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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ariana Grande’s ‘Yes, And?’ strikes a familiar-sounding pose



Ariana Grande performs at Madison Square Garden in New York, Feb. 23, 2017. (Chad Batka/The New York Times)

By Shaad D’Souza


There was never a question that Madonna’s 1990 pop-house classic “Vogue” was a tidal wave. But over the past year and a half, the song that helped bring the sounds of underground queer culture to the mainstream has continued to create powerful ripples.


Since 2019 — when the track’s release was chronicled on the FX drama “Pose” alongside discussions about authorship and authenticity — the hit has been experiencing a slow, steady resurgence. In 2022, Beyoncé mashed it up with her ballroom-referencing “Break My Soul,” updating Madonna’s rap to pay tribute to Black pop icons, and starting last year, the remix was given prime placement on both Beyoncé’s and Madonna’s tours. Ariana DeBose performed a heavily memed adaptation of “Vogue” at the 2023 BAFTA Awards, and “Vogue” even garnered the ultimate symbol of 2020s relevance: It was sampled by Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny on his album “Nadia Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana.”


Now “Vogue” is the animating reference on “Yes, And?,” the comeback single by Ariana Grande, who has spent three years out of the pop spotlight filming the movie version of “Wicked.” Like the original, written and produced by Madonna and Shep Pettibone, Grande’s song — credited to Grande, Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh — features snappy synth drums; bright, syncopated stabs of piano; and a spoken-word bridge. But “Yes, And?” isn’t an invitation to the dance floor; it’s a rebuttal to Grande’s critics. So while it sounds superficially like “Vogue,” it doesn’t really feel like it.


In the first part of her career, Grande was mainly a classicist with roots in hip-hop soul, ’90s R&B and brassy show tunes. Her fifth album, “Thank U, Next” from 2019, introduced a shift: Adopting the cadences and textures of contemporary rap, Grande provided raw, up-to-the-minute commentary on her personal life.


“Yes, And?” attempts to marry the two sides of her music, providing a throwback musical canvas that she embellishes with her responses to those gossiping about her looks and her latest relationship, with her “Wicked” co-star Ethan Slater. While its bones are unmistakably rooted in “Vogue,” the song takes some turns: A pitched-up vocal sample makes the track feel busy, and Grande, a gifted singer, can’t resist the impulse to fill its empty spaces with high trills and flowery runs. When she approaches the final chorus, she belts the song’s title phrase as if she’s the world’s most effusive improv enthusiast.


Paying tribute to an iconic song is risky business — just ask the many stars who have interpolated or sampled recent hits, only to come off like craven impersonators — and “Vogue,” in particular, is a masterpiece of elegance and restraint. Unlike many Madonna singles, “Vogue” is a remarkably selfless endeavor; it was inspired by the bold, creative queer pioneers of New York’s ballroom culture, and pays tribute to the scene without laying claim to it or assuming its struggles.


Where Madonna’s song is magnanimous and universal, Grande’s is mostly inward and specific. It spins the original’s enticement to lose oneself on the dance floor into a thoroughly modern pop subject: shaking off the haters. And in sliding between lyrics about self-affirmation (“I’m so done with caring what you think”) and queer self-determination (“Boy, come on, put your lipstick on”), she inadvertently falls into a trap — conflating multimillionaire pop star troubles with the struggles of a repressed, persecuted community.


Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul — The Queens Remix” melds “Vogue” with her own song of defiant joy from “Renaissance,” an album celebrating and spotlighting Black dance music with roots in the queer underground. The remix corrects Madonna’s ultra-white name drops while acknowledging the pop star’s role in mainstreaming vogueing, ballroom culture and queer art. (Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott and Grace Jones are among the names that replace Madonna’s roll call of movie stars.) As with “Vogue,” “Break My Soul — The Queens Remix” is a generous gesture that sees a blindingly powerful star minimizing her wattage for a few minutes, in an effort to share the light with predecessors who helped pave her path.


Like “Vogue,” “Yes, And?” arrived alongside a tsunami of tabloid headlines about a controversial on-set romance. But Madonna, unlike Grande, rarely uses her hits to contest her public narrative. Grande’s song yo-yos between “Vogue”-style inspiration on its chorus (“If you find yourself in a dark situation/Just turn on your light”) and pettiness on its bridge (“Why do you care so much whose I ride?” she sings, with a strategic pause), making both modes seem halfhearted. By drawing attention back to her embattled few months, she eschews a golden rule that kept Madonna at the top even when she was most heavily criticized: Never apologize, never explain and let the music speak for itself.

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