Grande’s ‘Positions’ sees highs and lows

Brooke J. Freundschuh, A&E Editor

See, I have never loved Ariana Grande. It isn’t that I don’t like her. I just don’t love her. She has never been my favorite. Her vocal superiority on pop radio is undeniable, but the quality of her songs has never impressed me. 

Diving into her latest release, “positions”, these feelings may carry over, but I tried to look at it without bias. 

Grande has been on a streak of great success in her career as a solo musician for the last half decade. She has emerged victorious (see what I did there?) from several personal battles, like the bombing at her Manchester show, the death of her ex boyfriend Mac Miller and her separation from fiance Pete Davidson, just to name a few. However, Grande continues to produce successful music. Her new album “positions” is met with great expectations. I went into this project hoping that it would change my opinion of her music. 

The first track, “shut up,” was an immediate disappointment. Sure, it has that Ariana Grande, high ponytail and tall heeled sass, but the blatant immaturity of the lyrics was an immediate no from me. The hook and chorus being simply “you know sound so dumb (so dumb, so dumb) so maybe you should just shut up,” is incredibly immature. Yes, I get it, it’s a direct response to hate, but contextually, it still serves no purpose and is extremely childish lyrically. 

I have so much to say about “34 + 35.” I immediately could not stand its not-so-subtle sexual innuendos (if they can even be called that, considering she does the math at the end of the song.) It is obviously sexually charged, and I am not judging her boldness, however, it just doesn’t add up for me. (Sorry, I’ll stop making jokes.) However, I must admit that after repeated listens to the track and album for the sake of this review, I found myself singing along, to my own dismay. Overall, I do see the appeal and why it would be popular and admired by fans for the same reasons “WAP” is popular. 

The next five tracks alternate the three features she has on the album. Unfortunately, I think “motives” featuring recent sensation, Doja Cat, gets lost in the fact that it has a big name feature and that the lyrical content suffers for it drastically. “Before I lead you on, tell me what’s your motive” could be one line of a more intricate song, but instead it is the basis of the entire track. The feature verse is not relevant to the rest of the song, but is also better written than the other verses. It could easily be added or removed. 

“Just like magic”, however, should not get lost amidst the features. It is a decent track about manifestation and personal growth. 

Track five, “off the table” featuring the Weeknd, is one of the best moments on the album. I very much appreciate the lyrical storytelling. It addresses a sense of hopelessness felt after breaking things off with the person you once thought would be ‘“the one” and the rebuilding of trust afterwards. The Weeknd plays the character of the one trying to win Grande’s affection. It is well written and meaningful and I think it would make a very promising single.

“Six thirty” is another song with one clever reference that gets overused, but it shows a progression of the relationship that starts in “off the table” if that is how you choose to view the rest of the project; the story is cohesive. “Safety net” ft. Ty Dolla Sign continues this narrative as Ariana still grapples for control over her anxiety and trust. 

“My hair” is another expression of consent and trust between Ariana and her new partner. However, similar songs have been done and similar analogies made. Lady Gaga has a similar track on 2011’s “Born this Way.” Overall it is not original, but it serves a purpose. 

“Nasty” is a guilty pleasure track in all senses of the phrase. It continues with graphic sexual expression, but is brutally honest and fulfills its role as a sexually driven track as she cruises through her feelings and experiences in the relationship.

However, the b-side tracks that stand out to me are ones that I fear could easily get lost in the crowd. With “west side” comes the best stretch of the album. “West side” is a chill track that embodies a feeling of being in love, but in a very relaxed context, however after enjoying it many times, I made the disheartening realization of what the song reminded me of: “Eastside” by Benny Blanco, Halsey and Khalid. But despite the sin of unoriginality once again being committed, it still stands as one of my favorites on the album solely for its vibe.

Next comes my favorite, “love language.” The over-the-top, upbeat production and horns preceding her gorgeous vocals really did it for me on this track. While I mostly love it for its bubbly presentation, it also tells a story about releasing the anxiety that has plagued her in previous tracks. Lines such as “teach me how to love you; I’m unlearning what ain’t right,” hit differently for me as they embody the transition into a healthy relationship. 

The lead single and title track “positions” is a key moment on the album. This track deals with the multifaceted aspects of a relationship that grows more serious over time.  It was the perfect choice for the lead single and a defining moment for the growth displayed throughout the grooves of this record.

The final two tracks unfortunately run together, because “obvious” is pretty standard filler content. “Pov” takes on a unique perspective of Ariana looking for beauty in herself through the way her lover perceives her. She searches for things to change about herself, not to make herself more appealing, but to improve her own personal character, which I believe to be a pillar of the growth seen throughout “positions.”

Over all, it is not a great album for me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great for someone else. It reminds me of content that serious fans of Justin Bieber’s work would enjoy, which probably is not a far cry, considering the two artists just collaborated on “Stuck with U.”

I don’t believe it will go down in musical history as one of her best works, nor do I think it is Grammy worthy. Some of the songs hold up, but others I fear will be forgotten b-sides in her catalogue. 

For what it’s worth, it stays at the position of a light 3 on my rating scale.