Ariana Grande released her new track “Problem” featuring Iggy Azalea on Monday, and the song is refreshing in the midst of the anthemic rock, emotional ballads and selfie songs that are currently inhabiting the airwaves.
The song is so excitingly new but also decidedly so retro — the kind of ’90s-era R&B sound that Ariana has admitted to striving for. The cranky sax, the whispered chorus, the airy harmonies and Iggy’s snarky feature — all tied in with a juicy modern beat.
While “Problem” is probably the freshest pop song of the moment, little tidbits from the track draw reference to songs we loved 10 years ago. If parts of the song sound familiar, it may be that Ariana and her team pulled bits and pieces from hits of days’ past. It’s not a vintage throwback for the 20-year-old, seeing as she’s only going back a few years for inspo, so let’s call it her mini-throwback.
Here are a few songs where Grande may have gotten her groove for “Problem.”
1. “Get Right” – J.Lo
When it comes to saxophone loops, J.Lo’s “Get Right” was all over it. It’s the same notes over and over, but its attitude doesn’t let you zone out, reaching out and pulling you right into the song if you’re someone who tends to drift away. (I remember first hearing the song on my bus ride to school in 2004 and thinking that the sax had no place in pop/hip-hop music. I was wrong.)
2. “Wait (The Whisper Song)” – Ying Yang Twins
“The Whisper Song” was always something I laughed at with friends. Wait, he said whaaaaa? Not to mention, we thought it was gross. Anyway, if you’re ready for a NSFW experience, listen to the Ying Yang Twins’ 2005 hit to hear how the guy in “Problem” echoes this throwback when he says “I’ve got one less problem without you.”
3. “1 Thing” – Amerie
Amerie and Ariana both have that high soprano thing going on, making each high note seem flawless. Not only that, but listen to the similar pattern of the beats in both songs, which emphasize some drops more than others. And… it’s from the same era as my first two examples; “1 Thing” was released in 2005.
4. “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” – En Vogue
The vocal harmonies in “Problem” date farther back… to 1992 when girl group En Vogue released “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It).” Listen to when Ariana sings “I got one less, one less problem” and try not to think of the breakdown in that ’92 hit.
5. “Thrift Shop” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
And then, way more recently, we have another big, fat sax loop in Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ viral “Thrift Shop.” I hear a mash-up on the way…