Ariana Grande has recently been on an artistic high. Her recent album thank u, next had plenty of great singles such as “thank u, next” and the scandalous, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” The album was driven thematically by Ariana’s polarizing love life as well as overcoming past relationships.
In many ways Positions can be regarded as the post break up phase most of us go through. We’re angry, we’re confused, and some of us, like Ariana in this album, go out looking for cheap, inconsequential hook-ups. A large portion of the album is dedicated to sex. If you treat this album as a sequel of sorts to “thank u, next” I think this is a pretty logical follow up. The album delves into the mindset of someone trying to find love again after a failed love – or perhaps multiple failed relationships.
The album kicks off with “shut up,” which is this passive aggressive track that almost seems to be directed towards the same person Ariana is addressing in the next track, “34+35.” Ariana is trying to articulate that she is not too concerned about the person beyond a surface level. She would rather they “just shut up,” as she really doesn’t care about them. It’s a situation most of us can relate to – the rebound. We’ve all either been the rebound or used someone as a rebound at some point. On the surface, the lyrics seem seductive, but I’d argue she’s acknowledging the dehumanizing nature of using someone as rebound.
In the next couple tracks, Ariana seems to be almost paranoid about other potential mates, asking “what’s your motive?” It’s an interesting contrast, almost as if in this track she’s scared to be the person being used for a rebound. I think after a break up, it’s common to tread lightly when looking for a new partner, as the saying goes, “don’t walk down the street you just got beat up.”
The next couple of tracks Ariana attempts to focus on herself, but ultimately slumps again in the track “off the table.” She asks questions like “Will I ever love again?” “Is love completely off the table?” Once again I think this contrasts the earlier tracks quite nicely. Ariana is expressing the post break up facade we all do. We all hook up with other people in an attempt to fill the void, but ultimately chase the high of companionship and reassurance of someone stable.
The sound of this album is pretty slick overall. The productions feels pulls the listener with slick tunes and excellent synths on a lot of the more contemplative tracks on the album. One instrument that is quite prominent, surprisingly, is the violin. The violin is on the majority of the track. Though this could have easily not worked, it’s quite nice. A lot of the tracks have a nice seductive quality to them. Odd comparison, but kind of reminds me of some of the sounds off Justin Timberlakes, “FutureSex/LoveSounds” both thematically and sonically.
Some of the tracks could have benefitted from a more simple sound in my opinion. The song “nasty” for example would have been a lot more resonate if it had less going on. Lyrically, I feel this is one of the weaker tracks. I think songs like “34+35” have more depth in the context of the album, but this song I just feel has little to offer in substance. Not much to read into regardless of the context of the album. Also, this track doesn’t really do anything that “34+35” doesn’t do. In my opinion this track could have easily been removed and instead the album could have cut to “west side,” which has a lot more going on.
“nasty” encompasses a larger issue with the album, is the a couple of songs in the middle feel somewhat “samey” in what they contribute to the narrative of the album. While tracks like “six thirty,” and “west side,” are great on their own, they only reinforce ideas the listener was already introduced to in the record. This would be find if the reinforcement was secondary to a new theme, but it’s not. Just topics Ariana has already covered.
The last leg of the record I feel carries the slack from the middle of the album. “love language” offers a lot of witty writing and word play about expressing love. “Positions” fits this bill as well, Ariana is using a lot of word play to express her versatile as both a romantic partner and a sexual partner. These two tracks see Ariana finding new feelings in someone, her journey has gone from cheap hook up to something more wholesome. She’s finding joy in wanting to be there for someone, in the next track, she says she wants to “believe in love.”
The closer to the album, “pov” is a tender moment on the album. She seems dedicated to self growth and not letting down her new significant other. It’s the right kind of mentality for someone trying to get into a new relationship after a tough ex. Keep working on yourself even when you’re with someone.
Positions is an interesting study on how we approach break ups and finding love (and self love) again. We often try to fill the void whether it be with hookups or self improvement.
As mentioned earlier, the production is slick on this record. Some of the more serious and personal tracks could really benefit from being more subtle though. Songs like “The Way I Feel Inside” by The Zombies are resonate with listeners because it is so stripped down and emotional. While I understand that Ariana’s target demographic may not be ready to digest a more subtle sound, I think for the integrity of the album, this could have really benefitted the narrative of the album. Just feel to clean and noisy for what are supposed to be the somber moments. That being said, I love the production on tracks like “positions.” The chorus has an awesome pace to it, Ariana’s vocals guide the listener through some slick guitar plucking and smooth violin.
Ariana’s vocals are pretty consistent overall as well, she has the opportunity on this record to express a lot of range. On the higher energy tracks, she tends to layer the vocals, giving them a nice bit of depth. To reference “positions” once again the vocals in the chorus have a nice oomph to them because of the layering.
This album is good, but could definitely be sharper. In the future, Ariana could benefit from being more subtle both from a production standpoint and a lyrical standpoint in some of the tracks. If some tracks were reworked or removed entirely I feel this album could have had more depth to it. Her last two works have dealt with break up and finding new love, so it will be interesting what she will bring to her next album.