Ariana Grande is a superstar in the world of music. She has over 53 million monthly listeners on Spotify and has had four albums reach number one on the Billboard 200. Matching her chart success is her success as a songwriter. Songs like “thank u, next” and “boyfriend” are examples of Grande at her best. Her newest release, “Positions,” offers a good album that plays it safe when it comes to sound and style.
What’s interesting about Grande’s latest record is how quickly it was announced and promoted. A week before “Postions” was released as an album, a song of the same name was released and as a single, it’s amazing. The stripped back guitar and production from London on da Track makes it one of the catchiest songs of the year. Grande’s whispery vocals also add a soft touch to a bouncy song which creates a dream like quality.
Another stand out song and my personal favorite is “34+35.” The title alone is tongue-in-cheek and Grande’s saucy lyrics add to the playful demeanor of the track. Lines like “Can you stay up all night/ F*** me till the daylight” capture Grande’s wit and emotional connection to listeners.
Where I start to lose with “Positions” is with the creative direction. That is weird to say, since there is not a single bad song on the album, but Grande doesn’t have an overarching theme like she did on her last record “thank u, next.” The best word to describe “Positions” is safe. It will not offend anyone who is new to Grande and it will please current fans of her music.
There is nothing wrong with a safe record, but when an album does not experiment with different sounds and concepts that challenge an artist’s persona, then that album will be forgotten over time. I worry “Positions” will be that album.
Grande does redeem herself with some notable features. The song “Off the Table (with The Weeknd)” starts with a deep bass and slim percussion followed by Grande singing as someone in love and questioning the terms of a relationship. The Weeknd follows up with his fantastic falsetto and flow. Everytime The Weeknd appears on a track as a feature, the song is automatically better and “Off the Table” is no exception.
“Positions” is an album that should be able to please anyone. However, if you are having the time of your life with your friends and you need to find an album that fits the mood, this is not the first record you will pick.
Records like “Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey and “Channel Orange” by Frank Ocean are examples of memorable records that challenge and twist the notion of what great pop music is while presenting a unique style. “Positions” has elements of ‘90s R&B incorporated, but it feels limited due to the restrained creativity of the production. Grande deserves credit for her songwriting and her vocals, but if she wants to make an all-time great album, she needs to experiment with her sound and reach outside her comfort zone.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @ArianaGrande on Twitter.