Album Review: Ariana Grande - Positions

Album Review: Ariana Grande - Positions | Random J Pop

Whilst everybody dragged Ariana's fourth studio album Sweetener, I liked it and it's still my preferred Ariana Grande album of choice. Sure, it wasn't perfect. But it was a nice zag for Ariana after Dangerous Woman. And it was also the first album of hers where it didn't seem like she was really trying to be anything other than herself. With Yours Truly Ariana was being packaged as this cute miniaturised version of Mariah. Then with My Everything Ariana was packaged as this sex kitten, which then carried through to Dangerous Woman. There was no façade with Sweetener. No persona. She wore her heart on her extra long sleeve and was upfront about her anxiety, her depression and the weight of life as a whole. It wasn't the type of album I expected from her. I honestly didn't think Ariana had it in her.

Whilst the songs on Sweetener were a little under baked, each song was easy to remember and stood out, for better or for worse. I've listened to Positions numerous times and I'm still having to double check the tracklist to recall which song was what, because everything on it sounds pretty much the same. 

And let's pay Sweetener its due. Because without it, we would not have ended up with Thank U, Next. Sweetener showed Ariana that there are people in the world outside of her close circles who genuinely care about what she has to say and how she's feeling. She realised that people admired her honesty, which then paved the way for further frankness and transparency on Thank U, Next - the album title track of which was shat on as much as it was praised. But herein lies part of the issue with Ariana's last two albums. They aren't defined as bodies of work, but the message of just one song. Thank U, Next was either defined by its album title track or "7 Rings". Positions is defined by a song which has Ariana asking her boyfriend to fuck her until daylight. It's a bop. But it's probably one of the few songs you'll remember in full once the album closes out. And because of that, it's how you'll define the whole album.

Album Review: Ariana Grande - Positions | Random J Pop

The most glaring problem with Positions is that it sounds all too similar to Thank U, Next. The Trap Pop sound permeates this entire album to the point that I got sick of it by track 4. The best moments on Positions are those which deviate from this sound. Album opener "Shut Up" is a nice throwback to the string laden, 60s Doo Wop style of "Honeymoon Avenue" which opened her debut album Yours Truly - a sound and style of which became a motif which kept cropping up in subsequent albums, such as "Moonlight" on Dangerous Woman. Then there's "Motive" with its House groove that you can pop, dip and spin to. "My Hair" with its Jill Scott-esque brand of Soul. "West Side" with its throwback Timbaland, Missy and Aaliyah vibes. And "Love Language" with its Disco swing. These provide some of the brightest moments on what is an otherwise pretty uninteresting sounding album.

There is also a sense of songs coming off incomplete, which has been a problem since Sweetener. Half of the songs on Positions feel like they are missing a verse, a bridge or a middle eight. Songs tend to just end after 2 and a half minutes. There is nothing wrong with a 2 and a half minute song if it feels complete and gives all that it needs to. But there are songs on this album which end prematurely and leave you with your head cocked asking 'Oh, is that it!?'. "Shut Up" has so much room to flex and give us a good additional minute of music, but it just ends and doesn't really go anywhere. "West Side" had me body rolling and 'bout to drop it low, but then the damn thing just ended as my booty hit the floor, rendering it pretty much an interlude. And these songs are glaring in comparison to those which feel like complete songs. "Six Thirty" has a solid song structure and a really fucking good middle eight. "Love Language" provides nice orchestral flourishes akin to Michael Jackson's Off The Wall. It would have been great to have taken the Trap Pop songs and woven the same sense of musicality into them for some variation and a different take on the genre. Because most of what we're getting here is just "7 Rings" and "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored" with a different set of lyrics, and it's not like these were particularly great songs in the first place.

The choruses on some of these songs also feel really lacking. And Ariana's flow on each song is so damn similar. You could shuffle the vocals and instrumentals between songs, and there's a high probability that they'd fit. Whilst the songwriters on deck (including Ariana herself) are a talented bunch, the absence of Max Martin and even Pharrell Williams is definitely felt in the instances where the choruses and catchy melodies don't really hit.

Album Review: Ariana Grande - Positions | Random J Pop

With Thank U, Next and now Positions, it feels like Ariana is treating her albums almost like mixtapes in a similar fashion to Charli XCX, and I do like it. Sometimes the worst thing to do with an album is sit on it forever, because songs which were hot when you recorded them last year, may not be hot in two years time when you're still putting the album together. And by the time the album is done, it ends up sounding like about 3 different albums. Yes Bionic and Me. I Am Mariah. I'm looking at y'all. Ariana (much like Charli) has started to use her music to chronicle how she feels at a given time, and release it at that moment. "No Tears Left To Cry" hit because it was reflective of how Ariana felt, or was at least telling herself to feel. "Thank U, Next" hit because she'd literally just split from her fiancée. "Positions" hits because Ariana is in love again, getting fucked ragged during quarantine, and wants everybody to know it. It's an interesting way to go about releasing music, in comparison to somebody like Adele who uses her albums like time capsules to lock her songs at a moment in time, and release it when she's at a point in her life when she's moving on from it. It speaks to how different generations of artists also approach music. Ariana has developed a fast food approach to how she releases albums. Cook it up and serve it when its ready. I ain't mad at it. But this can cause albums to have a somewhat disposable quality; especially if they're wholly defined by a single more than anything else. Thank U, Next was a nice album, but it was defined by the title track and "7 Rings", the latter of which was an absolutely awful song. Positions is probably going to end up defined by "34+35", the theme and sound of which is basically this entire album. Where as with Ariana's earlier albums there were a bunch of songs you remembered which made up the experience of the album as a whole. Even if you hated Sweetener, you remembered the songs from it.

