Culture, Music, Reviews

Ariana Grande ushers in new, more risqué era with ‘Positions’

Photo credit: "Positions," Republic Records, 2020

Pop superstar Ariana Grande’s long-awaited sixth studio album “Positions” finally dropped Oct. 30. Made up of much more light-hearted and sunny records than her past few releases, she is finally allowing herself to navigate through new love after the harsh trauma she’s endured in the public eye.

The Republic Records album arrives just a year and a half after her massively successful 2018 and 2019 back-to-back releases “Sweetener” and “Thank U, Next.” It’s safe to say that these albums left expectations high. Luckily, Grande was able to deliver.

Throughout her so-called “break” this past year, Grande still amassed two number-one Billboard Hot 100 hits, alongside megastars Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. It is incredibly impressive that the star manages to juggle quality with quantity, releasing one hit after another.

“My dream has always been to be – obviously not a rapper, but to put out music in the way that a rapper does,” she said in a 2018 Billboard cover story. “I just want to f*cking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do… so I do, and I did, and I am, and I will continue to.”

This gamble clearly works for her, as the past few years have been the most content-filled and successful of her career. If there is anything Grande fans are lacking, it is certainly not in content.

“Positions” takes a different route from previous projects, embracing more explicit lyrics and sexuality than ever before. This isn’t to say that Grande hasn’t put out sexual content in the past. Nobody’s forgotten the 2016 smash hit “Side to Side” when she and frequent collaborator Nicki Minaj coined the term “d*ck bicycle.”

The project tells the story of Grande finding quarantine love with new boyfriend and Los Angeles real estate mogul Dalton Gomez. “Positions” serves as a second, more 90s R&B-flavored chapter to “Thank U, Next” – one where she is cautious yet loving romance.

Album opener “Shut Up” is classic R&B-pop, complete with Broadway-esque orchestration. It’s a brash “screw off” to her haters and negative energy. The outro is reminiscent of a Disney film, as a string orchestra glides listeners seamlessly into the next track.

A giddy and slinky sex jam, “34+35” naughtily embraces the activity it adds up to. It is 90s trap-influenced and one of the most explicit songs of Grande’s career. The track is carefree and fun, as she demands her lover to “stay up all night.”

“Motive,” a house-R&B collaboration with singer/rapper Doja Cat, insists that Grande’s lover makes intentions clear before pursuing a relationship further. Its prominent dance floor beat and catchy hook provides the perfect club anthem for years to come.

Hip-hop/trap-inspired “Just Like Magic” is a fearless, boisterous track that’s faintly reminiscent of the Grammy-nominated “7 rings.” The best feature is Grande’s confidence, but the short length and ending feels abrupt.

The Weeknd’s second collaboration with Grande, “Off the Table,” contains several subtle nods to the late Mac Miller. As she questions whether she’ll ever find a love like Miller’s again, the “Blinding Lights” crooner reassures Grande that her fears aren’t reality.

“Safety Net,” the third and final collaboration on the album, features the softer side of singer/rapper Ty Dolla $ign, who recently released a new album of his own. It is a standout track on the album, where Grande embraces “tripping, falling, with no safety net.” It’s remarkable how much chemistry the two have, especially apparent within the gorgeous harmonies of the bridge.

Another standout cut from the LP, “My Hair” features some of the most impressive whistle vocals in music history. A smooth, silky sex ballad where she invites her partner to touch her famous ponytail, the track is nothing but groovy.

The ninth song, “Nasty,” features the only snippet fans heard before the album release. Another jam dedicated to the hours of sex Grande was apparently having during quarantine, it’s naughty but splendid. No one is complaining about the freakiness.

After hearing most of the album, it makes more sense why “Positions” was picked to introduce the project. While it may not be her best lead single, it’s still an industry-friendly, cute bop. The title track is flirtatious and sweet, as she declares her ability to switch positions (both literally and figuratively) for her new lover.

“POV” proves that Grande was saving the best for last. It’s a gorgeously produced song, as she wishes to love and view herself the way her boyfriend does. “POV” is a string-backed ballad filled with subtle elements of trap music that doesn’t distract from the power of her belting vocals.

It’s a positive sign that Grande isn’t trying to recreate the massive success of “Thank U, Next,” but rather allowing herself to evolve artistically. She’s just making music that makes her happy, and no one can complain about that.

“Positions” proves that she’s a true work-in-progress, but also polished when it comes to professionalism.

Click here to listen to “Positions” on Spotify.

November 13, 2020

Reporters

Jarrod Houseknecht


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