R.E.M. Eau de Parfum by Ariana Grande Review
I’ll admit I ordered this sample entirely for the zephyr note.
Yes, reader, I am aware that zephyrs are a delicacy not known for their overwhelming scent. That this sort of zeroing in on an arbitrary unique gourmand note is a marketing thing more than anything, a colorful image Ariana Grande’s fragrance team wants me to conjure out of thin, sugar-spun air.
But I can’t help it. I love zephyrs. They’re my favorite. Also spelled zephir and zefir, the sweet Eastern European marshmallow confectionery was named after the Greek god Zephyrus, who ruled the west wind, the gentlest of the four winds, and was the messenger of spring. Named such due to their fluffy light-as-air texture, I’m going to spell it zephyr throughout this review in line with that etymology.
A zephyr was the treat I got when I was good at the end of a trip to the Eastern European market as a kid. I haven’t had one in ages. I love their tart citric acid tang, their light fruity aroma, their thick consistency, not wet and gooey, much easier to bite through than the American marshmallow. I miss their pink and white sweetness, the way it hurts my teeth, the gritty crystals of confectionery that fall off the beautiful whipped shapes into the plastic tray beneath them.
I was curious. I’ve been curious for so long. And, of course, I was hungry. And I was ordering samples. And it was inexpensive. So there went R.E.M., right into my cart.
I’ve also been trying to get back into lavender. I say “back,” although I’m never entirely sure how much I liked lavender in the first place; I listed it as one of my favorite scents as a child back when I didn’t know very many scents, but who can really dislike lavender? And then I had a deeply unpleasant experience richly entrenched in the scent of pure, undiluted lavender essential oil. And I was put off lavender for a good decade.
So, trying to get back into lavender as I am, I figured R.E.M. by Ariana Grande is as far from pure authentic lavender essential oil as I can possibly get. A sweet, fluffy light designer scent with a whisp of feminine, purple lavender? Sounds like something I can handle. I’m game. Sign me up.
And yet, when R.E.M. arrived and I first sprayed it onto my wrists and neck with great ceremony and certain trepidation, I found, to my relief and disappointment, that there was not nearly as much lavender as I had expected. So many reviewers have remarked that R.E.M. is too masculine for them, that it should have been sold as unisex, that it feels like a men’s lavender deodorant, that I was excited for some good herbal gender-bending action, a daring and deceptively inexpensive sexy unisex scent like Sarah Jessica Parker’s breathtaking Stash.
But alas, no such revelatory gender-bent boyfriend’s-deodorant unisex-hot-person transformation transpired. Instead, R.E.M. is a pleasant light and sweet scent, slightly gourmand and edible but not nauseating or heavy, with a light salt-and-lavender twist. My fears had exaggerated the lavender note to the size of a giant, when really it’s more of a cute and manicured little purple mouse.
No, reader, I do not get very much lavender here at all. I get whiffs of it circling up here and there from the base of my neck, but none at all from my wrists. I am trying this perfume on a crisp but sunny 40° Fahrenheit day, and the neck and chest are warmer than the wrists, so I think the lavender note is likely fuller and more present here when worn in warmer weather.
The first thing I detect in R.E.M. is a light, pink gourmand designer sweetness, fluffy like a pink marshmallow. It’s too sweet and pink for me, but I’m intrigued.
And then I groan aloud. Because the second thing is saltiness, that mysterious accord I’d dived into in my early fragrance days with such bravado and promptly run screaming back out of.
“What does salt even smell like?” isn’t the right question. This doesn’t smell like salt, it smells salty, the same way food tastes salty, but without the context of food. It’s a bit like that in Mugler’s Womanity or Hermès’ Un Jardin sur la Lagune, but softer, more faint. There’s a hint of a metallic edge to it, as I find is always the case with salty notes, but it doesn’t clang loudly and abrasively against your nose. This is more in line with Lagune’s softer, more balanced metal-tinged saltiness than with Womanity’s dripping, clanging acrid toxicity.
I’m also relieved this saltiness isn’t balanced out by some nauseatingly bright fruity note here, as it seems salty notes so often are. Quince and figs are listed in the note pyramid, but nothing in R.E.M. feels particularly fruity to me. I’d believe it if it turns out the quince lends a certain dry, sour yellow sparkle to the opening, but it becomes negligible in seconds as it dries on my skin. As time goes on, there’s just a hint of fruity texture woven into the sweet accord, a suggestion more than anything, but it’s never predominant.
On me, most of the body of R.E.M. is a fluffy sweet accord with a marshmallowy-soft texture. No, it’s not a bang-on zephyr scent. I should have figured that’s mostly marketing anyway. Zephyrs aren’t the most loudly aromatic sort of dessert, but their crisp, tart citric acid edge and frosted, crumbly, gooey, powdery facets are all missing here. No, this is a vague light-pink-colored marshmallow cloud, pleasant and inoffensive and sweet and so very designer-pink.
