Hollywood, it seems, has gotten in Grande’s way.
Ariana Grande may not have the best relationship with wings, but her music frequently positions her as a fallen angel of sorts: she’s glorious, even tragically so, but also bored enough with perfection that she can’t help but act the fuck out.
This way of thinking about Grande winds its way through much of Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, the 11-song compilation that she co-executive produced for this year’s Charlie’s Angels reboot. Again and again, its songs both insist upon the importance of female empowerment and argue for the centrality of independence, even if this independence doesn’t mesh with pre-existing ideas of what power is. In this way, the soundtrack seems to prepare us for the most forward-thinking iteration of the franchise yet.
Grande herself appears on almost half of the soundtrack’s songs, usually with a collaborator or two: Nicki Minaj (duh) and Normani on “Bad to You,” Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey on lead single “Don’t Call Me Angel (Charlie’s Angels)” and even Chaka Khan on “Nobody.” “Got a job, got a crib, got a mind of my own, honey/ But it sure shouldn’t mean that you can’t take me home, no,” Khan insists. These ideas aren’t new and don’t exactly pretend to be—the album looks back to disco and blues as much as towards hip-hop or contemporary pop styles—but Grande shrewdly puts them to contemporary commercial use. And her multiple, female-only partners further support the idea of women helping each other rather than judging or competing.
But the music on Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack isn’t nearly as compelling as Grande’s recent solo work. The songs here sound phoned-in, way less interested in texture and dramatic structure than the songs from her last LP, thank u, next. This is not to say that they’re bad, just that they play like an imitation of an Ariana Grande highlight reel, with aforementioned “Bad to You” a clear rehashing of 2016’s “Side to Side” and with “Got Her Own” (which features frequent collaborator Victoria Monét) a reconstructed “7 rings.” Her only solo track on the album (“How I Look on You”) represents its zenith because it allows musical nuance to take the slightest step towards the spotlight: we hear sweeping, slightly dissonant guitars in the opening notes, and a plaintive, drawn-out violin carries us from verse to chorus as we wonder with Grande about the intentions of her suitor.
There are plenty of songs on the album that aren’t Grande’s, and these provide listeners with a bit of relief from any grand expectations. “Eyes Off You,” an Arlissa/Kiana Ledé/M-22 collab, is a house-y jam whose Auto-Tuned ending joyfully laughs at itself for failing to channel Daft Punk, and karaoke-ready ballad “Blackout” gives “The Voice” winner Danielle Bradbery a chance to do her best (and actually pretty damn good) Sia impression. The soundtrack also features a couple of silly remixes: a forgettable Gigamesh take on Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” that’s been floating around since at least 2013 and a campy yet wistful Black Caviar re-reading of the original Charlie’s Angels theme that—bets down—will one day provide incidental music for an Old Navy commercial.
Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the only soundtrack in the franchise so far to rely heavily on new songs, and it’s also the first to highlight predominantly female artists, including numerous women of color. These moves help distance it—and, by extension, its associated film—even further from the male-orchestrated, Jiggle TV tendencies of the old show.
But the compilation ends up feeling like “just enough” instead of like a really engaging, Ariana Grande-level work of art. It could be so much more daring. Why doesn’t it give Kim Petras or Kash Doll, who both appear on opener “How It’s Done,” more opportunity to shine? Why does it feature only a single track whose lyrics aren’t in English (Anitta’s “Pantera”) when it could have taken a truly global approach to contemporary, female-driven pop music? Why are its lyrics so depressingly PG-13?
Hollywood, it seems, has gotten in Grande’s way. Time to send Tinseltown some devil face emojis and act the fuck out, once more.