2020 – R&B / Pop
On her third album in two years, Ariana Grande changes the direction of her art, delivering effortless lyrics and a sound that isn’t innovative or encouraging at all. In other words, the weakest work she has ever released.
In many cultures and civilizations, sex is labeled as a rite of passage into adulthood. In these societies, young people tend to go through several challenges and processes that prove that they are good or strong enough to reach adult age and become responsible for themselves and others. In some cases, women paint their bodies and perform dances while men put their hands on gloves full of painful stinging ants, and in others, sexual initiation serves the same purpose. Even though the singer Ariana Grande is probably not included in any of these cases, during her career, she used sex and sensuality as a maturing ritual, proving more and more to be an adult and moving further and further away from the sweet and innocent image of her first album. In a way, it worked for a while, however, her new album, Positions, seems to tirelessly still try to affirm it, telling tiresome and rarely interesting details of the singer’s sex life.
Totally changing the direction that her last two albums set — Sweetener with its extremely sweet sound that was responsible for outlining Grande’s mature personality and thank u, next with a catchy night bar beat alongside the most intimate lyrics Ariana had ever released — Positions arrives with short, tight and un-creative lyrics alongside a generic and unpleasant sound. Over the course of more than 40 minutes, the album planes around Ariana’s sexual adventures (either with the love of her life or with some random guy) that are badly conveyed by lyrics that seem too lazy to really deliver something bold and more ambitious than just some semi-explicit night sex scenes, while an unimpressive sound plays in the background. In other words, Ariana made it look like the transition to adulthood is much nicer than adulthood itself.
Placing Positions alongside all of Ariana’s albums, this one proves to be the weakest when it comes to the lyrical content. While in its predecessors, she worked on feminism, romance, sex and self-love in several intelligent and independent ways, here everything seems to revolve around sex. She can only love herself by putting sexual patterns on the agenda and she can only love if she thinks about a night of sex — an orgasm turned her breath. If it was worked on by well-written lyrics at least, ok! However, it does not happen, everything here is shallow. Take “34+35” for example, in which Grande seems to take on the personality of a teenager who likes to make bad, immature jokes about sex. She starts, “Thirty-four, thirty-five,” and completes, “Means I wanna 69 with you/Aww shit/Math class/Never was good.” Unfortunately, this type of lyrics remains for almost the entire album.
In many cases, the weak, forced and effortless lyrics of Grande are what make several songs spoiled. While “my hair” and “love language” features a lovely sound — a vintage R&B that seems to have come out of a beauty salon in some hair-related musical movie — the lyrics of both seem to be one of the weakest things that Grande has ever written. In the first one, she tries to build a lyrics that says that her hair is as precious as her sexual organ, and in the second, she uses a psychological concept in a poor way. However, none of them are as bad as “six thirty” and “west side,” which, in addition to an extremely forgettable lyrics, fail very much to try to create a captivating and memorable low-R&B song. It can be said that these tracks are not only the weakest of Positions but also of Grande’s entire career.
Unfortunately, it is not only in the lyrics that Positions is flawed. While Sweetener, although some points seem messy, followed an almost entirely original sound aesthetic, and thank u, next, despite some moments being generic, managed to create the strongest Trap-Pop sound of last year, Positions abandoned the work of synthesizers with Max Martin and opts for this more faithful and vintage R&B. However, this generated boring and slow tracks without progression that seem to be stuck to usual sparkling beats. The album opener, “shut up,” already shows how weak the album is — compared to the openers of the singer’s last two works. The track features an orchestra, that seems unable to perform in the best way, and Ariana’s layered vocals. However, the song never seems to evolve into something really relevant. Meanwhile, Ariana’s participation in “motive” is quite forgettable and “obvious,” despite being a relatively good track, is not strong enough to make you want to hear it again.
Of course, at the end of the day, Positions has good songs, even if they were saved by Ariana’s comfort zone or by her vocals. “just like magic,” which sounds like a mix of Sweetener and thank u, next, shows Ariana in front of nice and pleasant synthesizers talking about all her achievements and how powerful she is. The collaborations, “off the table” with The Weeknd and “safety net” with Ty Dolla $ign, by their turn, are both very good, the first one being a romantic song that manages to mix the two singers very well and create a very homogenous duet and the second being one of the most captivating, well-written and original tracks on the album. “Positions,” despite still being Ariana’s weakest lead single to date, is a good-generic-Pop BOP and “nasty” is the point where she can work the whole sexual issue better. She sings almost shyly, “Don’t wanna wait on it/Tonight, I wanna get nasty (Yeah, yeah)/What do you waitin’ for?” Unfortunately, we don’t get any more of this.
After all, it is undeniable that Positions is perhaps Ariana’s weakest album. While her last two albums were firm on a variety of subjects beside sharp sounds, here she seems to have given up everything and got tired of writing the album and producing it in half. We don’t have Sweetener‘s sound innovation or My Everything‘s party, let alone the boldness she had in Dangerous Woman and the strength of thank u, next. Of course, the album still has a minimally good production by the level of Ariana and some catchy tracks, but that is not enough. She sings in the almost Christmas romantic “pov,” reminiscent of her old works, “Ooh, for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too/I’d love to see me from your point of view.” We all know that Ariana has had better races. With this one, she stumbles but doesn’t fall, however, she won’t reach first.