R.E.M. is sweet, but it’s light. This doesn’t feel like nearly as heavy of a designer sweet scent as Burberry’s Burberry Brit or Jessica Simpson’s Fancy. R.E.M. is lighter, more nimble and lithe, quieter, a bit more subdued. It doesn’t clobber you over the head with pink plastic Barbie dolls. Instead, it invites you to a delicate pink-and-purple doll party on a piece of cute scented stationary, with swirly little heart motifs along the border, signed in deep blue-indigo-purple pen.
“Okay,” I think. “It’s a sweet and slightly salty designer scent. Fine. Not for me.”
But then something bizarre happens.
From half an hour on, R.E.M. starts to remind me intensely of… something.
Strangely, vaguely, something about this perfume starts to intensely remind me of what I think of as the Holy Trinity of weird vanilla scents that ride the line between mass appeal and niche strangeness: Diptyque’s Eau Duelle, Atelier Cologne’s Vanille Insensée, and Imaginary Authors’ Memoirs of a Trespasser.
For a few minutes, I can’t pin down exactly what it is. Sure, the sweet accord has been developing progressively into something slightly heavier and more vanillic, with tonka bean and caramel crawling out of the woodwork, but that can’t possibly be it.
And then it hits me.
Somehow, the salty note in R.E.M. has shifted into a bitter, almost earthy note that is identical to the clay note in Imaginary Authors’ Memoirs of a Trespasser.
Reader, this is weird. In just half an hour, the salt in R.E.M. is no longer salt to me. It’s become a bitter, inky, earthy, strange edge to the concoction that is identical to that clay note. The similarity is exaggerated by the way both sharp clay notes are countered by a rich, sweet vanilla scent — more of a deep brown bourbon vanilla in Memoirs of a Trespasser and a pink-zephyr-caramel-tonka vanilla here, but a richly sweet vanilla all the same.
It honestly makes me laugh. I had been so impressed and intrigued by that clay note. It had felt like something I’d never smelled anywhere before, and now here I am, smelling it again. This has to be some identical aromachemical that both perfumes use, since it smells — I can’t emphasize this enough — exactly the same to me. It’s the same deep earthy bitterness that fascinated and slightly repelled me in Memoirs, perfectly balancing out a rich, deep vanilla.
I had been so put off by that faint whiff of saltiness that had felt so odd and disparate from the pink over-sweetness, and now, within just thirty minutes, the salt was no longer there.
Just as in the Imaginary Authors scent, here that sharp bitter clay note keeps everything else hanging in perfect balance. It’s a bit of a bite on the end of the breath that keeps R.E.M. from ever getting sickening. This is still a substantially sweet perfume, reminiscent of pink and purple stores of sweets, but it’s sweet in a light, slightly diaphanous way that slowly deepens into a vanillic scent balanced by the sharp edge of clay.
So that’s… really strange. I’m curious to know whether anyone else smells something like this on their skin in R.E.M. It might just be me, but wow. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a dupe of Memoirs of a Trespasser — not by a long shot — but for two radically differently-advertised perfumes that share a grand total of zero notes on the label, the two share way more defining characteristics than I’d expected.
The sweet accord in R.E.M. shifts progressively more towards some lovely caramel notes over time. These become to start particularly noticeable from about an hour in onwards. They’re never as sweet and rich and brown as those in Jessica Simpson’s Fancy, but they are an enticing gourmand pleasure to behold.
It seems like I never get much lavender at all in R.E.M. A few occasional whisps in the first hour, sure, but no more. It’s a nice lavender note, and I actually wish I’d get more of it here, which is actually really encouraging in overcoming my personal aversion to the note. It’s not the richest or most photorealistic lavender I’ve ever smelled, but the note here is pure and simple and straightforward, just slightly herbal, blending perfectly into the haze of sweet, vanillic, fluffy, marshmallowy, almost-lactonic notes, like a lavender vanilla latte.
Interestingly, several Ukrainian reviewers have remarked R.E.M. smells to them like overripe mulberries or mulberry jam. I adore mulberries, but don’t really get anything much like that here. But I can kind of see the connection: this smells like sweetness that’s been warmed up by sunshine, like the dark dripping juicy mulberries in the trees behind the baseball field near my parents’ place.
Even though nothing here is intensely fruity or at all really berry-like, somehow I can see the mixture of warm sunned sweetness, slight clay bitterness, pink-and-purple sugary notes, and hint of juicy quince blending into something that suggests warm and jammy mulberries.
R.E.M. is a largely linear scent, with the salt-turned-clay note fading over time and the sweet accord getting progressively lighter and more feathery. Interestingly, it seems as if a hint of lavender is one of the last notes to hold out on my skin, revealing itself as the scent turns a dusky purple and the pink marshmallow sweets slowly fade away.
I’ve seen R.E.M. described as powdery by some, but nothing in here feels at all powdery to me. It’s sweet and musky, feathery and measured and dry so as to not feel over-saturated with syrup, but it’s not at all like soap or makeup or powder. Nor is it especially floral on me, and especially not in a way that’s typically considered powder-like.
It may not be anything mindblowing, and it certainly isn’t my usual sort of thing, but my six hours in, I’m rather fond of this faint, light, fluffy-pink-marshmallow-lavender scent floating around me. It feels… nice. Simply pleasant. Quiet and unobtrusive. Softly sweet and comforting without being overwhelming.
