‘Positions’ doesn’t quite switch up enough

Positions, Republic

No one pumps out consistently strong new music as frequently as pop sensation Ariana Grande. In the past two years, the singer released a whopping six singles and two albums, both debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200 with Top 10 Hot 100 debuts for each track. Even for a pop star of her echelon, this feat is extremely impressive.

What’s more, Grande accomplished these rare milestones in the midst of some of the most painful, public tragedy imaginable. A tumultuous, grief stricken break-up went from tabloids to the studio, and thank u, next was born.

To that fans and music lovers alike said thank you, but what’s next?

Positions, the singer’s sixth studio album, attempts to answer that question. Helmed by her newest relationship, the album largely draws from the sound Grande mastered with thank u, next. Where the former had a jaded, morbid attitude, Positions reveals a more aloof, cautiously optimistic Grande. She’s more mature, more calm, and more self-aware when it comes to her approach to love.

Conceptually, Positions is one of the singer’s more interesting works. It amply tackles its titular theme in compellingly abstract ways. She looks at love and her life through the lens of various vantage points, interestingly relating her experiences and woes with her increasingly mass audience.

She stews in self-doubt and uncertainty on “off the table (feat. The Weeknd)” and “motive (feat. Doja Cat),” reflects on her life, past and present, with confidence on “just like magic” and opener “shut up,” and imagines herself in her partner’s shoes on closer “pov.”

Regardless of perspective, gone are bonafide hits like “7 rings” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” and replacing them are softer, more laid back Kehlani influenced novellas.

One of the most prominent examples of this deeper R&B tinged aesthetic is brought forth in the long teased cut “nasty.” With a lethargic trap drum, ambient atmosphere and relaxed vocal performance from Grande, the single shows the singer in deeper, more sexual territory. Drawing influence from early 2000s R&B and current artists like SZA, this continues on the effortlessly sultry “west side.”

Grande even dips her toes into disco on “love language.” One of the more experimental tracks on the record, it’s the perfect kind of disco for the bedroom. Grande has never sounded cooler or confident, especially on the commanding outro.

The former tracks considered, each song on Positions has a flighty sense of weightlessness. Credited to the joy Grande’s found in her newest love perhaps, this aspect is as much a strength as it is a fault. Upon the first few listens, listeners will fail to latch on to a song or songs that bolster the album. The 14 track record is decidedly slight at 42 minutes.

This dearth of longer or more fully produced tracks may leave many listeners wanting more to the point of dissatisfaction. Positions often plays like the thank u, next b-sides. There are many songs strong enough to warrant a spot on a studio album, namely standouts “just like magic” and “obvious.”

Others like “my hair,” however, lack the conviction and individuality that made thank u, next such a smash. Whether Positions was meant to make waves and redefine Grande or not, fans will find gems on the tracklist to carry them through the indefinite remainder of quarantine.

Grande likely would have benefited from a longer wait before releasing a thank u, next follow-up. With Positions, though, she evidently does as she pleases. At the end of the day, 7 years into her career, she gets everything she wants ‘cus she attracts it.


Catalogue Check: Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has grown through popstar evolution and personal tragedy. With perhaps the strongest vocals out of any singer in pop today, the songstress has withstood countless heartbreaks, romantically and publicly, and dealt with far more than most people can say. The one constant, though, has been music. Through it all, the superstar has bared her soul to the world and picked herself to travel to new heights. As we await the arrival of positions later this evening, let’s look back at each of Grande’s studio albums, ranked.


A Definitive Ranking of Every Ariana Grande Album:

5. Yours Truly (2013)

From its inception, Yours Truly was meant as an experiment. Opener “Honeymoon Avenue” went through several reworks, and after the success of one of the strongest singles of Grande’s career in “The Way (feat. Mac Miller),” the remainder of the record opted for a contemporary doo-wop R&B sound. It has a lot of highlights, namely the aforementioned intro, as well as “The Way” doppelgänger “Right There (feat. Big Sean)” and deep cut “You’ll Never Know,” but it pales in comparison to the more fully realized artistry of her follow-ups.


My Everything, Republic

4. My Everything (2014)

Grande’s sophomore effort was less of an album and more of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” project. Her most, industry speaking, political record, it offers the glossy EDM of its time in “Break Free (feat. Zedd)” and an impressive array of collaborations from the biggest names in R&B and Hip-Hop. In addition, who can forget that sax on “Problem” and the guest spot from now irrelevant Iggy Azalea. The album could not be more from its time. That said, it doesn’t have much of a voice or any real insight into who Grande is as an artist. Bangers? Quite definitely, but like from Yours Truly, compelling artistry is the missing piece in this bloated pop confection.


Sweetener, Republic

3. Sweetener (2018)

Sweetener is an incredibly complex project. Coming after the Manchester attacks in a time when Grande found joy in a new love, it’s a glimmer of hope in what continues to be a violent and uncertain cultural moment in history. Grande enlisted the help of the ever-present Pharell Williams and longtime collaborator Max Martin for the bulk of the album, which is as much an asset as it is a burden. The different styles of the aforementioned producers make much of the album a jarring, disjointed listen. It lends itself to trap pop in “God is a woman” and “everytime,” but also showcases Grande’s best N.E.R.D. impressions in “the light is coming” and title track “sweetener.” Some tracks are complete throwaways, while others remain some of Grande’s strongest work. As an entire project it’s messy and uneven, but its ambition alone elevates it from much of the singer’s past work.


thank u, next, Republic

2. thank u, next (2019)

The fact that this album, in all of its cultural ubiquity, did not win Album of the Year in 2020 was a huge shock to most. Led by dual smash hit singles “thank u, next,” the biggest and baddest ex kiss-off of the 21st century, and “7 rings,” a revamped Sound of Music banger, the album was undoubtedly the most talked about of the year. While the lyricism could have been stronger, the empowering narrative and personal growth Grande poured into the record remains an astonishing feat, only months after the Sweetener release and death of dear friend and partner Mac Miller.


Dangerous Woman, Republic

1. Dangerous Woman (2016)

From the moment “Dangerous Woman” was released into the world, pop Stans and music listeners everywhere did a double take. Here she was, a near fully realized superstar finally seizing the power of her own vocals. What followed was a decidedly “good girl gone bad” evolution for Ariana Grande. Does it cater to the cliches of pop albums that have come before it? Sure, but it does it ever so stylishly. Coming before a wave of grief completely and unfairly removed an innocent young woman from a joyous time in her life, the album showcased Grande at her most powerful and least problematic. There was no brown facing, instead a collection of timeless bangers cohesively stitched together in her strongest project to date. Dangerous Woman is peak pop.