Ariana Grande’s sixth studio album, “Positions,” radiates a timeless, old-school feeling that showcases the artist’s wide vocal range. The constant use of strings strategically creates an orchestral resonance, which perfectly complements the intimate sound that Grande wanted to create.
The artist’s album is a continuation of “Sweetener” and “thank u, next,” released in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and it was written in a time when she was fully healed from the emotional pain she faced from her past heartbreaks and the Manchester bombing, according to a recent Zach Sang interview. Grande stylishly emphasizes her R&B roots and impresses listeners aurally. The tracks in the album fit a cohesive theme of self-rediscovery and overcoming doubt in finding true love once again.
The album opens with “shut up,” a cinematic R&B track that perfectly sets the tone for the upcoming tunes. Grande gracefully attempts to silence her critics from the past and reveals how her previous “demons” helped her perceive life in a bright manner. She playfully assures her listeners to not worry about her because she is coping with problems by shopping for luxurious goods, as is implied in the lyric “Diamonds good for my appetite” — a reference to her previous single “7 rings.”
“34+35” depicts a frisky, mature portrait of the artist as she begins to crave being in a relationship. The song’s title contextually complements the album’s title as Grande cleverly describes her favorite “position” in bed. The track is easily an anticipated favorite party banger of my close friends due to its comical lyrics and light-hearted tone. Grande puts a twist on the common phrase “Netflix and chill” in the lyric, “Watchin’ movies, but we ain’t seen a thing tonight” by implying that the film playing will only be background noise as she continues working with her partner.
The artist treats her listeners with a sweet electro-pop sound in her track “motive,” featuring Doja Cat. The protagonist starts to question her love interest on whether he intends to stay with her. The lyric states, “Might have to curve you if you just can’t talk straight” — inferring that the leading character is on the verge of evading her love interest if he cannot be honest. I definitely expect bars to play this catchy and disco-influenced tune.
The track “just like magic” brings a positive vibe that alludes to the Law of Attraction, the notion that people attract positive experiences when they think positive and negative experiences when they think negative. The vibrant song made me feel like I could climb Mount Everest if I put effort into training and, more importantly, believed in myself. Grande also pays tribute to late rapper and ex-boyfriend Mac Miller as she sings, “Take my pen and write some love letters to Heaven.” This strategic inclusion evoked an empathetic response as I reminisced over nostalgic, gleeful experiences buried in the past.
The song “off the table” is Grande’s second collaboration with The Weeknd, with the first one being “Love Me Harder” from her sophomore album, “My Everything.” The track is the perfect centerpiece for the album, as it evokes an emotional response for the leading character. Both Grande and Tesfaye’s chemistry in this song is so powerful. The former’s upper belts and the latter’s impressive falsettos add to the vivid imagery of a couple not letting go of each other despite the pain they’ve caused one another. As the protagonist reaches the climax of the story, she questions whether she is ready to enter a serious relationship. Her love interest assures her that he would be patient and that he has completely changed, referring to these lyrics, “I couldn’t give you my all, but I will / If you let me in your arms / If you let me in your heart.”
“six thirty” depicts the protagonist skittishly questioning her love interest whether he will still be there for her when she finally shows her dark and ugly sides. Will he still be down to “play video games at 2 a.m.”? Grande’s usage of strings with a cheerful tone predicts a hopeful future for the protagonist’s love life.
“safety net,” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, is the perfect transition as the track depicts the fearful stage of falling in love, especially in the lyrics “Don’t know if I should fight or fly” in the seventh track. Although the protagonist realizes that her love interest has been better than her past ones, she compares her feelings with a safety net in which she is scared to risk everything again and not receive the same treatment from her love. “Is it real this time or is it in my head? / Got me tripping, falling, with no safety net.” Grande’s collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign was unexpected, yet vocally refreshing. The rough voice of Ty Dolla $ign and Grande’s silken vocals perfectly complement each other, and the siren-like synth incorporated in the background instrumental adds to the graveness of the track.
