Ariana Grande’s ‘positions’ is an intimate look into the work of healing



Britni Dunn, Executive Editor

On Oct. 14, fans around the world went absolutely wild when Ariana Grande announced her sixth studio album in a nonchalant tweet: “can’t wait to give you my album this month.”

Grande later released the title track as a single accompanied by a music video, ushering fans into the world of “positions.”

The title track was an instant radio hit, with a light trap beat, strings and plenty of mumble-singing. The single is a bit derivative despite being the first single released of an album that showed Grande taking more risks musically and lyrically.

The music video was incredibly well-received and showed the singer literally “switching the positions,” from President of the United States to cooking in the kitchen.

The video is also visually stunning and captures the aesthetic of a more mature Grande era in which she has established herself, her brand and knows she has nothing to prove.

Only a week after the release of the “positions” video, Grande dropped the full 14-track album on Oct 30.

“positions” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, the artist’s fifth No. 1 in total and her third in less than three years, an insane feat for the 27-year-old singer.

This album is a noticeable turn from Grande’s two most recent albums, which were both celebrated for their vulnerability in difficult and traumatic times that were very much in the public eye.

2018’s “sweetener” dealt with the traumatic tragedy of the Manchester bombing with glowingly positive pop tracks of love and resilience, while 2019’s “thank u, next” arrived on the heels of the passing of Grande’s ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and her very public split from Pete Davidson.

Her sixth studio album, “positions,” focuses on how the superstar has grown from tragedy through her career success, sex, love and working on her mind and body after the past few tumultuous years. Seconds into the album she lets listeners in on this, sweetly singing: “All them demons helped me see sh*t differently/So don’t be sad for me.”

Grande is in full force right from the top of the album, setting the tone of unapologetic honesty, simplicity and easy R&B beats under her consistently out-of-this-world vocals.

The album begins with a grand string intro reminiscent of Grande’s musical theatre past. The strings and layered vocals oppose the fast speak-singing verses, in which Grande begins the entire album by telling those judging her and the piece of work to simply “shut up.”

The sweeping orchestral movement that ends the track sets up the album as a whole: that it will include a variety of Grande’s interests and talents along with some light-hearted experimentation throughout.

In one of the most all-out fun Grande songs to date, “34+35,” she utilizes her impressive range, switching between her rich lower register to a classic Grande falsetto whisper.

This track sounds like it is being sung with a smile, Grande even begins the song with a laugh and fairytale-esque strings. The track is a light-hearted bop that bluntly announces itself as an ode to a sex position, with some of Ari’s most risqué lyrics, notably the beginning lines that, according to Grande, began as a joke: “If I put it quite plainly/just give me them babies!”

The pre-chorus brings out her “Sweetener”-like bubbly pop vibes, singing sweetly: “I’ve been drinking coffee/I’ve been eating healthy/you know I keep it squeaky.”

Grande’s personality shines through at the end of the sensual and playful hit where she softly sings: “Means I wanna ‘69’ with ya/no sh*t/math class/never was good.”

Another track filled with innuendos with a title referencing the hands of a clock, “six thirty,” is, once again, a testament to Grande’s ability to write clever phrases and make sure to have fun while creating something on such a large scale.

The R&B jam will have Grande’s repeated question in flurries of slick harmonies stuck in your head: “Are you down/what’s up?” The track is slowly becoming a fan favorite; its playful quality matched with the innovative lyricism (“six thirty/down like sunsets/down like my head on your chest”) make it one of the standout pieces of the album.

On the twinkling synth-filled “just like magic,” Grande celebrates her accomplishments and notes the ways she has grown through meditation, making music and manifestation.

The empowering and upbeat tune sounds like it is right out of the ‘90s, showcasing the way in which Grande uses the Law of Attraction to achieve her dreams.

The chorus bubbles over with ethereal, sparkling harmonies that truly make the song magic: “Middle finger to my thumb and then I snap it/Just like magic/I’m attractive/I get everything I want ’cause I attract it.”

The song is very spiritual and feels really special while listening, especially in Grande’s brief, but powerful, silence after singing: “Grab my pen and write some love letters to heaven.”

The penultimate track “obvious” also uses synths that pulse through the end of the song, a more modern rap-leaning track.

Grande exhibits her otherworldly vocal abilities throughout the album, but especially in the exceptional whistle tones she scatters throughout a few songs.