In my opinion, the sweet accord here gets better with time. Where it starts off discordant, with a jarringly loud puff of designer sweetness followed by currents of tonka-bean-vanilla and caramel, by the drydown this is a perfect mix of light, fluffy, gentle sweet notes that, in their texture, really do remind me of a zephyr.
This is a box of beautiful white and light pink and lilac-purple zephyr confections, vanilla and raspberry and black currant. A faint caramel drips around the edges, less rich and dark and cloying than that in Fancy, a delectable drizzle atop the whipped confectionery desserts. And, above it all, a clean, feminine whisper of cool blueish-purple lavender.
There’s drippings here and there of a certain bourbon-vanilla butteriness I associate so much with Memoirs of a Trespasser, and the corresponding mental image of popcorn and binturongs and the rich language of the Jahai people. Is Ariana Grande’s R.E.M. just a little bit ltpit in the background? Who’s to say?
Regardless, it’s delicious and balanced, light and whipped and perfect, and I want to keep smelling it forever. This is a gourmand drydown done right. It remains unique and distinctly R.E.M. without being overly heavy, nauseating, playdough-y, or cloying. This is a perfume that remains recognizable — and, if anything, grows into its identity over time — all the way until it’s gone.
Though I wasn’t entirely enthused in the first hour, by the drydown R.E.M. lives up to its name and is a dream. I’d love to be surrounded by a cloud of this for a day.
For someone who’s more fond of sweet scents and lavender than I am, I can see this being a solid daily signature scent. It’s on the sweeter side with a bit of an unusual salt-and-clay bite, but I think a modest application of this would still do just fine for everyday school or office wear.
I don’t get much sandalwood, musk, or pear blossom here.
But what’s a pear blossom note but a general puff of nondescript floral spray, anyway? As I previously bemoaned in Jo Malone’s Nectarine Blossom & Honey, so often designer scents throw the name of a fruit and the word “blossom” together as if the blossom of that actual plant is a note of note in the perfume, when really many fruiting tree blossoms hardly smell like anything at all.
In fact, we should probably be glad this doesn’t smell like a pear tree, as the only pear blossoms noted for their scent are those of the Bradford Pear tree, a stench whose scent is commonly compared to that of rotting fish and various bodily secretions.
But sure, I’d believe there’s some spritz of nondescript fruity-airy-floral molecule in here somewhere they’re calling a pear blossom note.
As for musk, R.E.M. is certainly sort of musky in its airy, feathery lavender texture, though not quite to the dramatically soft and diffuse level of the lavender in Burberry’s criminally underrated Burberry Brit Rhythm for Women. Still, it’s more of a soft and musky aura to the scent as a whole than an obligatory musk-heavy phase, and for that I am grateful.
I love sandalwood, but I don’t get much of anything like it here, except maybe a certain quasi-woody rich, warm sweet note buried deep in the base of the drydown.
This feels a little bit like Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely’s little sister, or perhaps even her daughter. Lovely is a confident businesswoman sort of pink lavender scent, comforting and clean and a little bit shampoo-ey. She’s mature and grown up and knows what she wants, and she looks absolutely killer in a suit and pumps. R.E.M., on the other hand, is a sweet, pleasant young woman interning at the office, toting light-purple stationary and a lunchbox filled with sweets. She’s younger, more saccharine, but has a certain floaty, feathery sort of coolness about her that make it clear she and Lovely share their purple lavender genes.
The longevity of R.E.M. is quite respectable for a designer scent, clocking in at something like twelve to fourteen hours. The projection and sillage are on the quieter, more intimate side, but you can still clearly smell whisps of R.E.M. around you all day as you go about your business. It feels like a lovely little personal cloud of sweet light-pink marshmallow softness.
In short, this is sort of like a feathery pink-and-purple designer flanker for Memoirs of a Trespasser. Not something I ever would have thought of wanting on my own, but I like it. I’m not a purple candy sweet scent kind of gal — the dark, rich bourbon-barrel moodiness of Memoirs is much more my speed — so I don’t feel a need for this, but I like it and appreciate it, and it’s cozy and fascinating just like that one is. It feels good, especially in the drydown. It’s safe and sweet, but still packs some twists and surprises I hadn’t expected of this Ariana Grande perfume.
I hadn’t written about perfume for a bit as I was dealing with some stressful life stuff, and this one surprised me enough to get me writing again. I didn’t force myself to try this one and immediately start taking compulsive notes — I’d just gone out with the intent to wear it and enjoy it, and all of a sudden I was rushing home, wanting to write down the thoughts that were naturally popping up in my head.
This feels like a very happy sort of scent, light and sweet and pleasing. Even though sweet perfumes really aren’t my thing, the tricks R.E.M. kept pulling out of its bag contributed to my sunny disposition all day. It feels like the first really happy day I’ve had in a long while, like the sun’s come out again. I’m glad it’s back.
Life is such a rich tapestry full of surprises, isn’t it?
Where to Find R.E.M. Eau de Parfum by Ariana Grande
You can find samples and decants of R.E.M. EdP at Scent Decant.
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