Album Review: Ariana Grande’s “Positions”

An album imbued with Ariana’s insecurities about love, merged together with explicit themes of sexual empowerment, “Positions” is a project to summate her public traumas, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously — but maybe it should have. 

2020 has no doubt been a monumental year in history: a worldwide pandemic broke out that shifted the very concept of normality for modern society; wildfires raged through thousands of acres of land; political tensions reached an all time-high; killer bees were also a thing — but perhaps the most significant event that occured this year was the release of Ariana Grande’s new album “Positions.” Her latest project features 14 tracks and is her sixth studio album following the drop of “Thank U, Next” in 2019. Grande’s vulnerability with her listeners has become a trademark of her music that makes for an intimate listening experience, but here, the pop artist takes her honesty one step further. 

“Positions” is the most sexually-charged project released by Grande thus far, and it bears no shyness in its presentation. This is where I find my first critique, not for the singer, but for those who criticize her sexual content: Grande is a grown woman who was able to convert her real life experiences into art. It is natural that part of that experience would include her love and sex life. Critics of her new sexually-charged music turn indefinitely-blind eyes to the explicit content produced by contemporary male rappers and artists, but when women are sexually empowered and create music to reflect that, they immediately are labeled as promiscuous, and their music is branded as “lazy.” However, Grande does not need me to defend her. “Positions” opens with the track “shut up,” where she directly addresses her scrutinizers with “How you been spending your time? / You be so worried ‘bout mine,” “You know you sound so dumb / so maybe you should shut up.” The opening lines in the first verse also address the difficult times she had in the previous years, including the bombing of her Manchester show, the death of Mac Miller, and her breakup with fiancé Pete Davidson, all of which were extremely public: “All them demons helped me see shit differently / So don’t be sad for me.” This sets the tone for the rest of the album to be not of one reflection and heartbreak like “Thank U, Next,”  but one of finding inner peace and strength. 

One of the most musically-exciting elements on the album presents itself within the first few seconds of “shut up” as well, as the song introduces the album with orchestral strings reminiscent of the iconic first track “Honeymoon Avenue” off her album “Yours Truly.” It is a thrilling reference to catch, and these instrumental features and iconic layered vocals commence “Positions” on a high note — pun intended. However, there are not too many mind-blowing moments on this project. The album is more consistent than some of Grande’s previous ones, but offers no explosive bangers or any insanely-catchy single. The titular song “Positions” is an okay listen, but is in no means groundbreaking in its production. Whereas I wanted to see Grande’s growth and experimentation with her pop and R&B sound, she delivered musically-adequate songs with nuance and honesty. The song is about finding intimacy and reclaiming it in the ways she knows how, and while it may not be the most musically impressive, it neatly wraps up the theme of the entire album, fulfilling its purpose as the title track. 

The remainder of the album is riddled with both small heaps of victory and some sleepy, forgettable bouts of music. “34+35” has a catchy, upbeat mix that is rendered ironic by its juxtaposition against the lyrics, but in a purposeful way that was intended to be absurd. The dirty lyrics oppose the pure strings, and the song is a fun bop to sing along to in the car while your parents zone out and miss the meaning of the track, distracted by the innocent melody. 

However, immediately following is the track “motive” featuring Doja Cat, one such moment in the album that is neither particularly good or bad. It truly pains me to say this, but this song sounds like cheap glitter body spray, unicorn Starbucks drinks, and Forever 21. Its funky pop sound is generic, and Doja Cat’s verse is disappointingly simple. Doja’s typical clever and fun wordplay skipped town for Ariana’s track, and was instead replaced with unimpressive and bland lyrics that don’t say a whole lot: “Can you promise me you’ll bring it all tonight? / ‘Cause I need you to be wise / Tell me everything that’s on your mind.” 

The fourth track on “Positions” is “just like magic,” which I consider to be one of the highest points in the entire project along with “off the table,” featuring The Weeknd. The production on “just like magic” creates a dream-like aura that encompasses the two-minute song, and Ariana displays her lyrical creativity in the chorus, “Middle finger to my thumb and then I snap it.” The Weeknd’s feature was perfect for “off the table,” and with his signature melancholic R&B sound, the pair created a tear-jerking song about being able to find love again that left me sniffling in my living room, daydreaming about heartbreaks I’ve never even had. 

“Positions” ends with “pov,” a bittersweet summation to Grande’s journey of accepting love and finding love for herself. Grande sings “I wanna love me / The way that you love me / for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too / I’d love to see me from your point of view,” accepting that although this is the end of her album about receiving new love, this is only the beginning in her newfound relationship with herself.

Grade: B
Release Date: Oct 30, 2020

Image courtesy of That Grape Juice.

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