Ariana Grande’s new album, Positions, features strong vocals but doesn’t break new ground

By Rohail Spear || Layout Assistant

Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

After two massively acclaimed albums released less than six months apart, Ariana Grande has returned with a collection of sparkly, instrumental R&B jams on her new album, Positions.

While for the most part, the content of the album doesn’t dig past surface-level feelings of desire and sex, Grande’s vocals are, once again, her biggest strength. Her voice shines in the rather simple trap beats, blending with orchestral instruments to produce glistening harmonies. Her layered vocals in the opener, “shut up,” are honey-like: light, breathy, and so Ariana. The jazz-inspired “off the table” featuring The Weeknd is a standout track mostly due to how the pairs’ voices play off of each other. His softer voice blends with her lighter, airier tone, transporting the listener into a dim, firelit room. The song heats up and intensifies into an explosive climax: the only track in which Ariana shows her true Broadway range.

The biggest surprise comes at the end of the album and you realize that, unlike her previous two albums, Grande doesn’t try anything new. The melodies are okay (no universal hits like “7 rings” or “no tears left to cry” here). The lyrics are simple; the raunchiness may catch you off guard (see the not-so-subtly named “34+35”). Unfortunately, most of the songs are generic love songs. She “wanna get nasty” on “nasty,” a track where relaxed whistle tones create a chill, evening-lit bedroom vibe. On the weaker lyrically point-blank track “just like magic,” Grande boasts about how she gets everything she wants “’cause [she] attract[s] it.” The most vulnerable Grande appears is on the album’s closer “pov,” where she laments about how she “wanna love” herself the way her lover loves her.

Ariana’s background in musical theater serves her well to spice up the otherwise rather dull production. Trap beats dominate the album; the only respite comes when pretty strings catch you off guard and make you marvel at how they fit so perfectly in an R&B pop song. Other than the orchestral instruments, however, which were previously introduced in thank u, next, there isn’t much to chat about. In an age when so many artists are breaking new ground and trying new instruments and vocal processing methods or altering the traditional structure, those who stay with the tried and true ways can often get left behind. And, to some extent, Ariana falls victim to this.

At the end of the day, though, perhaps this is what Ariana needed. Her last two albums were inspired by tragic, extremely personal events that unfortunately were massively publicized – her PTSD as a result of the Manchester bombing, the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, her infamous breakup with Pete Davidson – and perhaps she simply didn’t want the pressure that comes with taking risks. And, in these times, we certainly can’t blame her. 

First-year Rohail Spear is a Layout Assistant. His email is rspear@fandm.edu.

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