Ariana Grande’s “Positions”

Hanna Jaeger, page editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a new musical movement: the quarantine album. Several albums released over the last eight months, most of which, created entirely in self-isolation, have been subversive to what music has grown accustomed to. Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia,” released back in March, was arguably the first quarantine album to make waves as it saw her move from a typical, manufactured Top 40 sound to a disco-inspired, bass-heavy powerhouse. Other notable pop releases include Charli XCX’s “how i’m feeling now,” which encased profound concerns about the state of the world in bold in heavy art-pop beats, and Taylor Swift’s “folklore,” a stripped-down collection of some of her most earnest songs yet. It was only a matter of time before pop’s princess, Ariana Grande, tried her hand. Her latest endeavor “Positions” is by no means a bad album but pales severely in comparison to the projects her peers have been putting out lately.

Critics have labeled “Positions” as Grande’s most suggestive album. That is just poor wording, as the references are rather quite obvious. She follows in the footsteps of her 2016 hit “Side to Side,” but turns it up to 11 on “34+35” (you do the math), “nasty,” and the album’s title track, showing the 27-year-old distancing herself as far as possible from her Nickelodeon history she is still so often associated with—no thanks to Victorious’ recent resurface on Netflix. The lyricism is lurid and raunchy enough so that I will not be providing any examples (this is still a high school newspaper after all), but just know that the parents of her younger fans may not be so keen on this record. But it’s worth noting that their brash, tongue-in-cheek nature makes these cuts some of the strongest on the album, proving that with Grande, the more ostentatious, the better. The real stand out here is “love language” where she leans into the R&B influences she’s always flirted with. The result is the highest energy song on the album that almost makes up for the assortment of unremarkable songs surrounding it. 

“Positions” is chock full of the bravado we have come to expect from Grande. Tracks like “shut up,” a diss track aimed at her critics (“You be so worried ’bout mine/Can’t even get yourself none”) and “just like magic,” in which she attributes her success to the manifestation of positive energy (“Good karma, my aesthetic/Keep my conscience clear, that’s why I’m so magnetic”) ooze confidence, and it’s clear that Grande is finally sure of herself. This is nice to hear after her previous records, 2018’s “Sweetener” and 2019’s “thank u, next,” two albums Grande released following a series of tragedies (the bombing of her Manchester show, the death of her longtime boyfriend, Mac Miller, and her very public breakup from Pete Davidson). At the same time, however, “Positions” lacks the energy and catharsis that made “Sweetener” and “thank u, next” great albums. Some of her latest tracks (i.e. “obvious,” “west side,” “six thirty”) are utterly forgettable, and even Grande seems uninterested in what she has to say.

Ultimately, “Positions” is Ariana at her most noncommittal. There is an undercurrent of freedom in her careless delivery and the cutesy humdrum trap beats. Despite the circumstances of the world, the album feels low-stakes, which for Grande, considering the turmoil of her last few years, it probably is. That’s a relatable feeling; though the pandemic has made the world into a dystopian apocalypse, we don’t really feel those effects stuck in our homes all day. So who can blame her? Sure, “Positions” leaves a lot to desire, but if you could throw together an inconsequential pop album in a few months and then have every track make up the top 14 spots of Spotify’s global top 50, wouldn’t you? With all this in mind, “Positions” finished with 3 out of 5 stars.