Divesting the former kids TV star of any lingering vestiges of her old squeaky-clean image, Ariana Grande’s positions is a sizzling synthesis of eroto-pop and 90’s-indebted, trap-speckled R&B. Joseph Alton delves beneath the balladeering barbarella’s candy-coated synths and teeming tales of all-night romps to ask whether the new record comes anywhere close to the fan-favourite sophomore LP Thank U, Next.
Ariana Grande continues to change what it means to be a ‘pop star’ in the modern world with her sixth glittering album release, positions. This record had big boots to fill when you look at Grande’s past achievements – all five previous albums gaining a platinum rating from the RIAA, a Grammy Award, BRIT Award, three American Music Awards, and billions of streams platform-wide throughout her career, to name just a few. The starlet’s album Thank U, Next took the world by storm back in 2019, dominating mainstream media and achieving critical acclaim. So how does this album fare against her earlier chart-toppers?
Well, critically speaking it has received generally favourable reviews, achieving a score of seventy-two on the industry-respected Metacritic. Yet to truly understand the quality and significance of this album, it is necessary to look deeper than simple statistics, as positions transcends numerous musical genres, including hip hop, neo soul, disco, funk and electro house which allow us to witness the full extent of Grande’s vocal ability. The mainstream pop industry has often shied away from getting deeply intimate with its music, often watering-down details at the fear of being viewed as grotesque; that is until now. Grande has managed to release an entire album essentially exclusively focused on sexual activity into mainstream media, and is seeing success from it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some filthy album trying to musicalise 50 Shades of Grey or something. No, there is a humour and a light-hearted tone to positions that reminds us that this is unequivocally an Ariana Grande album. In an interview with Zach Sang, Grande spoke of when she first heard the instrumental track that would become 34+35, stating it sounded almost Disney-like in its pureness and thus deciding to attach the dirtiest lyrics she could produce as an opposition. The more you listen and look at the album, the bawdier it gets – it is brilliant.
It is worth noting how politics has influenced Ariana’s contemporary work as well. Grande has always been outspoken about politics on her social media and even partnered with the non-profit organisation HeadCount during her Sweetener tour, which encourages concertgoers to sign up or pledge to vote in general U.S.A elections. This resulted in over thirty-thousand fans registering to vote across the eighteen-date tour, which smashed the initiatives all time record. More recently, the popular positions music video saw Grande inside the White House alongside a few familiar faces. During her interview with pop-culture personality Zach Sang, she especially emphasised the need to diversify White House staff, and namely the president, to better represent contemporary American society.
‘positions is another powerhouse that’s sure to attack the music charts with the brute force we’ve come to expect from the star.’
Back in December 2018, whilst working on the shimmering sophomore full-length Thank U, Next, Ariana expressed her desire to release music “the way that a rapper does.” This approach was arguably revolutionary; changing the landscape of the mainstream industry beyond recognition, and turning a pop record into something resembling more of a mixtape than a corporate product launch. This desire was reflected on LP2 Thank U, Next, which was created in just a matter of weeks and is much rawer than much of her previous work. It is also captured in the minute details such as the absence of capitalisation within her song names – an aesthetic that has been incorporated on positions also.
Whilst it’s clear positions has been influenced by Thank U, Next, there are also call-backs to Grande’s earlier, more R&B-orientated works. Tracks like pov and west side, for example, act as a more mature update of her debut album Yours Truly back in 2013. However, the whistle notes that dominate these earlier releases are swapped for a lower croon on new album tracks like safety net, which features enigmatic LA rapper Ty Dolla $ign and seeks to truly highlight Grande’s expansive vocal range. Unfortunately, however, not all of the tracks satisfy expectations in this way.
Though there is not a single explicitly bad track on the album, that’s for sure, some are indistinct from another and could easily be coined just another standard Ariana Grande song. However, positions has definitely produced some tracks that are refreshing, fun and deserve a place on your lockdown playlist. It may not be as impactful as Thank U, Next, but all-in-all positions is another powerhouse from Grande that’s sure to attack the music charts with the brute force we’ve come to expect from the star and if you think otherwise, as Grande eloquently puts it, maybe you should shut up.
Written by: Joseph Alton
Edited by: Alex Duke