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Ariana Grande and Mitski Miyawaki bring back the brainy diva 

click to enlarge Be the Cowboy
  • Be the Cowboy
In a busy diva summer, Mitski and Ariana Grande outshine the likes of Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Christina Aguilera for the same reason that smart indie films trump big-budget cartoon-themed blockbusters. Make no mistake: Minaj, Aguilera and Cardi B pull off brilliant put-downs and double entendres, but all three display an essence of Marvel Comics in new albums.

By contrast, Mitski Miyawaki, with her brilliant fifth album Be the Cowboy (Dead Oceans), and Grande on her new Sweetener (Republic Records), remember how to use subtlety and sly lyrical references to demonstrate their skills as divas with brains.

Mitski has hovered between quiet piano pop and dissonant electric-guitar deliveries over four previous albums, but Be the Cowboy fuses her two sides in a unique and striking style, hinting at Bat for Lashes, St. Vincent, and even Julee Cruise. Like Torres, Mitski mixes quiet whispered moments with loud distortion, and offers minimalist lyric gems such as “I fell in love with a war. Nobody told me it ended.”

Grande might be faulted for using the same vocal exercises that trip up Aguilera, and she collaborates enough with Minaj to inherit some brashness. But on tracks like “No Tears Left to Cry” or “Goodnight N Go,” Grande displays a strikingly serious intent. She even names a song for fiancé Pete Davidson of SNL, perhaps a new milestone in the history of divas.

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