It has only been a year and two months since Ariana Grande released her sophomore album My Everything, and only eight months since her last single (“One Last Time”) was being promoted. In the time between, she embarked on a world tour, spent time in the studio, and briefly returned to the small screen with a recurring role on Fox’s Scream Queens. Oh, and there was the “Donutgate” scandal…but for the sake of the bashing I am about to give her new single, I will overlook that little event.
So with Ariana’s packed schedule and the year quickly winding down, it was looking unlikely that she was going to release any new music before the end of 2015. Then, last month, she surprised everyone by announcing her new single would be out at the end of October. As an Ariana fan, I was excited we were going to hear a new single…mostly because a new single generally indicates a new album release is imminent.
The single is very underwhelming on the first listen. Nothing about “Focus” immediately catches your attention. The first verse starts off well enough, but the song never builds to anything. I was actually on board until the first chorus kicked in and that awful male voice repeating “focus on me” over and over again completely turned me off. In addition, as with typical Grande style, it is difficult at times to understand what she’s saying. As someone who has listened to both her albums front to back, her vocal delivery here is also pretty lackluster. Unlike other Grande songs such as “Why Try” and “Tattooed Heart”, “Focus” sounds like it could be sung by any typical mainstream female artist. Also unlike her previous lead singles “The Way” and “Problem,” “Focus” is sung in a relatively low key and there is only one high note and even that sounds slightly strained and remains unimpressive by Ariana standards.
By the time the song ended, I found myself asking “that’s it?” After all the anticipation and social media hype, “Focus” seemed to be missing something. Whether that something is a rap feature, a more powerful vocal delivery, a harder breakdown, or simply a better chorus, I do not know. Maybe it needs all of those things to polish itself up. That is not to say “Focus” is terrible because it’s not. It follows almost the same formula Grande used last year with “Problem,” and “Focus” checks several of the required boxes for a solid 2015 mainstream pop song. The issue is that there seems to be no artistic growth, no vocal growth, no experimentation, no lyrical depth…it is just Ariana singing a generic pop song with an annoying chorus.
And I won’t even bother discussing the music video. I will let everyone form their own opinions on that mess. (“Focus” Music Video)
Despite shooting to #2 on iTunes shortly after its release – rightfully yielding the top spot to Adele’s “Hello,” – I am not expecting the single to have the impact or longevity that both “The Way” and “Problem” had. Will it reach the top 10? Definitely. Will it sell well? Of course. But those numbers are only reflective of the name attached to the song, not the quality of the song itself. Lead singles need to be impactful and grab their audience straight away to the point that the audience feels the need to replay the track over and over again. In my opinion, “Focus” does not have that appeal. Ariana has yet to secure herself a number one single and, unfortunately, I do not think “Focus” will accomplish that for her.