Notably, she begins one of her most explicitly naughty tracks, “nasty” with a giggle and piercing whistle tones that have become one of the singer’s greatest vocal assets.

The track is exactly as the name suggests, about “getting nasty,” with the pre-chorus one of the best and raunchiest by the singer yet: “I just wanna make time for ya/Swear it’s just right for ya/Like this p*ssy designed for ya.”

Something about Grande using such free language is so exciting and reiterates that the singer is not looking for mainstream approval, and is instead just being herself.

Another instance of her unbelievable whistle tones is at the end of the old-school R&B inspired “my hair,” in which Grande literally sings an entire chorus in her whistle. Grande sings about her iconic hair that is usually in a high ponytail, but came down in a few shots for “positions,” and encourages her partner to “run your hands through my hair.”

One of the most anticipated collaborations of the album was “motive.” The track features Doja Cat, who recently had a Billboard #1 hit this summer, and is produced by well-known Canadian hip-hop producer Murda Beatz.

The R&B track bouncing through Grande’s traditional breathy vocals, with a quick verse from Doja, it is surprisingly understated. Much like “west side,” the track seems to float along and really exhibits the peace the artist is in the process of finding.

The other two collaborations on the album give space for Grande to ask questions of herself that she works to answer throughout the album. Each feels like a deep breath in an album full of sultry hits.

Unlike Grande and the Weeknd’s first collaboration, “Love Me Harder,” a well-received 2014 radio pop classic, “off the table” is a more reflective and emotional ballad on love.

Grande sings: “If I can’t have you, is love completely off the table?/Do I sit this one out and wait for the next life?” The dramatic and heavy collab is a lovely break that allows Grande to show off her ballad abilities in an album of hers untraditionally lacking in them.

The Weeknd and Grande’s powerhouse vocals paired together are always striking, especially paired with the strings and intense drumbeat throughout the track.

The star’s collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign is another ballad exposing Grande’s insecurities and more self-reflection: “is it real this time/or is it in my head?”

This one is particularly haunting, showing off a lower register of the star’s voice, and along with Ty Dolla $ign’s incredible vocals and runs, it feels like a dream, as if while listening you are genuinely “tripping, falling, with no safety net.”

University junior Michael De’Angelis said, “It gave fans many full-circle moments from the collaboration with the Weekend to the R&B influences in most of the tracks.”

The album takes an unexpected yet welcomed turn in “love language,” which is incredibly disco-inspired and reminiscent of the sweet types of songs in “Sweetener,” with Grande even singing: “Been a minute since I had something so sweet.”

The song is a whirlwind of excitement, blending several genres, including pop, jazz and disco. Once again, Grande playfully recognizes her accomplishments, in this case, the accomplishments being the face of Givenchy’s fall/winter 2019 campaign: “Treat it just like Givenchy/it’s expensive to taste/ain’t no need to remind ya/it’s AG in your face.”

The last song on “positions” will likely go down as one of Grande’s most-loved slower songs. The emotional closer, “pov,” which she wrote with Tayla Parx, allows Grande to dig into the harder, more gravelly parts of her voice that listeners don’t often get to hear, along with a stunningly high falsetto that begins and ends the song with a bang.

The inventive love anthem starts off low and slow with light snaps and a hint of strings, culminating into an array of percussion and flourishes of harps and string sections.

Grande created a work that many can relate to, but have not yet been able to put words to. The track is about seeing herself through the point of view of someone who loves her unconditionally, and even for the things she couldn’t see anyone loving.

In an interview with Zach Sang on the premiere of her album, she stated that “a lot of love songs exist already and to write one that feels like new and like a new piece of information and a new point of view … not saying a bad pun … it feels really special. I adore Tayla, I love writing with her, creating with her is so special.”

It is a completely new take for a love song, wrapping up an album that allowed Grande the space to be the most herself we have seen her yet, with room for immense joy and self-reflection.

“positions” didn’t necessarily reinvent Grande as an artist, but it certainly showed immense strength from the creative and allowed fans to share in some of the peace and positivity she has found in such a negative year.

Without the usual extremes of an Ariana Grande album, “positions” finds the artist without a central message like her two most recent albums other than confronting herself on the road to healing, an album full of self-reflection and questions.

This album seems to be Grande at the most herself; it feels intimate and exhibits how the singer has reached a point in her life and career where she feels comfortable enough to share an album like “positions.”