Miss Cat Valentine is, uh, all grown up. Not that her past few albums haven’t been proof that Ariana Grande is a full-fledged adult capital-P-capital-S Pop Star, but positions is… well, it’s horny. Filthy, even.
One could even say it’s… “nasty.”
The perpetually-ponytailed superstar has always played with R&B on tracks like “R.E.M” or “successful,” but she’s never committed to the bit like she does here. There’s no colossal pop bangers in the vein of “Into You,” “no tears left to cry,” or “thank u, next” on positions—the closest Grande comes to that is the lead single and title track, and even then, it’s notably subdued.
positions had a bit of an unorthodox release style for Grande, who tends to default to the industry standard model of lead single-album announcement-promo single(s)-album. She’s not as rigidly married to this as someone like, say, Taylor Swift, but it’s definitely out of the ordinary to get a project from Grande without some level of the standard fanfare. On October 14—a little over two weeks before the album’s release—the singer shared this threat of a tweet without any warning:
This tweet predictably sent, well, the entire world into crisis mode. Ariana was coming! Fans quickly theorized she would release a lead single either the 16th or the 23rd, followed by the album on the 23rd or 30th. And Grande, not one to stray too far from her old ways, followed suit, releasing “positions” as a lead single on the 23rd followed by its parent album the following week.
Of course, an album called positions was always going to be a bit scandalous. And boy, did Grande deliver on that front. After a brief update on her mental state on “shut up,” the album makes its way to the bedroom. And stays there.
A few weeks ago, one of my staff writers, Grace Oladapo, wrote this great article explaining her very correct opinion that sweetener is Grande’s best album. It is with a bit of a heavy heart that I share that that hasn’t changed and she didn’t top it here, but positions exists in a sonic space so close to sweetener that I really don’t have room to be mad.
The album is equal parts braggadocious, vulnerable, and just plain dirty—occasionally all on the same track. On tracks like “34+35,” an album highlight and the second single, we see Grande’s sense of humor come out as it did on sweetener tracks like “successful” or “sweetener.” It’s deliciously dirty in a giddy way that makes it impossible to resist responding with just the goofiest smile. Even just the premise of the song—turning 69 into a math problem for no reason—is euphorically dumb, and it’s clear Grande had a ton of fun in the studio. (And, just in case the song’s subject is a bit slow with math, she even spells it out in the outro: “it means I wanna 69 with you.”)
On highlights “off the table,” her reunion with “Love Me Harder” collaborator The Weeknd, “safety net (feat. Ty Dolla $ign),” and closing track “pov,” she strips back that bravado to great effect. They’re some of the most emotionally evocative tracks of her discography, with “pov” potentially being her best closer (and I’m saying this as a “get well soon” STAN!).
I would be remiss to go about reviewing this album without discussing the note of Grande’s vocals, which are the best they have ever been, amidst a discography of impressive vocals. In the words of Whitney Houston, I only listen to singers. And Ariana seems intent here on reminding us that she is, in fact, a sinGER! Try singing along to “my hair.” Maybe you’ll make it through most of the track, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. But then try staying with her when she sings the entire last chorus in her whistle register.
Mariah is probably somewhere applauding, knowing her legacy is more than up to the task.
If there’s a shortcoming with positions, it’s that all the tracks aren’t necessarily standouts on first listen. I’ve listened to the album an embarrassing number of times already, and I can’t say I could sing “six thirty” off the top of my head.
But when the vibe is this good, do I even care?
Essential Tracks: “pov,” “34+35,” “my hair”
You can stream positions below.