seemingly everything, his inflated ego reached its apex in 2013 when he boldly named his 6th studio album Yeezus. Sure he wasn’t exactly humble even as a freshman, but this was on a whole other level. Equating himself to a God, he ditched his signature soul-laden production and instead made the record abrasive and confrontational. An album that was mostly written within a week, Kanye the perfectionist was no more and Kanye the experimenter took his place.
Tyler, the Creator — Goblin \\ Flower Boy
If you told me that the once inflammatory Tyler, the Creator who revelled in the lyrical fantasies of murder and rape, would one day craft one of the most gorgeous hip-hop albums of the decade, I would kill you burn your shit and fuck your school. At 18-years old, Tyler was filled with angst at anything and everything. His often deplorable lyrics were reminiscent to that of an early career Eminem, sans the humour. As if collective national anger from white suburbian parents weren’t enough, the album content led to him being banned in both the UK and Australia.
So when he eventually came out as bisexual (though still unconfirmed) on Flower Boy, his career instantly gained a newfound depth on top of his already blossoming talent as a producer and rapper. His supposed homophobia was tossed out the window and instead, fans saw it as perhaps a coping mechanism that he took on in order to hide his sexuality. Flower Boy became an album that not only saw a departure in terms of Tyler’s musical style, but also his abandoning of the reckless behaviour that had defined him in the past.
The Weeknd — House of Balloons \\ Starboy
Toronto’s biggest ‘sadboi’ crooner, The Weeknd first broke into the mainstream with his now often copied brand of moody R&B. House of Balloons, and by extension Thursday and Echoes of Silence in the trilogy, were instrumental in shaping the R&B landscape of this decade. The Weeknd was a refreshing change of pace after the party-centric turn the genre had taken with the likes of Usher and Rihanna.
So, when The Weeknd went slightly more upbeat on Beauty Behind the Madness and then full-on pop with Starboy, it seemed like he was more interested in reinventing himself for chart success more than anything, which is understandable. Yet besides the constant presence of his sultry smooth vocals, there’s barely any common ground between the two records in terms style and aesthetic. Though, he’s still as lonely, depressed and horny throughout all of them.
Taylor Swift — Taylor Swift \\ Reputation
Dropping her debut album in 2006 at the age of 16, Taylor Swift set herself up to be a Country darling that was poised to rule the charts for years to come. Already flexing her songwriting chops (she has writing credits on the entire record), Taylor Swift is a look into the deeply personal and reflective self-penned song structures that she used to subsequently take over the world (and also the charts). The album was sweet, melancholic and heart-rending all rolled into one.
12 years later, the once Country princess transformed herself into a pop superstar. Leaving her musical roots completely behind her, Taylor capitalised on the universal appeal of stadium pop while still managing to keep her best trait intact — her songwriting. But instead of packaging it within a sheen and polished product, Reputation sees her tackling the KimYe saga head-on; enveloping the entire record’s premise within a messy controversy that no one really cared for. It didn’t help that she went full-blown trap/rap on certain songs here that only turned off many day-one fans.
Justin Timberlake — Futuresex/Lovesounds \\ Man of the Woods
Futuresex/Lovesounds is one of the best futuristic-styled pop records ever conceived. Man of the Woods is one of the worst futuristic-styled pop records ever made. How JT??????