With artists now able to instantly connect to their fans in the digital age, fans have become increasingly demanding of their faves for new content. Mere weeks after an artist releases new work, fans feel emboldened to beg artists for new music to keep them entertained. With three full albums in two years, and dozens of singles under her belt, Ariana Grande is sure to deliver when her fans ask for new music. Ariana has been through a lot these past few years ranging from a traumatic bombing at one of her shows, to the sudden passing of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, to her breakup with comedian Pete Davidson. In spite of her traumatic experiences, she has still delivered a plethora of work. But is the sheer volume of work worth the sacrifice of quality?
Positions is seemingly Ariana’s most disconnected, impersonal, and almost directionless record. For contrast, “Sweetener” gave fans insight into Ariana’s Cloud 9, honeymoon romance with Pete: It was pop-y, hopeful, optimistic, and delightful. “thank u, next” was a more poignant record, with themes of reflection and independence. Although Ariana does not write her music alone, the work has always felt personal: It pertains to who she is at that time and allows listeners to get into her mindset and headspace. But Positions lacks the insight and cohesion of her previous two albums. Positions comes off as though she thought “I haven’t released music in a while, so let me toss my fans this bone.”
Many of us first came across Ariana Grande in her cherry red high ponytail Victorious days. When her music career first started, she still donned that innocent and bubbly persona and high giggly speaking voice. Despite this sweet aura, her early work cleverly captured the zeitgeist of 2010s pop while still making a subtle homage to R&B legend Mariah Carey with her beats and whistle tones. Naturally, as she has matured, she has let her edge-snatching ponytail down and developed a more mature and nuanced personality. Positions, however, lacks that nuance. She explores in greater depth than before the realm of rap—the record features Ty Dolla $ign and Doja Cat. Yet this move feels incredibly contrived. It seems like Ariana’s team saw that female rappers are trending and decided that Ariana needs to be on that same wavelength. The result is a record that feels like it’s repeating trends as opposed to innovating them forward.
Not only does this album recycle stale elements of rap, the subject matters also feel artificial. Ariana has indeed moved away from her sweet and naïve persona, but this record feels less like a methodic artistic exploration of sexually mature themes and more like a hard shove off the deep end. Her themes of sexuality feel inauthentic and almost unnatural. I love sexually liberated Ariana, but the abrupt shift from talking about sex in underlying and subtle ways to some of her most explicit lyrics feels strange and manufactured.
Despite my heavy criticisms, there are a few tracks that stood out to me: “pov,” “34+35,” and “positions.” Of these three, “pov” feels most like the Ariana we all know and love. The song is both emotional and beautiful. “positions” also shows off her incredible vocal range and versatility. Ariana’s never been a particularly incredible lyricist, but the lyrics on tracks such as “34+35” and “motive” are some of her best. Unfortunately, the album has so many forgettable filler songs such as “shut up,” “west side” and “just like magic.” These come across as songs that you mindlessly tap your foot to and instantly forget as soon as they finish. Not to mention “off the table,” which is her second song with a feature from The Weeknd which simply pales in comparison to their 2014 single “love me harder.”
I don’t want to say that Positions itself was absolutely disappointing—just relatively so compared to Ariana’s previous work. The album’s insincerity and lack of a clear theme just left me wondering why Positions was made. Despite this lull in authenticity and lack of cohesion, I am still eager to see Ariana continue to grow in her artistry, creating new and exciting records in the future.
Nandi Dube is a freshman in the College.