Positions is the sixth studio album from pop titan Ariana Grande, and it is destined to be one of the most-streamed albums of the year, at least unless Adele emerges with her supermassive mainstream appeal to decimate the charts into oblivion.
Opener ‘shut up’ is a cut filled with soaring harmonies and a delicate pizzicato-string riff. ‘34+35’ (ed: nice) continues this new found love of orchestral strings and trap beats, and 'motive (with Doja Cat)' sets off a three-part explosion of opening tracks with one of my favourite beats on the record; dance music in feel, but still retaining the trap elements Grande cemented on thank u next. Murda Beatz’ hand in this track is evident, but WHY is Doja on this track? Controversies aside, her verse is weak and her delivery poor. She would have been better off singing - but then again, singing next to Ariana Grande on an Ariana Grande song is musical suicide. The feature could have worked as a fine remix, but it does absolutely nothing for the album and the album's other two features work a lot better with The Weeknd on ‘off the table’ and Ty Dolla Sign on ‘safety net’ both bringing a compelling dynamic to Grande's music where Doja Cat could not.
The horns and layered percussion of 'my hair' gives the whole track this wonderfully vintage vibe, but does it without veering into pastiche or cliche. Now, if you are familiar with Ariana Grande you know she can sing rather well, but fuck me sideways. The outro of ‘my hair’ has her singing entirely in her whistle register. I was anticipating something like this going into the record, and was worried it would just come across as a flex rather than an actual section that worked. But wow, does it work. Grande is going to have every other singer in the charts quaking in their designer shoes.
From a songwriting perspective ‘nasty’ is one of the best tracks here. Compared to other tracks, the production is fairly minimal, giving Grande plenty of room to spill her feelings - but we also get PLENTY of "yuhs". The little start-up sound feels like something that could have been pulled off of BROCKHAMPTON’s GINGER, and after that closing track ‘pov’ is easily one of my favourite tracks on this thing. The instrumental is light and dreamy, the chord progressions really pop and it shows off one of the best hooks on the album:
"I wanna love me
The way that you love me
Ooh, for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too
I'd love to see me from your point of view"
The lyrics are hardly groundbreaking, but the message is raw and honest and something so many can empathise with. Positions is absolutely teaming with ear-candy. From the reversed pads on ‘west side’ to the mint string riff at the start of ‘love language’ the vocal layering and harmonies across this project could give Billie Eilish and Finneas a run for their money.
In the past, Grande’s music has fallen into the classic trap of over-production. Sometimes, less is more - especially when the vocalist is truly the selling point and thank u next nailed this back in 2019. The production was excellent, but still held back at points to let Grande shine through. (Side Note: I am a fan of Pharrell, and I LOVE Sweetener - but thank god there are no four counts on this album).
Onto the negatives; lead single ‘Positions’ remains *rough*. Whoever mixed this should be fired. It is a cheap beat with absolutely no low end - a stark contrast from the trap-inspired, bass heavy sounds of 2019’s thank u next and comes frighteningly close to ruining what should be one of the album's strongest songs. Despite this, the plucky guitar riff takes centre stage in the instrumental and it is absolutely a high point for the record, even after its confusing production decisions.
In honesty, however, one of the biggest flaws with Positions is in some of its writing. Along with the the best tracks on this thing, there is also a mixture of half-baked moments and truly perplexing decisions (eg: the Disney-eqsue outro on ‘shut up’). Most songs on this record don’t even hit the three minute mark - probably a corporate ploy; shorter songs mean more radio time - but does Grande really need to worry about that at this point? I think Positions would have benefitted greatly from a few less tracks, and to have fleshed out the remainder a little more.
Positions is nonetheless a fantastic pop-RnB record. Grande’s vocal performances are as jaw-dropping as ever, continuing her reputation as the first post-Mariah vocalist that can access her whistle tones easier than I can make a cup of tea. This LP boasts some of the best production on an Ariana Grande record, and though a few tracks needlessly bloat the record, and some could have been fleshed out a little more, like a marriage between the trap-heavy thank u next and the R&B flavours of Sweetener, Positions is just one more win for Ariana Grande.
- 7.8 -
'34+35', 'nasty', 'pov'
James Mellen is currently studying songwriting and production based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog founded and co-edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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