By Lauren McCain, Columns Editor
[Republic Records; 2020]
Key tracks: “positions”, “34+35”, “safety net (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)”, “pov”
Positions makes sure to set itself apart from Grande’s previous work by refusing to be an album that is dependent on radio-worthy pop anthems. It gives a more intimate and raw glance into Grande’s experiences of new love and past trauma, and is less focused on the upbeat pop “bangers” that previously defined her albums.
Read more: Album Review: Ariana Grande – thank u, next
Grande has been open about her mental health in the last few years––after the Paris attack in 2018, the death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and the end of her engagement with Pete Davidson and her PTSD––even sharing an image of her brain scan on instagram in 2019.
While both of Grande’s 2019 albums seemed to be centered around heartbreak, trauma and healing, Positions is about moving on, giddiness and fears that come with new love, and learning to cope with the past.
“All these demons help me see sh** differently / So don’t be sad for me,” Grande asserts on the first track, “shut up”. Carried by an orchestral set of strings and layered vocals, Grande addresses those who follow and have too much to say about her life, telling them to, well, “shut up.”
It’s clear that Grande is still processing much of her grief as contemplative lyrics are woven into the undersides of many songs on the album’s first half. Grande struggles with opening herself up to new love in “safety net” featuring Ty Dolla $ign; a darker, melodic song that is heavy in R&B influence. In reference to her song “all in my head”, a track from thank u, next, Grande again asks, “Is it real this time, or is it in my head?” fearing that she may again be in love with her version of a person she created in her mind.
In “off the table”, a song reminiscent of 80s pop–a slow-dance with swooning vocals–Grande wonders if she “will ever love the same again.” The Weeknd’s vocal feature reassures that he will wait for her, “even though it always feels like I’ll be number two to someone you can’t hold anymore,” possibly referring to Grande’s ex Mac Miller who died in 2018.
Grande’s underlying insecurities about love are carried through the album, and in “six-thirty”, her smooth vocals ask for reassurance that her partner is “down” over a quirky beat and relaxed strings. “I know this sh** kinda heavy,” Grande murmurs. “Am I enough to keep your love?”
Positions is not without its goofy moments though, which ride along with the theme of new love. In a cheeky nod to a sexual position and a play on the album’s title, “34+35” is an upbeat, lust-driven song that is packed with cleverly amusing lyrics. Similarly, “nasty” begins with Grande’s laugh followed by sultry synths and lyrics full of silly innuendos. “You’re like a whole constellation, swimming like you on vacation,” she croons to her partner.
Grande does not shy away from confidently expressing her sexuality on Positions, which is a new avenue for her discography. Here, we see her fully shed the young, innocent persona that she once carried, settling into a much more mature sound where she doesn’t censor herself. Her maturity on this album bleeds into areas similar to Janelle Monáe or Mariah Carey, especially on “my hair”, a track where Grande sings about taking charge of her own body while showing off impressive vocal runs.
The titular song and lead single Positions is a standout track on the album with its catchy, plucked-string riff and Grande’s assertive yet graceful vocals. The album finishes off with the hopeful and lovestruck tracks, “obvious” and “pov”, where Grande admits that her partner loves for who she is, despite her flaws, and she wishes she could see herself from his “point of view.” The song is a beautifully simple ballad that begins with a soft melody and builds by adding strings and vocal layering.
Positions is not the grand declaration nor reinvention of Grande’s sound that was thank u, next, but there is an understated beauty and maturity instead. She creates an intimate environment for her listeners and leans back into R&B sentiments, with gentle vocals and cheeky lyrics. At its core, Positions is about trusting yourself to love and be happy again; it seems that Grande has found peace of mind within her music.