Positions is a nice album, just as Thank U, Next was. But I feel the same way about them both; that whilst they are good top to bottom albums, singling out songs can be a struggle because so many of them sound the same. In an age where many artists are put together albums with the intention of it sounding like a collection of singles that can be divorced from albums and playlisted, as opposed to a body of work, it's quite nice to have an artist who came up in the age of streaming do the opposite. But you can still make a great body of work and make each song great as a distinct stand-alone song. Just listen at Rina Sawayama's debut album. There are songs on Positions which I would never play on their own, but I wouldn't skip them when listening to the album either.

It's difficult to discuss musical growth with this album, because there really isn't much. This album basically sounds the same as the last, except with more strings. Ariana had said in an interview that she wanted to make an album where she's singing more and doing new things with her voice, but I don't get enough of a sense of that. She goes the lowest she's gone on "West Side". And sure, she sings in her whistle tone on a song or two, but she gave us this on Thank U, Next. Also, the way she sings in her whistle on "My Hair" isn't wowing or impactful, because she doesn't have the power or resonance of Mariah's whistle. And with there being no volume changes or effects on it, it sounds like we're hearing her sing about 10 feet away from the microphone. But Ariana has a damn good voice. The woman can absolutely sing. And the vocal arrangements on this album are really nice, and feel more prominent than they did on Thank U, Next. I don't think Ariana gets enough credit for her vocal arrangements and how she stacks her vocals - which was one of the things I really liked about Sweetener, particularly on the Pharrell productions. But I want to hear Ariana do more and give more. Because what she's giving us on this album, for the most part, we've heard her do before. I need to hear Ariana go to the next level. If Thank U, Next was Street Fighter II, then Positions is Street Fighter II Turbo. Some extras, but nothing wholly new which moves things forward. At least not musically.

Whilst there isn't much musical growth from Ariana here, there is some personal growth that fans will notice and love. I commend Ariana for really starting to take the reigns of her career and own her  narratives through her music. There is a greater sense of self-assuredness and confidence that she shows on Positions, which is notedly because she is in a far better space than she was on her last two albums. Songs such as "POV" are really touching, because there was no way Ariana could have written a song like this for Sweetener or Thank U, Next. But the music itself feels like it's stuck. Positions is littered with things Ariana has given us before, but far better. "Just Like Magic" sounds like "Everyday" from Dangerous Woman. Her collab with Ty Dolla $ign sounds like My Everything's "Love Me Harder", which feels strange given there is a second song here with The Weeknd which is boring as all hell. And even within the album itself there is duplication. Did we really need "Nasty" when there is the far superior "34+35"? Did we need "Obvious" when it's barking up the same tree as "Six Thirty"?

Album Review: Ariana Grande - Positions | Random J Pop

Positions is an album which will please fans. And those who are just casual Pop and R&B music listeners will certainly find things to like here. But Positions really does feel like a mixtape and a stop gap release. As a body of work its good, but it isn't great, and it may not be the jump from Thank U, Next that some were hoping for. But what Positions does have, as was the case with Sweetener, is charm. There's lots of great humour and potty mouthed moments on this album, which feels like a true reflection of Ariana's character. "34+35", which is part of the Pop pussy renaissance, with a female Pop star being very to the point about the needs of her pussy and how good it is. Then there's "My Hair", being an intersection of humour, a metanarrative that's been on-going concerning Ariana and her ponytails, and something which is true to her heart and that of many women, concerning the relationship they have with their hair. It's such a fun song, and something so different for her which will resonate with many women. There is also an additional layer to this song, which is that it's co-written by Black women, and you can hear it in lines such as 'Spend my dimes and spend my time to keep it real, sometimes it's tracks'. And the whole thing is Soul and R&B. A white girl singing a song about her hair to Black ass music. That's something. It's a shame the entire album didn't lean more into this, and that Ariana wasn't more ruthless with cutting tracks to make the album shorter and sweeter. Ariana clearly isn't afraid to take risks. If she wanted to play it safe, she would've brought Max Martin back and given us variants of "Into You" and given us straight up Pop. But she said 'Fuck it' and dropped an album which is pretty much R&B. This is what makes Positions even more disappointing, because Ariana has it in her to be bolder and not chalk her decisions up to what will please the charts or placate fans. Because I'm sure there are My Everything and Dangerous Woman lovers who cannot stand Ariana's pivots to R&B, even though it's where she shines and what suits her voice best.

Positions is nice. It's not bad at all. But it sounds more like a part 2 to Thank U, Next as opposed to this whole new thing; although it has sprinkles of whole new things, giving you a sense of the different album this could have been if Ariana truly just let go. For some this will be enough. For others it'll be a case of playing it, thinking it's cute and then being like 'Thank you. NEXT'.


■ Shut Up
■ 34+35
■ Safety Net
■ My Hair
■ West Side 🏆 J's fave
■ Love Language