Review: Ariana Grande’s new album


Amorah Schultze

Ariana Grande has topped Billboard’s new music poll for a second week in a row. Last week, the 27-year-old pop superstar topped the tally with her latest single “Positions,” and this week she holds the No. 1 spot with her new album of the same title.

Amorah Schultze, Graphic Editor

Ariana Grande’s Career Enters a New Position

After the release of her two most popular albums yet, Sweetener and Thank U Next, I was excited for the new direction Ariana’s career would go in. I didn’t have to wait long, because just a year after TUN she released her R&B inspired Positions.

Ariana’s single, the titular Positions, dropped a week before her album. Fusing traditional gender roles, romantic desires, and obvious political imagery, it set the precedent for the sexual themes of the album. While Positions has a wonderful guitar melody and catchy but subtle R&B influence, it was initially underwhelming. With Ariana’s reputation for showcasing hard-hitting singles, this took a while to grow on me.

This sentiment carried over to the first half of the album. Starting with shut up, Ariana’s message is clear: just like her romantic drive, her songs are for herself first. She doesn’t need anyone else’s input on what she should and shouldn’t do. This is an empowering message for Ariana’s supporters, while also being a clear indicator that any fans of her former pop music are welcome to move on. The only major flaw was the unnecessary, and frankly jarring, use of autotune. 

34 + 35 is one of her overtly sexual songs. Incredibly catchy, but with the weakest lyrics in the album. As one of the light-hearted pieces sprinkled between her more gut-wrenching performances, I was slightly disappointed that this is the song she chose for her second single. But it was endless fun to watch her Frankenstein-ing herself back to life, and busting a split like nobody’s business.

Motive is the first of three collaboration songs, and the first to have obvious R&B influence. The sultry undertones of the beat are reminiscent of disco-pop, while the lyrics depict Ariana interrogating the new man pursuing her. Given that I was most excited for this collab, Doja Cat’s rap didn’t feel right for Ariana’s composition. Especially when compared to the powerful collaborations of the rest of the album, I thought Doja could’ve been cut out entirely without affecting the message or enjoyment of motive. I was expecting more from these two powerful, female artists.

Just like magic is a self-empowering, motivational bop, but I really didn’t feel much was going on with it. Either lyrically or emotionally. It’s definitely an interlude between better songs, with a repetitive beat and reminders of Ariana’s attractive qualities, but doesn’t maintain any relisten value.

While the first half of Positions was a mixed bag, off the table is what kickstarts Ariana’s momentum. Acting as a tribute to her deceased ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, she questions her ability to love again. Her powerful vocals enhanced the emotional uncertainty, which was only matched by The Weeknd’s assured response that he (being her new lover) won’t abandon her. Off the table is not just one of the strongest of Positions, but is also one of Ariana’s best collaborations. The ballad is beautiful and completely carried by their ability to convey fear in their voices.

She follows up with six thirty, a perfect breather between the next piece. While six thirty is about staying up until dawn having sex, she keeps it classy using the time of day as a symbol of their sex, and also references the more casual and chaotic moments in her relationship, like playing video games at ungodly hours of the day.

Safety net is her last collaboration, where she strikes an unexpected chemistry with Ty Dolla $ign. Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan. I recognized how her fear of opening up to someone again held her back from pursuing a real relationship. The “safety net” is gone, and now she’s on the precipice of another free-fall. The lyrics were highlighting Ariana’s talent, and even though it wasn’t my preference, it’s a powerful piece for the album.

My hair stands out as the most unique, both because of her whistle tones and the jazzy melody. While Positions has the most laid-back vocals of any of Ariana’s albums, she pulled a surprising final twenty seconds by whistling-singing her lyrics. Yes, that’s right. Her iconic whistle finally became the top of her vocal range, and it was the best twist she could’ve delivered. Speaking of iconic, my hair demands intimate hand-raking through her natural curls, rather than the staple high-ponytail she flaunts. A rollercoaster from start to finish.

Out of all her lust-driven songs, nasty has the most explicit lyrics and the most subtle sexual power. The beat seems to be a call-back to in my head, which is perfect for the candid nature of her demands. There’s also a sweet reference to her duet with Mac Miller, The Way, at the beginning of the song. WIthout needing to be too nasty, ironically enough, this is one of my favorites.

West side is where Ariana grapples with distancing her emotions from her partner. While it’s a good start, I feel like the instrumentals weren’t fleshed out enough to become a stand-out. The beat is not her strongest, and constantly rewinds in a distracting disjointment. I wish the instrumentals accompanied the vocals better.

The strings, the drums, the sultry get-up-and-dance instrumentals definitely made love language one of the powerhouses of the album. She’s bringing new expectations for her partner’s communication skills, and she’s doing it through her soft love language.

The lyrics have gradually shifted from a lustful relationship, to a vulnerable and intimate love for Ariana. Obvious acts as the climax, where her exploration of a new start and a new love leaves her with dreams she’s never had before. She reveals her vulnerability, and now it’s her lover’s turn to embrace her. While being the bop that I’ve come to expect, obvious maintains levity while still giving a resolution to her romantic conflict.

Positions finishes with the truly magical pov. By far my favorite out of all the songs, pov feels like a response to ghostin’. About growth from her trauma and learning to trust herself again, Ariana yearns to see herself through her lover’s eyes. She delves into her tenuous self-love after so much heartbreak and so many regrets, and being guided through the process by looking to a new future. It’s an amazing book-end for not just the album, but for the struggles and pain of her ex-boyfriend’s death.

I’ve given Positions a lot of praise, but it has its flaws. The laid-back vocals, similar melodies, and serviceable lyrics of most of the songs made it initially under-whelming. Much like Sweetener, a few relistens gave me time to soak in her new approach, and appreciate the subtle differences of each tune.

There are a couple of filler songs, and the distinguishment from theme to musical technique is clumsy at best. Singularly, each piece is fine, but they can get repetitive when put in an album format. While I adore her R&B influence and her new direction, I think she should’ve taken more time to really refine the pieces. As usual, she displayed a beautiful manipulation of string instruments, but could’ve done more to make each piece stand out.

There were some hiccups along the way, but I’m excited for Ariana’s healing process, and her chance to reinvent her music. I can’t wait for what’s coming next!