‘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.

Monét hunts for stardom on ‘JAGUAR’

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JAGUAR, Tribe Records

Powerful and mysterious, Victoria Monét embodies the jungle cat with charisma on the aptly titled JAGUAR. A small collection of 9 impressive tracks, the album is a slight showcase of Monét as she continues to grow into herself.

The R&B singer songwriter is no stranger to the industry. Backing one of the biggest albums of 2019 in thank u, next, its increasingly clear how deeply the artist influenced the latest sound of Ariana Grande – one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Her name is credited on nearly every song on the record, pointing to her ability to encapsulate the vernacular and attitudes of a new generation.

JAGUAR is not much different. While a significant shift from the work on the aforementioned juggernaut of a pop album, the project exists in a similar lyrical playground. Like the animal she embodies, Monét stalks the line of surface pop and more meaningful messages of self-empowerment and confidence. It plays as an extended resume for an artist still waiting for her increasingly imminent day in the sun.

Opening with the previously released “Moment,” Monét declares herself as an up next A-lister. “So fuck a fantasy, this your motherfuckin’ moment,” she states. Both to the listener in herself, Monét instills a sense of confidence that immediately envelops the listener into the sultry funk of the record.

This sense of self-promotion continues on “Big Boss,” an smooth, silky interlude. It acts as a bridge perhaps the biggest standout on the album, “Dive.”

Similar to Wale and Rihanna’s “Bad,” the track’s production weaves the sound of a bed spring with classic funk in horns and drums. It slyly flips the script on the traditional R&B sex songs often put out by male performers. Monét is in complete control here, commanding her partner through a night in bed. The singer’s voice is immediately disarming on the track.

The crux of the album lays in its title track, “Jaguar.” The latest single off of the album, the track bridges the slower, more sensual R&B of the first half with the dance beats of the latter portion. More, it showcases some of the stickiest songwriting on the entire record, with Monét dissolving into her pop persona seamlessly. It paves the way for the fun collaboration with SG Lewis and Khalid in “Experience” and lead single “Ass Like That.”

The final two tracks continue the hot streak. With an album so slender, each song needs to have enough weight to standout. With JAGUAR, it’s evident Monét delicately strung together these songs to formulate the album’s world. “Go There With You” features the playful contemporary voice the singer penned on thank u, next. “We’re picking fights like its fortnite,” she asserts. Youthful and provocative, it’s a deep cut that bleeds gold.

Concluding the album is the sexually fluid “Touch Me.” Reminiscent of other R&B artists from Kehlani to SZA, the song is another smash. Describing the song in a discussion with Apple Music, Monét stated, “Instead of thinking about this song completing the project, I wanted it to be more of a pathway into part two for when the project completes itself as an album.” It’s the perfect “to be continued” title card, departing before overstaying its welcome.

The album is, well, a jaguar – light on its feet, quietly confident, and quick. At just 9 tracks, it’s a smooth shot of tequila. “Get to know me inside. If you love me, show me,” Monét pleads in the album’s final moment. It’s this call to action to everyone listening that she leaves listeners with.

Victoria Monet has declared her presence, and demands those supporting her to make it known.


Gaga repairs her wings in ‘Chromatica’

What do you call a Mad Max themed gay club?

Chromatica.

"Chromatica," Lady Gaga
Chromatica, Interscope Records

A self-described dance record, Chromatica is extremely theatrical – an operatic symphony set to the best club soundscapes of the last few decades. Executive produced by BloodPop, the album is an extremely singular vision through which Gaga can fully execute her storytelling.

The record has a clear three-act structure, broken into segments by “Chromatica” interludes each setting the tone and providing delicious musical segues into each chapter. The story reveals itself to be one of redemption. In Act 1, Gaga seeks a love, fails, and is left to pick up the pieces. Act 2, specifically outstanding for the segue into “911,” tests her strengths and her grieving process, exposing moments of weakness and pain intercut with episodes of extreme confidence and progression. It isn’t until Act 3 when Gaga discovers her one true love: music. With the help of Elton John, whose personal narrative immaculately thematically aligns with the album’s story, Gaga expresses this.

Like many pop albums before it, when the flamboyance of Chromatica is stripped away, it is a classic tale of overcoming heartbreak. The point isn’t to tell an unfamiliar story – it rarely is in pop music. Instead, its to welcome the listener into a world of hope that transcends any sort of turmoil they are feeling.

Gaga and her producers’ ambition knows no bounds on Chromatica. The cohesive sound is impressively maintained throughout the album’s 16 tracks. This is as much an asset as it is a weak point. Several songs on the record build endurance only to be undercut by an underwhelming or trivial dance break.

Most prominently suffering from this anticlimax is “Rain On Me,” Gaga’s viral smash with Ariana Grande. Where it resonated with a public looking for hope and acceptance in an incredibly strange time, the track remains, well, not that good.

Like her duet with Elton John (“Sine From Above”), this collaboration utilizes the history of the guest artist to enrich the theme of the song. Anyone who knows Grande knows she has dealt with a lot in the past few years, not to mention her artistic imagery featuring rain and tear, and “Rain On Me” is a good fit because of this.

That said, the single suffers from a less than stellar chorus with the post chorus following suit.

Similar are later tracks “Enigma” and “Replay.” Featured in the album’s second act, the two songs encapsulate the duality of strength and weakness Gaga faced post breakup. In the context of the album, their presence is clear. As single tracks, both are easily forgotten.

Not all of the middle section of the album is like this, nor is the album generally. BLACKPINK lends a much needed injection of style and sleekness to the record, deepening Chromatica with the strongest club banger on the album. “Sour Candy” is a sultry, confident bop from a group of women expertly balancing their sex appeal and power.

Equally euphoric is solo standout “Free Woman.” One of the few tracks to reflect inward, it’s confident and one of the more danceable tunes on the album. The mode of communication Gaga utilizes here lyrically lays in subtext. What often appear as basic pop melodies are really layered insights into Gaga at this point in her life.

Another great example of this is the track “Plastic Doll.” Gaga fittingly uses the seasoned metaphor of the novel female pop artist – the plastic doll that everyone loves, for a time. She’s top shelf, meaning she can withstand the short attention spans and sexist career cycles of women in her genre. Underneath all of these appearances, though, is a deep sadness stemming from the broken-hearted insecurity within the artist.

While it has clear highlights, some of the record comes off painfully commercial. It’s a far cry from the “art pop” the singer has intended to be known for. Where albums Born This Way and The Fame had a lot to say under their glossy production, Chromatica does little to transcend the lived in heartbreak narrative. It lacks the edge that made her two strongest albums pop classics.

Chromatica closes with Gaga’s best “Vogue” impression under the pseudonym “Babylon.” Meant to close the album on a confident note, Madonna’s presence is palpable and impossible to ignore. If nothing more than slightly jarring, its enough fun to hear on the ride home from Chromatica.

At the end of it all, the record sounds exactly as expected. Fans of strobe swaying Gaga will lose it over the collection, while those looking for something new or innovative will shrug and move on as if they never heard the record.

In other words, Chromatica is for the Little Monsters turned Kindness Punks. For proof, see the type of merch Team Gaga is selling.