Ariana Grande – “Focus” (Singles Going Steady)

Focus on me, the ego, the living planet, the brand. I am become Samsung, reinforcer of worlds. Now dance, fools.

Timothy Gabriele: How much do you think Samsung paid to put its logo within the first two seconds of this video for the purposes of showing that it has the same pen-to-screen capabilities that a Palm Pilot had 15 years ago? No, but seriously focus on it. Look, I’m not going to deny that the production on this track is hot as hell, but isn’t there something just a little troubling/minstrelsy about the uncredited vocal at the center of the chorus (now revealed to be the voice of Jamie Foxx)? In a midst of a white woman’s run-through of a Destiny’s Child aesthetic, minus the substance, Grande imports a gruff impoverished black dialect as an argument for narcissism, pampering, sex kitten-ing, et al.. “Ah, but I’m catchy as catch can,” the song beckons, “and not in that Maroon 5 saw your ear flaps off kind of way. Surrender.” Don’t focus on that race stuff. Don’t even pay attention to the arbitrary severed legs that the director seems to have added from a checklist in the study guide to Sut Jhally’s Dreamworlds videos. Focus on me, the ego, the living planet, the brand. I am become Samsung, reinforcer of worlds. Now dance, fools. [6/10]

Evan Sawdey: Last time Ariana had a lead single for her album, it was the Max Martin-produced “Problem”, which used a very understated chorus and killer horn hook to make it stand out on radio (one of the track’s co-producers said it was very much inspired by the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song)”, even getting them to record a verse that proved so terrible that they brought in Iggy Azalea instead). Here, Martin and his cohorts do … basically the same thing. While the horn part on the bridge really recalls modern-day K-pop breaks, the rest of the rather unfocused “Focus” apes “Problem” on a structural level to the point where it could be argued that the two are barely distinguishable from each other, much as how Coldplay followed up the success of 2003’s “Clocks” with the pale imitation that was 2005’s “Speed of Sound”. What’s worst of all, however, is how Grande, a Broadway showboater of a vocalist, ultimately doesn’t get many chances to do her trademark vocal runs, thereby leaving the song anonymous, a Max Martin product that Grande just happened to sing on. It’s not outright terrible, but what it lacks in character it makes up for in total forgetableness. Remember Ariana: no matter how hardcore your fanbase is, they can still smell a carbon copy when placed directly in front of them. [3/10]

Ryan Dieringer: Mixing lame, late-Pharrell cowbell jump and watered-down Timbaland says the opposite of “focus on me” in my opinion. But certainly effective in driving google traffic for “how old is Ariana Grande?” I think she’s great, but I think Max Martin could do better. [3/10]

Paul Duffus: One way to liven up this odourless mainstream pop fart is to pretend that rather than “Focus on me, f-f-focus on me!” the hook is actually “Focos ponit, f-f-focos ponit!“. If Ariana Grande/Jamie Foxx were quoting Ovid’s Metamorphoses, then there’s a danger that we might actually have something interesting on our hands, some art, or such. Unfortunately “Focus On Me” isn’t a three and half minute long aetiological meditation in dactylic hexameter, but a predictable ejaculation of self-affirming, “find a light in our universe” blathering. Yeccch! Positivity sucks, kids. Never forget it. [3/10]

Dustin Ragucos: In a few years, some of us will have nightmares involving grocery shopping while “Focus” is booming through the speakers in an infinite loop and there’s nothing that store management can do about it. It’s fantastic earworm, but it has qualities similar to a virus. [5/10]