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Ariana Grande Yet Again Proves Her Place at the Top of Pop

4.5 Stars

Promotional art for Ariana Grande's "Positions"
Promotional art for Ariana Grande's "Positions"
By Joseph P. Kelly, Crimson Staff Writer

Once again, Ariana Grande has shown she can turn any of her life stories — no matter how small or serious — into a captivating album. With “Positions,” Grande delivers an understated addition to her already-impressive discography. The album marks her third release in only two years, proving how deserving she is of her place at the top of the pop charts. “Positions,” released within a month of Grande’s tweet introducing and teasing the new album, follows the stylistic standards set by her previous two records. While remaining consistent at times, Grande allows the sound of this album to breathe, wandering further from stereotypical “pop” into more melody- driven and vocal- heavy multigenre explorations.

The album begins with an orchestral piece, titled “shut up,” which immediately sets the tone for Grande’s outlook on the tumultuous past two years. Grande says those challenges have led to growth, singing “don’t be sad for me” before asking that people stop focusing so heavily on her life. She’s doing well, and anyone who tries to meticulously scrutinize her and her circle needs to “shut up,” as she says.

The second song on the album, “34+35,” hangs onto the stringed accompaniment from the opener as Grande ventures into more intimate subjects. The first two songs have an innocent, even “Disney” sound, as Grande put it in an interview with Zach Sang. But the lyrics themselves are definitely more graphic and R-rated. In that same interview, Grande explains that she tried to write something that directly contradicted the PG Disney vibe. This song’s exploration of romance, intimacy, and sexuality carries on throughout the album.

Most tracks on “Positions” are consistently rhythmic and entrancing in a fashion similar to Grande’s other recent releases, though she balances these prominent rhythms with intricate and at times surprising melodic lines. For instance, the song “motive” featuring Doja Cat has a repetitive, memorable chorus with a driving beat. “off the table,” a slower song featuring The Weeknd, showcases Grande’s voice floating in an unconventional melodic arc.

“Positions” is consistent with the general model of modern pop, full of distinctive rhythms driven by 808s and a plethora of synthetic percussion. Grande doesn’t box herself in with this style; in fact, the standout “my hair” has definite jazz influences in the form of rhythmic distinctions, a wurlitzer-like keyboard, brass interludes, and even a touch of steel drums. Grande’s voice is one of the most versatile and impressive of modern artists, and although her recent music hasn’t best showcased her range, this album is a subtle reminder from Grande that she could make whatever kind of music she wants — and therefore that she is creating the music she wants to create. Grande’s vocal capabilities are highlighted throughout the album, but her talent is especially revealed by those unique whistle-tones she can produce.

The album concludes with a song of self-reflection titled “pov” (or point of view). Grande expresses that she wishes she could view herself the way her lover views her — seeing all the beauty that her partner sees. This song, along with the opener, are perfect bookends to the album; — they express two of the more important topics that Grande wants to explore. By combining the pop style that is apparent throughout the album with a more orchestral, symphonic accompaniment, she seems to announce the two songs’ importance. The songs’ placement at the start and end of a fun, free-form album further signal their significance.

Thematically, Grande has returned with another album of hope, comforting fans with an assurance that a challenging couple of years have truly helped her grow. In that vein, then, “Positions” is an exploration into healing and her anxiety about finding new love. Beyond the more serious notes of her betterment, the atmosphere of the album is playful, exciting, and, most importantly, entertaining. This album is consistent with the abundance of music that Grande has released throughout the last two years, but there is a shift in the construction of this album that resembles her earlier work. Much of her early work emphasized her vocals as well as her unique and diverse melodies, just as some of the songs on this album do.

Some of the songs in the middle of the album do sound similar to one another, which can lead to a listening experience akin to listening to one long song. That song, however, is a good one. Although it can feel like a run-on sentence at times, that run-on is delightfully crafted, engaging, and overall entertaining. Grande knows how to write an album that keeps audiences listening and that’s just what she’s done here. All in all, “Positions” is a slow-burner that begs for repeat listens — whether to discover the stories Grande is telling or simply to vibe with her myriad of diversified, captivating, and memorable melodies.

—Staff writer Joseph P. Kelly can be reached at joseph.kelly@thecrimson.com and on Twitter @JosephP_Kelly.

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