Whenever I think of iconic VMA performances, this one comes to mind first. Still a fledgling solo artist at the time, the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards was the first time Beyoncé got to show the world what she was working with; there had been great performances before this one, but this was the first time she had done something of this scale and with this large of an audience. It was her declaration of being one of the greats, and for me, my official induction into her fan base. Watch this piece of popular music history below.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m never in a hurry to do album reviews, but I like what I had heard so far and the album is only 48 minutes long, so I said, “what the heck,” and did a review for Ariana Grande’s fourth album, Sweetener.

The album opens with a “Raindrops (an Angel Cried),” a 37-second interlude sung in acapella. The message is clear: “I’ve got pipes and don’t you ever get it twisted.”

The first full song is “Blazed,” which was written and produced by Pharrell Williams, who is also featured on the track. It’s a vibey mid-tempo that kinda sounds like something off Justin Timberlake’s solo debut, Justified. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it feels a little incomplete — almost like a demo they never got around to tweaking.

The next two tracks are the Nicki-Minaj-assisted “The Light Is Coming,” which I am still not sold on, and “R.E.M,” a song that had originally recorded been by Beyoncé for her self-titled fifth album (but didn’t make the final cut). Ariana’s take on the song is really good, but I think Bey’s version is a little punchier. The track has a bouncy quality that will make you think it’s a Jermaine Dupri creation, but it’s actually another Williams production.

“R.E.M” is followed by “God Is a Woman” (a song that I’ve grown to love) and the album’s title track, which is part-ballad, part-trap; and somehow, it works. The song could probably do without Pharrell’s ad libs in the background, but overall, I like it.

“Successful” is yet another Pharrell Williams production and I cannot be convinced that this track wasn’t made from a demo from the Justified sessions — it has that classic Neptunes sound.  The track has Ariana rubbing her beauty, youth, money and fame in our raggedy faces. I had to pause for a second to think about my life. Smh…anyway, decent song but nothing special.

Ariana sings about returning to the same guy on “Everytime.” Produced by Ilya and Max Martin, the track was the first to really jump at me on the first listen. I’ll be surprised if this isn’t one of the album’s singles.

Ariana keeps the momentum on “Breathin,” another Ilya production that sounds more “pop” than most of the album. If you like a song with big vocals and lots of melody, this is your track; also, if you like the beat on Drake’s “Hold on, We’re Going Home,” you’ll like the beat on “Breathin” because they are almost identical.

“Breathin” is followed by the album’s first single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” which is another one that took a while to grow on me. “Cry” is followed by Williams-produced “Borderline,” which features Missy Elliott. I had high hopes, but the song just doesn’t curl all the way over.

Ariana slows it down on the Hit-Boy-produced “Better Off,” where sings about fucking on the roof and doing a host of other freaky shit. There’s more sex on “Goodnight n Go,” which has this electro R&B sound that’ll remind you of Rihanna’s Loud album.

The next track is “Pete Davidson.” Let me start by saying that Ariana’s engagement with Pete Davidson feels like a disaster waiting to happen, but in any case, her dedication to her man is decent. At only 1 minute 14 seconds, I would classify it as an interlude.

The album ends with “Get Well Soon,” which would probably take more than one listen to get into. The track is about Ariana getting better after suffering PTSD as a result of the bombing at her concert in Manchester last year; it is also dedicated to the victims of the tragic incident. While I love the message of the song, I’m not sure why it is sung over “baby-making” instrumentals, but I guess a more sober ballad would’ve been too obvious.

Sweetener is a solid body of work and Ariana’s most adult project yet — she was definitely going for grown and sexy vibes throughout. There are no real duds on the album, but half of it can be classified as lukewarm. The album would’ve benefited from a ballad or two (and perhaps one club banger).

Album rating: 7.5 out of 10.

:::::::::::::::: CHUNE ALERT ::::::::::::::::

If you know me, you know I love Janet Jackson for real, and it gives me great pleasure to tell you that her new song, “Made for Now,” is her best in years. The track — a duet with Daddy Yankee and presumably the lead single from her next album — has strong Reggaeton and Afropop influences (more of the latter than the former). If you’re familiar with Afropop, you’ll probably get some Fuse ODG vibes from this track.

In keeping with the African influences, the video features all type of Ankara — fashioned in a bohemian kind of way that might remind you of the “Together Again” video. I love it all. Peep the clip below.

Aretha Franklin passed away today at 9:50am at her home in Detroit. She was 76 years old.

According to her oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips, the cause of death was advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. She was surrounded by family and friends at the time of her death.

Dubbed the Queen of Soul, Aretha has had one of the most legendary careers in show business. She has sold over 75 million albums, won 18 Grammys, sung at three presidential inaugurations, and was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Some of the greatest vocalists of all time — including Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey — cite Aretha as an influence. And quite frankly, anyone who performs anything with an R&B influence should cite her as an influence because she helped shape the genre. She was one of the first big vocalists the music industry has ever seen and, without her, a lot of your artists wouldn’t exist.

Born on March 25, Aretha and I share a birthday, so that’s one more thing that made me love her. She was a once-in-a-lifetime talent and her music will live forever. Rest in peace, Aretha.