Ariana Grande Returns to Normalcy on ‘Positions’

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Ariana Grande performs hit songs from her album “thank u, next” at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

Noah Range, A&E Editor

“thank u, next” was Ariana Grande’s hard-hitting response to the tumultuous events she faced after the release of her previous LP, “Sweetener.” After the bold statement that was “thank u, next,” its follow-up, “Positions,” sees Grande in a more lighthearted and flirtatious mood, for better and for worse.

The production is noticeably less trap-infused than it was with her most recent material. Instead, most songs call back to the aesthetics from her earlier records, leaning more toward R&B.

Many of the tracks here incorporate strings into their instrumentals, yielding mixed results, and the execution usually isn’t as impressive as the production was on “thank u, next.”

In some cases, the production complements Grande’s sensual attitude and gorgeous vocals very well; in other cases, it creates a musical vacuum and sucks the energy from the track.

The title track, “positions,” is supplemented by a plucky guitar melody which brings a pleasant, upbeat energy to the song.

On the other hand, “shut up,” the album’s opener, features a stripped-back instrumental dominated by droning violins, where Grande repeatedly commands someone to “shut up.” Grande’s vocals mix with the strings like oil and water, which only worsens the song’s obnoxiously repetitive nature.

The album does venture beyond its core sound. “love language” has a catchy disco dance beat and a stand-out, ‘70s-esque performance from Grande.

“my hair” is also quite different from the rest of the tracks. The devilishly slick jazz-rap beat is reminiscent of ‘90s R&B, the lyrics are sticky, and the singing is instantly captivating. It oozes infectious charisma, and it’s easily one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Positions” is filled with songs that have incredibly licentious lyrics, making it the most lustful record I have ever heard. Explicit innuendos pervade nearly every aspect of the LP.

“34+35” has a charming instrumental fit for a Disney movie and an innocent-feeling delivery from Grande, which creates a stark contrast with its raunchy lyrics, as the chorus repeats “Can you stay up all night?/ F—k me till the daylight/ Thirty-four, thirty-five.”

The main idea of the cut “six-thirty” revolves around the concept of down, with Grande asking her lover if he will go “down like six thirty,” which is a reference to the image of that time on a clock.

This aspect of the album isn’t inherently distasteful, but it is inescapable.

Some cuts deviate from these licentious lyrics; however, they’re spread rather thin in the tracklist. “off the table” is an emotional slow burner with Grande and The Weeknd singing about healing and loving again after emotional trauma, yet the lyrical dynamic between them is awkward.

The album’s closer, “pov,” is a soul-infused power ballad that sees Grande confessing her insecurities and wishing that she could “love me the way that you love me.” Her performance on the song is the boldest on the album, finishing the LP on a powerful note.

There are a few other highlights, like the tongue-in-cheek “obvious” and the braggadocious “just like magic,” but plenty of tracks are forgettable and uninteresting. Cuts such as “safety net” with Ty Dolla $ign, “west side” and “nasty” are devoid of anything sonically interesting.

Outside of its flirtatiousness, the record doesn’t have an important or strong narrative focus. A few tracks do have significant themes, but these themes have no connection, and everything else is a different flavor of frisky.

Ultimately, “Positions” left me hungry for more. The album lacks cohesion, and excluding the highlights, some songs are only slightly enjoyable or feel like wallpaper.

The direction the record took still has a lot of potential. I can only hope her next project builds off the base “Positions” created in a more concentrated, consistent and quality effort.