Review: Ariana Grande's Album Positions

When it comes to Ariana Grande’s new album positions, you might want to listen away from your parents and with a cold glass of water at hand. In her most sexually explicit release to date, Grande sings about how freeing love can be when you are content not only with your relationship but with yourself. With blush-inducing lyrics and high-calibre collaborations, it is clear that at the height of her career following smash hits sweetener and thank u, next, Grande does not pander towards reinvention; her high whistle tones and unmatched charm are all she needs to pivot to her next success.  

The 14-track album, released on Oct. 30 by Republic Records and the sixth of Grande’s high-profile career lends itself to some fair criticism. Loyal fans of Grande will undoubtedly flock for new tunes, but more casual listeners like myself are quick to note that positions is most certainly not her quarantine version of King Lear. While Grande’s distinct mumble-moan voice works for an album of this thematic venture, at 27, one wonders if she may take cues at some point from her peer Taylor Swift, who has jumped from country, to pop, now to alternative folk, amassing a diverse fan base along the way. Grande did get her start on Broadway, after all. Though it is true Grande has mastered her signature style of R&B pop, positions is in need of some creative risk-taking, rather than the same old techno combined with orchestra backtracks.

On positions, Grande spreads love in a tumultuous and uncertain climate, namely being written during quarantine and released mere days before the results of the U.S. presidential election. Coming off the best album of her career and a pop culture phenomenon, thank u, next, it is hard to name particular standouts from her latest. I was particularly interested at the inclusion of my hair which is quite literally a song of vapid lyrics about her iconic high ponytail. What surprised me most was on a previous track, 7 rings, Grande was accused of cultural appropriation, specifically the lyric, “you like my hair? / Gee thanks, just bought it.” Though that lyric and this song are true to her and her lavish hair extensions, it also points to what some may deem as tokenizing black female artists and pride for weaves, an arena Grande should not be inserting herself into. 

34+35 and nasty, on the other hand, left my mouth agape, for an entirely different reason. These songs are without question the most sexually explicit songs in her discography. In the former, Grande tells listeners to “do the math” and promises “I’ma give it to you like you never had it/ I do it so good, it’s gon’ be hard to break the habit” on nasty. As a collective album, positions is grown up in that it veers away from Grande’s traditional breakup ballads and love songs and focuses in on her sexual liberation and positive self-image, which she indicates is a work-in-progress.

The top song worth noting, off the table, features an updated collaboration with The Weeknd, (the two previously dueted on love me harder in 2014). The song is written like a dialogue and looks towards an uncertain future in love while lamenting the past, perhaps referencing ex-boyfriend Mac Miller’s death in late 2018. Singing, “might not be quite yet healed already /should I be goin' too steady? / but I just wanna know is love completely off the table?”. On one of the only songs where sexuality is not the pervasive theme, Grande is able to explore more vulnerable emotions with a melancholic yet optimistic view, precisely the recipe that made thank u, next such a smash hit.

Throughout positions, the album is true to its name with heavy synth, orchestral melodies and Grande’s signature pop spunk. While this album has fewer explored themes and is less lyrically poignant than previous, Grande proves her success no matter what she does, as long as she is authentic to her present circumstances. Perhaps the description of her album explains it best: “pain and loss are a part of life, but so are pleasure and love. She seems acutely aware that we have little control over any of it.”