After teasing its release on social media, certified pop icon Ariana Grande dropped her sixth album, “Positions,” on Friday.
Following the colossal success of her last album, “thank u, next,” Grande pulled out all the stops to ensure that “Positions” could compete. Her characteristic blend of R&B, pop and musical theater flourishes are crisp and cohesive, and she didn’t hold back on the powerhouse vocals only she can deliver.
After a couple listens, it’s not hard to guess why Grande chose “shut up,” a flippant shut down of her critics, to be the first song on the track list. It’s the ultimate palette cleanser, helping listeners transition from the rawness of “thank u, next” to this new, happier chapter.
The songs on her previous album invited us behind the curtain to witness her recovery from various tragedies and heartbreaks, which naturally opened her life up to much speculation. “Shut up,” on the other hand, cautions us that she’s now drawing back the curtain a little — she’s in a better place, she’s not giving us as much to talk about this time, so shut up about it.
“All them demons helped me see shit differently,” she singsin "shut up." “So don’t feel sad for me.”
The second track, “34+35,” throws us right into the deep end of this album’s main theme: sex, and lots of it. The not-so-subtle math of this track along with other raunch-filled songs such as “nasty” are Grande’s way of telling us exactly how she’s been spending quarantine with boyfriend Dalton Gomez.
The lead single off this album, “positions,” is an Ariana Grande song through and through. It’s coded with her signature layered vocals and trap-inspired beat, with plucky string rhythms being the only component that strays from her usual sound. This song is solid, but pales just a little in comparison to the fluorescent singles of her past two albums, such as “God is a woman” and “thank u, next.”
Grande gifted us with three sultry collaborations on this album. She and Doja Cat question their prospective lovers’ intentions on “motive,” The Weeknd joins in on “off the table” and Ty Dolla $ign lends his warbling, synthetic-sounding voice to “safety net.”
Songs like “west side,” “six thirty” and “obvious” aren’t exactly filler songs, but they make a small splash in comparison to other, more energetic songs on the album such as “just like magic.”
Still, there were a couple standouts. A swaggering groove, relaxed trumpet and atmospheric strings make “my hair” feel like a slow jam straight from the '70s. “Love language” is carried by a fun, recurring string theme, nonchalant bass line and, of course, Grande’s sweet vocals.
The final track, titled “pov” is the obvious fan favorite, thanks in large to lyrics that are much stronger than those in the other songs. Grande has demonstrated throughout her discography that she can make a good sex song, but “pov” exemplifies what she actually does best: singing about love from a broken perspective.
It’s something she touched on in “sweetener” and fully explored on “thank u, next,” but Grande’s real gift is showing how her past baggage has tampered with how she experiences her romantic relationships going forward. Her emotion really shines in both vocals and lyrics on this song, leaving us a little sad that there are more “nasty”s than “pov”s on the album.
“I’m getting used to receiving, still getting good at not leaving,” she singsin "pov." “I’ma love you even though I’m scared.”
“Positions” is certainly a good album, and it feels like a very natural next step in Grande’s career and life timeline. But it feels cozy in every sense. The lyrics are comfortable to the point of being too safe, and the sound is interesting without veering into territory that’s experimental or unpredictable.
While all this makes sense for an album born out of staying home under lockdown, it doesn’t go unnoticed that “Positions” isn’t nearly as striking as “thank u, next” was. It almost feels like one continuous landscape, as if it’s not an album but actually a Youtube video titled “Ariana Grande themed ambience,” meant to stay in the background while you study and bop your head.
None of the songs are flops, there just aren’t enough distinctive high points throughout the track list to match the radiance of her previous work. Grande absolutely has much to be proud of when it comes to this album since she was able to gift her fans with 14 upbeat songs during one of the dreariest time periods we’ve experienced. But in terms of vulnerability and power, “Positions” falls short of the greatness she’s demonstrated in the past.