Arts and Entertainment

Ariana Grande Switches To Sultry R&B On “Positions”

Ariana Grande’s 6th studio album, “Positions,” is a transition from bubblegum pop to sultry R&B, and gives fans a satisfying array of songs despite its downfalls.

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By Afra Mahmud

Pop princess Ariana Grande has returned to the charts with her highly-anticipated sixth studio album “Positions.” Though Grande’s career was built on her bubblegum pop roots, this album abandons the sugary sweetness of her earlier career and takes on an experimental, R&B-influenced edge. Arianators have been seeking such an album from Grande ever since the release of “Sweetener” (2018) and “thank u, next” (2019), but many outside listeners have been surprised to hear a different approach to her usual sound. “Positions” is a fun, effervescent album that is refreshing to hear from Grande, and though there are some songs that fall flat, it’s an overall enjoyable listen for R&B and pop fans. But in contrast to her previous album “thank u, next,” “Positions” underperformed according to critics and a large sum of her fans.

Compared to her earlier work, “Positions” heavily incorporates trap, R&B, and hip-hop into its production. Major hip-hop producers, including Murda Beatz and London on the Track, are featured on various tracks. With their help and her usual production team, Grande was able to create a project that contrasts with her previous five albums, especially in terms of musical style. Alas, this experimentation led to the downfall of some of the core aspects of an album. Lyrically, Grande is passionate and expressive, describing the different stages of a new relationship. She, however, is not as clever with her wordplay as she has shown herself to be capable of. The songs blend together to create a cohesive album but are almost too cohesive at some points, making it hard to differentiate between the songs after listening to them one after the other. “Positions” is suspected to be an album Grande wrote for herself and therefore, less accessible to mainstream audiences, resulting in mixed reviews.

Many of the songs on the album are great. Through thoughtful lyrics, melodic harmonies, and the incorporation of different instruments across the 14-track album, we are able to see a more buoyant side of Grande that had been less apparent in her other two recent albums. As in every album, there are a few that stick out for their originality and overall composition. For example, “pov” is arguably the greatest song on “Positions,” baring the raw emotions that listeners heard throughout all of “thank u, next” in particular. Lyrics like “I can feel it starting to subside / Learning to believe in what is mine” express the core feelings that many people truly want in a relationship: clarity and transparency. “love language” and “just like magic” each have a myriad of different beats that add variety to the album as a whole, and “my hair” combines jazzy and sultry elements into the album. The plucky synth strings of “shut up,” “34+35,” and “positions” serve as a catchy backdrop for Grande’s cooing, which is simple, sensual, and angelic, but the three tracks blend together in the listener’s memory. Another peak highlight is “off the table,” her second collaboration with The Weeknd, whose contributions to the track result in one of the most satisfying crescendos in Grande’s discography. Here, Grande shows her capacity for emotional depth by including heartbreaking lyrics about not being able to love again as she did in her previous relationship with the late Mac Miller. The Weeknd plays the male counterpart and references past tracks of his throughout his verse, like “The Hills” and his previous collaboration with Grande, “Love Me Harder.” Their chemistry is apparent, and it makes the relationship in the track feel all the more real.

Unfortunately, the tracklist lulls with “six thirty,” where Grande sings about being “delicious” over some below-average production that fails to be bouncy. The track shows promise with its warping, wiry synth passages at the beginning and end of the runtime, but they never contribute to anything greater and end up feeling tacked on. The percussion on “nasty” is by the numbers, and the instrumental melody is so low in the mix that it’s practically nonexistent. “motive,” Grande’s collab with Doja Cat, also pales in comparison to the rest of the tracklist. Though one of the more upbeat songs in the album, the track heads downhill once Doja Cat starts singing. There is no doubt that Doja Cat is incredibly talented, but the synth orchestration clashes with her unique, husky voice and boisterous rapping style. “obvious,” the penultimate song on “positions,” is the archetypal Ariana Grande song and does little to stand out; in an album that is full of artistic improvement, the song simply doesn’t fit.

“Positions” indicates a major change in Grande’s place in the music industry. Since her first album, “Yours Truly,” there has been a gradual shift in the musicality of Grande’s projects, and this album is her baby steps into the R&B genre. As such, there are a few growing pains. Nevertheless, Grande has established herself as a talented lyricist and an amazing singer, so it will be interesting to see her progression and growth in the sultry, sexy R&B sector of music. The songs on the album hold more blatantly sexual undertones, in contrast to the emotional distress expressed in Grande’s last two albums. Sexuality is not new to Grande’s music, but she shows that she is more comfortable with the topic in this project.

Grande has completely reinvented herself in this new era of music, but this is just her start in the R&B world. Her new sound is far more mature and unique, emphasizing her transition from a young child star to a mature vocalist and songwriter. Since “Positions” is a new step for Grande, it may not have been as cohesive as previous records, and Grande still has a long way to go in order to perfect the genre. We, as well as the rest of the world, are eagerly waiting to see her metamorphosis.