‘Positions’ Catapults Ariana Grande into New Era

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Photo By @arianagrande

American musician Ariana Grande released her sixth studio album, ‘Positions’, on Friday, Oct. 30, after announcing it only a few weeks before. Photo courtesy of @arianagrande.

By Hannah Ashtari, Assistant Community and World News Editor

In 2018, Ariana Grande, an American singer known for her impressive soprano vocals and catchy pop songs, experienced a year of both remarkable career highs and public personal loss. Just months after a terrorist attack that killed 22 people during her Manchester Arena show, Grande released her fourth studio album, Sweetener. Following her engagement and subsequent breakup with Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live, (a month after her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller passed away from a drug overdose in September), Grande released her fifth studio album, thank u, next, which saw her occupy the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 positions simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, making her the first artist to accomplish this feat since The Beatles in 1964.

In her emotional acceptance speech for the Billboard Woman of the Year Award, Grande expressed her uncertainty following the turbulent time in her life, saying “If you’re someone out there who has no idea what this next chapter is going to bring, you’re not alone in that… and I’m looking forward to embracing whatever happens and whatever comes my way.” For Grande, as it turned out, the next chapter saw the release of her sixth studio album, Positions.

Playful, effervescent, and meditative, Positions as an album lacks Grande’s trademark over-the-top pop ballads, instead pivoting to a softer pop sound mixed with orchestral instrumentals and some R&B elements. Grande is not particularly recognized for her lyricism, and while Positions is no exception, it still offers moments of thoughtful emotion, oftentimes relayed through her expressive vocals. 

shut up is the opening track of the album. The brash message of the song contrasts with its sweet instrumentals, which wouldn’t sound out of place in the score of a fairytale film. Grande questions her antagonizers’ obsession with her, asking, “How you be spendin’ your time/Why you so worried ‘bout mine?” while simultaneously congratulating herself on her success despite her critics’ comments with the line, “I [never] miss.” shut up falls in the same camp as many of the other songs on the album, including the title track, positions; fun, beautifully sung, but at the same time a bit empty. 

Positions also features three collaborations, with singer and rapper Doja Cat, as well as Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd, and singer Ty Dolla $ign. motive, the first collaboration, features unique musical production that recalls an almost ‘80s disco-type sound, albeit subdued. The song sees two pop divas unite to investigate the real intentions behind romance: “Did you want a trophy or you wanna sport me, baby?” Doja Cat asks. “I need you to be wise/Tell me everything that’s on your mind.” Though definitely not on the same scale as some of Doja Cat’s previous smash hits, motive only briefly features her, and what might be a disappointment for some is still a solid and well-crafted song for many. 

Following motive is just like magic, easily one of the standouts on the album. Glittering, upbeat, and self-assured, just like magic sees Grande celebrate her newfound mindset and personal growth. “I’m attractive,” Grande sings in an airy and playful tone, “I get everything I want ’cause I attract it.” The song also features a sentimental lyric with a double meaning: “Take my pen and write some love letters to heaven,” Grande sings, thanking both the universe for letting her find her peace and also paying tribute to her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller.

off the table, Grande’s collab with The Weeknd, comes next. Slow, sad, and contemplative, Grande’s vocals mix well with The Weeknd’s, whom she collaborated with in her 2014 hit, Love Me Harder, which off the table references in some of its lyrics, along with The Weeknd’s 2015 chart-topping single, The Hills. 

six thirty follows off the table. Grande uses the song’s title as a metaphor, thinking about whether the subject of the song will always be as in love with her as he is now. Grande wonders if he will always be “down like six thirty, [when both the minute and hour hand of a clock point down] down like sunsets, down like my head on your chest,” even as time passes and she changes. With lyrics like, “Am I enough to keep your love/When I’m old and stuff, will you still have a crush?” The song is catchy and lighthearted, yet still touches on themes of vulnerability. 

safety net, the next song and the third collaboration, with Ty Dolla $ign, is about the uncertainty and fear that accompanies falling in love. Like off the table, the singers’ voices harmonize beautifully on safety net. The song also references in my head, from Grande’s 2019 album thank u, next, and in some ways, even the melodies of the two songs are similar. 

The next song on the album is my hair, a jazzy and clever bop where Grande cheekily flips the script at the beginning of the song: “I’ma give you some instructions that you can’t be scared to try….run your hands through my hair.” Known for her ostentatious trademark ponytail, Grande takes the opportunity in my hair to laugh at herself. The song also features a myriad of beautiful whistle notes at the end. 

The final song on the album and arguably the best, pov is the closest Positions gets sonically to some of Grande’s earlier songs, while also being more vulnerable than most things she’s done in the past. An R&B ballad, Grande belts out her insecurity while soft lo-fi notes play in the background. pov is a love song, addressed to both another person and to Grande herself, who hopes to one day see herself just as favorably as someone who loves her does. It calls back to thank u next’s heartbreaking ghostin, where Grande lamented that she was “a girl with a whole lotta baggage.” On pov, Grande sings “All my baggage fadin’ safely,” marking her growth as an individual. 

Overall, Positions feels like a fitting sequel to thank u, next and is a solid continuation of Grande’s discography. The lush vocals and graceful, heart-on-your sleeve narrative overpower some of the more negative aspects of the album, like the mellow production on some songs and the lack of a solid pop hit that fans have come to expect from her. Like her 2018 album Sweetener, which had an initially lukewarm reception due to its shift in sound, fans would eventually warm up to it over time, which gives Positions the potential to earn its place as one of Grande’s masterpieces.