With her third album in a little over two years, Grande brings forth a collection of sultry R&B jams that explore the complexities of romance and the power of healing.
Ariana Grande has been on an unprecedented run for the last few years. With the back-to-back releases of the excellent Sweetener and her magnum opus, thank u, next, the pop powerhouse has established herself as one of the biggest artists of her generation. With Grande’s latest project, her most mature and explicit yet, she takes her now-signature sound in a more sultry and sensual, R&B-influenced direction.
With Positions, Grande explores the intricacies of navigating romance and intimacy, while searching for healing within herself. It’s a perspective of love that isn’t frequently heard in pop music, as it substitutes the genre’s standard, idealized notion of romance for a more flawed and human approach. It’s as if her past traumas are in a direct conflict with her desire to move on for the better and be happy.
Throughout the album, Grande ranges from guarded and indecisive to lustful or longing for a lost love. On the The Weeknd-assisted “off the table,” Grande reflects on a past relationship, questioning if she’ll ever be able to find a love like that which she once had. The Weeknd’s contribution sees him playing her potential partner, reassuring her that he’s grown and in a better place, and can cater to her needs better than before. It’s a fantastically written track and the pair’s vocals complement each other beautifully, especially in the mesmerizing moments in which they harmonize together.
One of the album’s biggest standouts is the 90s neo-soul/R&B-tinged “my hair.” Grande’s hair has been a massive part of her image throughout her career, and she sings about it as an extension of herself, not just physically, but emotionally as well. As she opens up to her partner, she welcomes them to run their fingers through it, noting that she never lets people touch it. It’s an alluring, conversational track with a silky-smooth instrumental that warms the soul, and as it reaches its climax, Grande’s whistling vocals close the track in glorious fashion.
The album’s closer, “pov,” is another fantastic moment on this album. The song plays like a love letter to her significant other, who loves Grande for exactly who she is, which is a love that she can only aspire to have for herself. It’s a song that serves to both acknowledge her love for this person, as well as desire to truly love herself, as she delivers about wanting to see and trust herself the way that they do. She delivers an extremely impassioned vocal performance over an instrumental that starts off subdued but continues to build with rattling hi-hats and swells of orchestral strings.
Though moments like this make Positions another fantastic addition to Grande’s discography, some moments keep it from reaching the bar set by her previous two releases. Songs like “nasty” and “just like magic” feel half-baked and extremely underwritten, with some of the lyrics being unfathomably bad (“wake up in my bed, I just wanna have a good day / think it in my head, then it happens how it should, ayy”). Moments like this are hard to believe considering the quality of the writing on Sweetener and thank u, next, as well as the rest of this album.
Another thing Grande’s fans might be surprised by is the lack of radio-ready singles on this album. Without a doubt, her popularity will push songs to the top of the charts, but the lack of a “thank u, next” or “God is a woman” is noticeable here. Though it doesn’t take away from how enjoyable a majority of the songs are, it’s still a notable absence.
While those aspects of the album are underwhelming, they’re easy to look past when surrounded by the truly fantastic moments that exist within the tracklist. Even with the inconsistencies that are present, this is a very good album and houses a couple of Grande’s best songs to date. Positions may not do much to expand on the sound and aesthetic that Grande established for herself on her last two releases, but it comfortably excels in the space that they created.
Trial Track: my hair