Positions finds Ariana in full superstar mode: as confident, in control, and willing to define herself as she has ever been.
After two album cycles that culminated in a massive sold-out tour (with multiple headlining dates at major music festivals), Ariana Grande has returned, triumphantly, to reaffirm her status as one of the world’s top tier pop artists. Positions is a victory lap, one that solidifies Grande’s bonafides as a songwriter by fusing some of her most sensual lyrical content to date with her most self-confident. The album’s rollout was casual — a few teasers and one single — which turns out to be representative of a more laid back, less dramatic approach. Gone are the maximalist pop beats of Sweetener, the dark sensibilities of thank u, next, and the piano-heavy theatrics of My Everything. Positions replaces these with more traditional R&B beats and an emotionally mature approach to lyricism that signifies Grande’s evolving self-perception in recent years. Opener “shut up” doesn’t mince its sentiments: “Guess it fuckin’ just clicked one night / All them demons helped me see shit differently / So don’t be sad for me.” That song is likely meant as a coded missive directed toward detractors. But ”34+35,” “nasty,” and “my hair” turn their attentions to Grande’s relationships and sexual partners — with an explicit intention of communicating her own interests and needs, rather than just playing the coy and demure flirt. Positions’ title track, meanwhile, is about the flexibility of relationships, and even the reflexivity of gender roles.
More to the point, “Positions” finds Grande taking control when she needs to (the music video for the song depicts her, in one of many roles, as the President of the United States). The message is clear: In any relationship that she’s in, Ariana is her own woman — whatever she wants to be. As if to drive that point home even further, the song “pov” registers a rejection of relationships of codependency (“I’m learning to be grateful for myself”) while, at the same time, expressing a seemingly at-odds desire to view herself as her partner views her (“I wanna love me / The way that you love me / For all of my pretty and all of my ugly too/ I’d love to see me from your point of view”). Even the track’s warm string arrangement and tight vocal harmonies resonate with shared experience and togetherness, while maintaining a strong sense of value in the experience of reflecting on the self. All of this skillful self-defining seems to ensure that Ariana Grande will continue to remain in pop’s spotlight for some time to come; her star power is overwhelming and her “personal brand” is at an all-time high, such that she can pretty much do whatever she wants. (Not for nothing, the music video for “34+35” contains multiple visual references to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). Albums like Positions show exactly why such artistic latitude is deserved.
Published as part of Album Roundup: Oct. – Dec. 2020 | Part 1.