Ariana Grande broke free from Nickelodeon more than 10 years ago, rocketing to the top of pop music charts while leaving behind the naiveté of everyone’s favorite redhead. Her sixth studio album Positions further solidifies her well-deserved place as a reigning queen of pop, and though it lacks the memorable magic that her most recent records had, it’s nevertheless an exemplary effort from Grande that ends in triumph.
For the most part, Positions is a lovely fusion of Grande’s past musical ventures — she captures the sensuality of Dangerous Woman, the freedom of Sweetener, the self-love of Thank U, Next. Her discography blossomed at those dynamic moments of transformation, and Positions is the fruitful aftermath of revelation.
The beauty of Grande’s project is its lightheartedness and nonchalance. She sticks to what she knows best: Her music has always been characterized by fluttery melodies with a flirty edge, and with Positions, she fully embraces this. Her classically sultry vocals ooze across every track, and she revels in a casual confidence. She’s carefree and triumphant, lining her record with radiant charisma.
For Grande, her albums have always functioned as distinct chapters in her life. With her latest work, she expresses that she is no longer lost in a maze of heartbreak, nor is she swimming through sorrow; rather, Positions is her personal road map to bliss and inner peace. Grande, currently in a seven-month relationship with her boyfriend, wants her listeners to know that she’s finally found love.
“POV” drives home this message, serving as the album’s crowning, heartfelt ballad. Through velvety static, Grande sings, “I wanna love me/ The way that you love me/ Ooh, for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too/ I’d love to see me from your point of view.” Her poignant reflection provides more personal insight than any other track, and it earnestly establishes where Grande is in her journey to self-love.
Characterized by an ethereal fluidity and sweet maturity, the album is arguably her most cohesive yet. Pop remains the defining label for Grande’s music, but while she stays true to her signature whistle notes and incessant “yuhs,” Positions forms its very own niche with soulful R&B elements and gentle orchestral production. Pizzicato gives silky songs like “Positions” and “Shut Up” more personality, and Grande’s sugary voice shines on “My Hair” and “Just Like Magic” with enchanting harmonies. There’s an undeniable magnetism to Grande’s music, which Positions enhances stylishly, even seductively.
Love and sex often reign on pop records, and Positions is no exception. Grande leaves little to the imagination in her exchange of subtlety for slinky sexuality. Her voice floats over a soft beat drop on “Nasty” with lucid, hypnotic allure, and she maintains a lively tempo with “Love Language.” She materializes Netflix and chill with “34+35,” a flirty, fun song filled with laughter and raunchy one-liners. To offer gentle respite to these high-energy songs, Grande also loops in collaborations with The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign to strike a balance between sensuality and vulnerability.
While Positions is beautifully produced, it’s worth noting that Grande’s vocals aren’t always enough to support lackluster lyricism. Monotony consumes “Six Thirty” with the painfully tedious chorus lyric “Are you down?/ What’s up?”, and an unusually halfhearted feature from Doja Cat struggles to ease the repetition on “Motive.” Relatively few songs stand out as notably imaginative, and the album’s persistent lack of nuance can feel more tediously theatrical than purposefully adventurous. Grande rarely played it safe in the last few years, but with Positions, it feels like she’s lifting her foot off the gas pedal.
Despite its flaws, Positions succeeds as overwhelmingly fun and fresh. Positioning herself to once again conquer charts, Grande hits a sweet spot with her latest album. Each song dips into a honeyed glamour, marking the album as a feel-good celebration of sexuality. At the end of the day, Positions is lighthearted, vivacious and surprisingly little else — but maybe that’s just what 2020 needs.