I was very surprised when I saw the announcement of a new Ariana Grande album. While I did like the short two-week promotion and saw it being very successful, I did not expect Grande to release a whole album this soon after “thank u, next” (considering that album was released less than a year after “Sweetener”). Grande’s album drops are only comparable within the pop landscape to Rihanna’s four albums in four years from 2009 to 2012 (each within the third or fourth week of November).
However, Ariana Grande is often called the “queen of pop” right now, and she can take risks with the support of her diehard fanbase. She has become one of the most supported stars in pop music after gaining a Beyonce-level of charisma for her public image. For as young as she began her career, her image has aged smoothly and granted her a peak in popularity nearly eight years in.
Unsurprisingly, “Positions” has captured a large audience — an audience I’m not part of. Since “thank u, next,” Ariana perfected a sound that blends the instrumentals of hip-hop; the vocals and writing of pop; and the tempos and grooves of modern R&B. This is thanks to frequent producers TBHits and Social House, who had huge parts in her revolutionary hit “thank u, next.” They haven’t looked back since this track, transferring onto a trail of gold and leaving none other than Pharrell Williams in their dust after his glorious six-song run during “Sweetener.”
Personally, I find TBHits’ production to be pretty repetitive and safe for an artist as talented as Grande. The mood of “Positions” is fairly static because of the production, and trap drums and sub-bass are too dark for Ariana. A lot of the tracks on the album that should be brighter are drained of their energy by the hip-hop production, some examples being “just like magic,” “six thirty” and “obvious.” Without very strong hooks or melodies, these songs are some of the most forgettable on the album.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of the darker production, a few of the tracks on “Positions” do come with memorable performances that fit the style. Ariana and The Weeknd play off each other very well on “off the table,” a track that allows the two to put together a more traditional duet narrative in their lyrics. The echoey background vocals and driving drums of “safety net” are ominous under Ariana and Ty Dolla Sign’s layers of vocals and make up for the less than stand-out writing. The bouncy drums and live bass on “motive” bring energy to the track, and Doja Cat’s cadences and vocal inflections make her sound like a female Anderson .Paak. The songs “nasty” and “west side” are the only tracks that I’d consider to have stand out hip-hop beats. Both tracks feature catchy choruses as well, with “west side” being my preferred out of the two.
Out of the brighter pop tracks on the album, “positions” and “34+35” are the clear standouts. The latter of the two recently debuted at Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, likely frightening conservative old men just as much as “WAP” did in August. This track also has my favorite vocal performance from Grande on the album, especially on the bridge. “Positions” currently sits at Number 2 after being the album’s only lead-up single. The track is ridiculously catchy and possibly my favorite song on the album. The acoustic guitars throughout the song add lots of texture under the clicky drums, especially on the chorus.
The only songs on the album that come off as corny to me are “my hair” and “love language,” and it’s almost completely to blame on the instrumentals. While I do enjoy Ariana’s performance on “my hair,” the jazzy production (especially the guitar) sounds cheap and Splice loop-esque. I could not get past the strings on “love language” after my first listen. They annoy me so much that I’m completely fine with ignoring the song as a whole and happily moving forward to the title track.
The final track of the album, “pov,” is frustrating to me. The opening verse is one of the best moments on the album because of the beautiful vocal melodies and sparse instrumental, but the song quickly loses its charm after the first chorus. I would have preferred if the drums had stayed minimal, as they do in the album opener, “shut up.” Though it would serve as a fine intro, I personally find no use for “pov” outside of that. It’s a bit gimmicky for me, and I don’t find it very cute or funny. It also foreshadows Ariana’s string fetish, which finds its way into the production of nearly every track on the album.
Overall, I’d consider the album “Positions” to be a continuation of “thank u, next’s” disappointment off of “Sweetener.” While both “thank u, next” and “positions” have a share of good tracks, neither have the wide range of moods, instrumental spectrum or vocal performances that “Sweetener” showcased. Not to mention that “Positions“ begins and ends with fairly lackluster moments.
However, I would still recommend this album to an Ariana Grande fan. I’m aware that I am not the target audience for this album, and I’m fine with that. As much as I’d love to hear more Ariana Grande and Pharrell Williams collabs, the majority of her fanbase (and the radio) want to hear TBHits and Social House productions. They want to hear Queen Ariana flow over hip-pop R&B beats with confidence. If I had to predict what would be next for Grande, I’d say we’re due for a switch-up in sound after a few quiet years. I do know that Grande isn’t going to stop progressing the pop world any time soon.