I believe “my hair” is the most vocally challenging track in the album, as it showcases Grande’s highest vocal register; she sings the whole final chorus with divine whistle notes — a different approach she took from her recent previous albums. The retro guitar licks and exaggerated synths perfectly accompanied her vocals, creating a realm of ecstasy for listeners. The protagonist intimately lets her partner touch her hair, which symbolizes her finally opening up her insecurities, “Said I’ma give you some instructions / That you can’t be scared to try.”
The protagonist soon begins to desire her lover’s attention and touch in “nasty” — revealing the album’s sexual theme. It seems like Grande increases her usage of whistle tones in her tracks as the leading character feels more confident with her relationship.
“west side” shows a fierce and alluring protagonist who is in control of her lover. She tells her “bad boy” to leave behind his ex-lovers because she is the best option among them, “I’m gonna be your new favorite / Tell ’em you closing the door.” Grande’s voice in “west side” is sultrier as she uses her lower register more. This adds depth to the story of a needy woman in love. The following track “love language” also has a luring tone accompanied by a circus-like spin-off instrumental in which the protagonist innocently wants her eye candy to teach her how to love.
“positions” is the perfect leading single for Grande’s album. It incorporates the artist’s mainstream pop style from her previous albums, but it also displays an R&B taste that complements the other tracks. The protagonist is willing to play different roles to make the relationship work with her lover. She hopes to not repeat her history of failed relationships. On “obvious,” she playfully suggests spending more time with her lover.
Grande closes the album with “pov,” an expressive track that brings the protagonist back to a place where she doubts herself in finding love because of her insecurities. Her lover finally answers her question from “six thirty” and reveals that he loves her for who she is, regardless of what she thinks. The protagonist claims that all of her “baggage was fadin’ safely” and wishes to see through her lover’s eyes and glimpse the reason why he finds her insecurities endearing. This track is definitely my favorite because, aside from Grande’s strong, emotional delivery, the intended vocal strains on the right parts add authenticity and vulnerability to the song.
Grande strategically creates a cohesive album that paints a story of endless hope. She seamlessly segues from “thank u, next,” an album that depicts pain and heartache, to “Positions,” an album that reveals a cured artist who is cautious but ready to find love again.
Grande never fails to reinvent herself by stepping out of her comfort zone and experimenting with various vocal styles in the album. The album’s R&B landscape reminded me of Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey’s previous releases. The melodic harmonies accompanied by string instrumentals and mature themes classically introduced “Positions” as a darker version of Grande’s debut album “Yours Truly.”
This album is the purest and rawest Grande has been, and judging by the tracks, I can sense that this is the dream album that Grande desired to make when she first debuted. For the first time, she makes all the calls as she takes the role of the producer, music engineer and vocal arranger for “Positions.”
The album is a heavenly masterpiece that explores a more sexual R&B sound with a slick, trap production. Grande’s tracks could be defined as playful, flirtatious, alluring but also vulnerable. The consistent accentuation of strings on her tracks creates a gentle, soothing sound, which is drastically different from Grande’s mainstream singles. The album also showcases Grande’s low vocal range and the artist’s angelic harmonies, creating an imagination of her authenticity and musical proficiency.
Fans of pop music and Grande’s previous singles might be disappointed with “Positions” due to its lack of megawatt pop belters, such as “Break Free” or “Into You.” Tracks such as “west side” and “pov” don’t reach a climax but still create an emotional appeal to listeners. The album definitely showcases Grande’s vocal strengths in R&B music mixed with Broadway arrangements and strings, which are evident on “obvious” and “six thirty.”
I highly recommend “Positions” to listeners who would like to travel down Honeymoon Avenue and find themselves searching their way out of the torturous maze to enter healing paradise. Its ethereal, light records and immaculate background vocals will take you to a blissful dimension.
Contact Ron Rocky Coloma at rcoloma ‘at’ stanford.edu.