For those who associate Ariana Grande only with upbeat dance-pop songs, her newest album will be quite the surprise. “Positions,” Grande’s sixth studio album, has 14 tracks filled with orchestral string symphonies and R&B beats mixed to create a mature and consistent new sound. The album dropped on Oct. 30, a week after the lead single, which the album is named for, was released.
Compared to her previous album, “thank u, next,” it is clear Grande has found the courage to be vulnerable with someone new as well as comfort in her own skin. “Positions” is filled with love song after love song and doe-eyed lyrics, presumably about the singer’s new boyfriend. Listening through the album, it’s hard not to feel happy for Grande, who has been through a difficult past few years.
The album features various collaborations with other artists, including Doja Cat, The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign. In the song “safety net,” Grande sings alongside Ty Dolla $ign about feeling reluctant to fall in love again but taking the risk anyway. She sings, “Is it real this time or is it in my head? / Got me tripping, falling, with no safety net.” The lyrics are a clever reference to “in my head,” a song from Grande’s previous album where she sings about ignoring reality and idealizing a partner.
While many of the songs appear to be romantic, “Positions” is by far Grande’s most risqué album yet. With tracks such as “34+35” — which you can do the math for — Grande held nothing back in this album. While this song may not have the cleanest lyrics, Grande’s voice maintains its innocent and angelic sound. It is accompanied by, yet again, violins and string-plucking backing tracks mixed with R&B beats. This combination offers an interesting juxtaposition between the song’s message and its sound.
The first song Grande teased on her social media accounts months prior to the album’s release was “nasty,” which also delivers an explicitly risqué message. Grande sings, “No more playin’ safe, let’s take it all the way / I’m just sayin’.” The song is filled with sultry beats and soft whistle tones in the background.
Relationships aside, Grande still manages to bring in self-empowering songs to remind listeners that yes, she knows her worth — with or without someone by her side. The album opens with strings and Grande’s voice layered in harmonies in the song “shut up.” Delivering the message of, in nicer terms, ‘be quiet,’ Grande is clearly done with putting up with people who bring down her good vibes and spirit.
In “just like magic,” Grande’s voice is accompanied by a slow beat similar to the one used in songs on her fourth studio album, “Sweetener.” Featuring lyrics about having a positive attitude, Grande lets us in on her recently adopted outlook on life. She sings, “Good karma, my aesthetic / Keep my conscience clear, that’s why I’m so magnetic.” The song’s references to the Buddhist Law of Attraction show Grande’s own newfound gratitude and goals of spreading positivity.
Grande ends the album with a love ballad, “pov,” where she sings about her struggles with self-love and wanting to see herself through the eyes of the one who loves her. Grande belts, “I wanna love me / The way that you love me / Ooh, for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too / I’d love to see me from your point of view.” The song combines a slow and sultry beat with the plucking of orchestral strings, creating a modern love song worthy enough to be played at a wedding.
In regard to vocal range, Grande has outdone herself again in “Positions,” specifically on the album’s eighth track, “my hair.” The song begins with soft guitar chords and transitions into lo-fi beats, while Grande sings about letting someone run their fingers through her famous ponytail. While this song starts off sounding like mall music, Grande redeems herself toward the end when she sings an entire verse in whistle tones. Grande sings, “So run your hands through my hair / Baby ‘cause that’s why it’s there,” in her impressively high register.
Grande originally became famous for her radio hits and dance-pop songs, featuring upbeat backing tracks and her signature belted vocals. But the singer actually began with a background in Broadway and a love for R&B. “Yours Truly,” Grande’s first album, incorporates layered harmonies, string instrumentals and inspiration from the 1990s. In “Sweetener,” Grande attempted to incorporate R&B sounds into the album, but the mixture of this with radio pop resulted in a lack of consistency and overall flow for the album’s sound. With “Positions,” Grande appears to have finally created an album with the sounds she’s been searching for since she began her career in the music industry. It’s filled with whistle tones and layered harmonies, which are nods to her musical idols, Mariah Carey and Imogen Heap.
Ultimately, while there are fans who were disappointed in the lack of “radio hits” in “Positions,” Grande has proven herself capable of creating an album that flows consistently from one song to the next while stepping outside of her overdone dance-pop style of music. “Positions” is arguably one of her most musically advanced and polished albums yet.