Ariana Grande’s R&B Aspirations Come to Fruition on “Positions”

Album+Cover+for+%22Positions%22

Album Cover for “Positions”

Cathleen Perdomo, Staff Writer

After the release of her most critically acclaimed album “thank u, next” in 2019, many believed that Ariana Grande wouldn’t release another album for a very long time. Surprisingly, she tweeted in October, “i can’t wait to give you my album this month.” Two weeks later, she released her sixth studio album, “Positions.” 

Ariana Grande-Butera grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, and always loved to sing and act. After spending the majority of her childhood participating in local plays, she landed her first big role in 2008 as Charlotte in the musical “13” on Broadway. A year later she was cast in the hit Nickelodeon show “Victorious.” While on the show in 2011, she released her first single, “Put Your Hearts Up,” which gained popularity, but she said during an interview with Zach Sang and the Gang in 2015 that she “wishes she never recorded it,” since it wasn’t the type of music she wanted to make. What she desperately wanted to make was R&B. 

Grande has released six albums to date, all of which have different meanings and purposes and explore different genres. In 2013 she released her debut “Yours Truly,” an enjoyable and fun album filled with 1990s R&B and 1960s pop influences and lyrics about love. “My Everything,” released in 2014, is an album full of iconic radio hits, a fresh new dance pop sound, and lyrics about relationships and heartbreak. “Dangerous Woman,” her third album, came out in 2016, and captures a new level of self, and is full of empowerment and confidence. “Sweetener” was released in 2018, a year after the devastating bombing of one of Grande’s concerts in Manchester in May of 2017. It deals with love, mental health, self care, strength and positivity, and has a fresh and experimental R&B sound. It was also her first album to win a Grammy. “thank u, next,” released five months after “Sweetener,” and following the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, is a mournful and depressing album that explores a trap and hip-hop sound. More than a year after her last release, Grande has released her sixth studio album, “Positions,” which can arguably be called her best album. 

With a total of 14 songs, “Positions” represents a new level of maturity for Grande and has two specific themes beginning to end: love and sexuality. It contains 1990s and 2000s R&B influences as well as elements of trap and neo-soul. The album also has violins in most (if not all) of its tracks. All six of her albums have their strengths and weaknesses, but “Positions” is probably the album with the fewest of the latter. The album opens with an orchestral and bittersweet anthem, “shut up.” Grande explains the song in an interview: “It’s just kind of like an invite to, you know, act different and not spend so much time being negative and trying to not waste your energy talking about the people you hate.” This track was the perfect opener: whimsical, magical and different from most of her work. The flute towards the end is unexpected, and overall, it was a very interesting way to open the album. 

A standout track is definitely “off the table” featuring The Weeknd. It is probably the saddest song on the album. The soulful duet is clearly 1990s inspired and is also reminiscent of some of Mariah Carey’s work. The lyrics “if I can’t have you, is love completely off the table? Do I sit this one out and wait for the next life? Am I too cold, am I not nice?” revisit and meditate on the point of Grande’s life where she feels she hit rock bottom. She talks about her fear of finding new love, but also being afraid of possibly never finding love again. The Weeknd sings “I’ll wait for you even though it’ll always feel like I’ll be number two.” He sings from the perspective of Ariana’s new lover, reassuring her that she’s capable of finding love again. This is an example of the great, heartfelt and raw writing that has been exhibited in Grande’s work since the release of “Sweetener,” a trend coinciding with an increase in the number of tracks written by Grande herself. 

Skipping a few tracks, a fan favorite is definitely “my hair.” The aforementioned neo-soul elements start to kick in and Grande showcases her vocal ability, particularly toward the end with some impressive whistle notes. The song “west side” samples Aaliyah and is probably the most mellow song on the album. It’s the shortest song Grande has ever released, but its brevity isn’t at the expense of good songwriting. The reverse effect in its production is very addicting, and overall, the song is fantastic. The album’s title track and lead single “positions” is located toward the end of the album. Such a late placement for the title track may seem odd, but it makes sense when examined in sequence with the rest of the songs. It’s always interesting hearing the lead single, especially the title track, in chronology with the entire album. It can provide a totally different perspective and meaning to both the track and the album. 

The album ends with the soulful and gospel-inspired track “pov,” on which Grande sings about wishing to see herself from her significant other’s point of view. This is definitely her best closing track as of yet. She sings her heart out and pours all of her emotions into this track, putting it in a league of its own. 

What makes the album better is knowing that Grande was involved in the writing of all of its songs as well as vocally producing each track. However, this is not to say that “Positions” is without its weaknesses. The track “six thirty” is good, but its repetitiveness can be annoying to listen to. The production on this track is still great, as are its lyrics. Another point of fault is observable in “motive.” It’s a great track, and frankly, its house and vogue elements classify it as a standout. However, Doja Cat’s rap verse could’ve been much better, as she is one of the best rappers of the moment.  

With “Positions,” Grande is finally doing what she has always wanted: R&B. All of her previous albums have incorporated certain R&B elements, but not to the same extent as this one. Grande is evidently in her comfort zone in “Positions,” and it is the best we’ve heard from her yet.