Ariana Grande flirtatiously explores explicit topics in ‘Positions’

Ariana Grande's album cover art for "Positions"
Ariana Grande announced the release of her sixth studio album “Positions” only a few weeks before sharing it with the world. Photo from @arianagrande on Instagram.

After Ariana Grande’s unannounced tweet earlier this month hinted at the release of her sixth studio album, fans have been spiraling in anticipation of the singer-songwriter’s 14-track album, “Positions,” ever since. Finally released Friday, “Positions” reveals a transformative state for Grande as she abandons her usual girly pop and enters the world of maturity and R&B. 

A week prior, the 27-year-old singer dropped the album’s lead single, “positions.” Driven by a simple melody and pizzicato of string instruments, the tune is a catchy mix of pop and R&B. The lyrics Grande sings, “’Cause I’ll be switchin’ them positions for you” and “Know my love infinite, nothin’ I wouldn’t do,” seem like a surface-level love tribute to Grande’s current boyfriend, Dalton Gomez, as she sings about how she will take any measures to make the relationship work. Yet, the true meaning behind these lyrics transcend a typical love song.

In implying the switching of “positions” between men and women, the song “positions” suddenly becomes an anthem about women being capable of attaining power, success and a healthy relationship.

Empowerment is a common theme throughout “Positions.” Grande addresses her critics and haters in the album’s opening track, “shut up,” asking them “How you be using your tongue (How?)” when they “be so worried ‘bout mine (Mine)” and suggesting that they “sound so dumb.” Though the message is hardcore, the vibe is anything but. The chorus sounds like a heavenly choir with layers of harmonies and delicate strums of string instruments.

“shut up” and its slow, mellow vibe rings similar to most songs on “Positions.” Light orchestral instrumentation is used throughout a surplus of tracks, from the first song to the last, “pov,” though the deeper meaning between the two differs heavily. 

In “pov,” Grande expresses her desire to see herself, flaws and all, through her significant other’s point of view to understand why they love her the way they do. Grande asserts “I wanna love me (Ooh) / The way that you love me (Ooh) / For all of my pretty and all of my ugly too,” exposing her insecurities and wishes.

Singer, songwriter and record producer Ty Dolla $ign collaborated with Grande for the first time in her song “safety net.” The lyrics further reveal a vulnerable side to Grande as she opened up about her current state of mind. 

Singing “I’ve never been this scared before / Feelings I just can’t ignore / Don’t know if I should fight or fly / But I don’t mind,” Grande opens up about her fear of falling in love again after a public and tumultuous past couple of years with the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and the called-off engagement with Pete Davidson. Ultimately, she embraces the risk, singing “Don’t know if I should fight or fly / But I don’t mind” and loves it, as evident by the rest of the album.

The album then picks up with its more upbeat tracks, “six thirty” and “nasty.” Grande sings in an airy tone, sending listeners to an ethereal trance, and the hip-hop beats in the background make for a bop. In both songs, Grande also becomes more outright explicit about her love for Gomez. She even literalizes the mathematical addition of “34+35” at the end of the song for anyone who missed the hint. The groovy, disco-style “love language” is an immediate favorite, becoming another success for Grande in her experimentations of different music styles.

Grande collaborated with artists Doja Cat on “motive” and The Weeknd on “off the table.” 

“motive,” a flirty and playful interrogation of what someone’s motives are when they’re into you, sounds like an addictive dance jam that would appear in an iPhone commercial; Doja Cat and her fiery rap-verse is a breath of fresh air. 

“off the table” is slow, groovy and sensual with lush bass and guitar riffs accompanying the duo’s buttery vocals. The Weeknd’s lyrics, “I can love you harder than I did before,” make a clever reference to their 2014 collaboration, “Love Me Harder.” 

Many of the songs in “Positions” reference or bear similarities to Grande’s past works, bringing long-time fans to a moment of nostalgia. The beginning of “nasty” where the music speeds up and winds forward is reminiscent of the beginning of “The Way (feat. Mac Miller),” one of Grande’s hits from her first studio album, “Yours Truly,” that launched her further into stardom. “nasty” and “my hair” also bring back the whistle tones prevalent in Grande’s old works but missing in her recent ones.

The flirty nature of “my hair” fuses well with the song’s sultry R&B beats. The lyrics, “Usually don’t let people touch it / But tonight, you get a pass” playfully equate Grande’s iconic high ponytail as a wall that she only lets down for a few special people. Grande sings the entire last chorus in her whistle register, demonstrating immense control over her voice.

With the exception of “shut up,” “safety net” and “pov,” each song focuses on or hints to Grande’s physical relationship with Gomez. “Positions” perfectly describes her passionate quarantine with Gomez while writing this album, but it lacks the deep dive into her emotional state, in contrast to Grande’s last two albums, “Sweetener” and “thank u, next,” which were written after a damaging turn of events: the 2017 Manchester bombing and her history with Miller and Davidson.

The album as a whole feels like an unusual combination of sentiments ranging from regret and vulnerability to empowerment and outright raunchiness, lacking a sense of cohesiveness. Yet, in all its rawness and sultriness, “Positions” serves as a testament to Grande’s true vocal abilities with her delicate flutters, smooth runs and extreme control over her voice as she flips between registers. In paying homage to and recycling small parts from past works, “Positions” gives an insight into Grande’s inspirations and emotions as she transitions into a new experimental era of R&B.