Ariana Grande finishes first on her new album ‘Positions’
- Ariana Grande released her sixth studio album, "Positions," on Friday.
- We listened straight through the 14-song tracklist and wrote down our first impressions of each one.
- Overall, we loved how free Grande sounds. The album manages to stay consistently fun and breezy without ever feeling shallow or trite.
- The best tracks on the album are "34+35," "Nasty," and "POV."
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Ariana Grande unveiled her sixth studio album, "Positions," on Friday.
Fans received less than a month's notice for the release, which follows Grande's wildly successful "Thank U, Next," a nominee for album of the year at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
Insider's music team (reporter Callie Ahlgrim and celebrity and music editor Courteney Larocca) listened to the new album on our own, jotting down our initial thoughts track by track.
Overall, we loved how free Grande sounds. The 14-song collection veers more intentionally into R&B and '90s rhythmic pop than Grande's most recent releases, and the result is a delightfully cohesive — though almost too-short — jaunt through the pop star's domestic bliss.
Here is what we thought of each song on "Positions" upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album's final score.)
"Shut Up" is an ingenious album opener.
Ahlgrim: I'm obsessed with the concept of literally telling your naysayers to "shut up" at the top of an album. Also, harmonizing with yourself saying, "you sound so dumb."
Combined with Grande's always-angelic vocals, this song is a sublime flex, and I'm anxious to see where this bold new confidence takes her.
Larocca: Right off the bat, I have zero clue what she's saying, but I'm vibing: the main signs that this is certainly an Ariana Grande album.
But even though she doesn't enunciate on the verses, the message comes across loud and clear with those glorious runs of "shut up" and harmonies of "so dumb." If I were to imagine what an eye-roll sounded like, I would never think it'd be this pretty.
"34+35" is a hilariously horny hit that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Ahlgrim: "Just give me them babies." "F— me 'til the daylight." "Got the neighbors yelling 'earthquake!'" This song is filthy and unhinged and I love it.
I do not understand how Grande makes the horniest song I've ever heard sound almost sophisticated. Her chirpy high notes and punchy yelps ("Make a b—- wanna hit snooze! Ooh!") are intoxicating.
In fact, the whole thing is so gracefully executed that you could almost forget it's a song about the 69 sex position — that is, until Grande wraps up with an explicit reminder, because that's just the kind of tolerance she has for ignorance and vaguery.
Larocca: Starting this track with a slight chuckle provided an air of playfulness right from the start — which is perfect because you need a heavy dose of self-awareness to let everyone in the world know you're trying to [redacted].
Winking lines like "You drink it just like water" and "Baby, you might need a seatbelt when I ride it," add up to something so deliciously horny that I don't know whether to gasp, giggle, or get it started from the top again. Probably all three.
And for those who aren't math literate, Grande made sure to sum it all up in the teasing outro with: "Means I wanna '69' with you / Aww s— / Math class / Never was good."
"Motive," with Doja Cat, is an effortless banger.
Ahlgrim: The chorus of "Motive" is lyrically simplistic and repetitive, but the nimble beat more than makes up for it. When you sprinkle that foundation with Grande's textural hums, you've got an understated yet surefire club banger.
Doja Cat's verse flits by rather quickly, but doesn't feel out of place. Her unmistakable, rubbery voice fits surprisingly well alongside Grande's, and a cheeky rap bridge has historically served the pop star nicely in the past ("Problem," "Break Your Heart Right Back," "Side to Side").
Larocca: Partnering up with Doja Cat was a checkmate move for cultivating this slinky, thumping soundscape that can turn any bedroom into a certified dance floor.
If Grande's own motive was to make her fans escape into a state of sonic euphoria, she nailed it with this one.
"Just Like Magic" sounds like a grown-up "Sweetener" deep cut.
Ahlgrim: "Just Like Magic" recalls the levity of tracks like "Successful" and "Get Well Soon." Grande's fluttery vocal technique also feels similar to the tone she often adopted on "Sweetener."
I'm on record praising "Thank U, Next" as Grande's best album, but I've also missed her brightness and sense of faith in the universe.
This song has some of the cool-girl flexing we saw on "7 Rings" ("Then I'm right to the studio listening to some s— I wrote" reminds me of "Write my own checks like I write what I sing"), but here, Grande's adopts more of a calm poise than a sharp, acidic attitude.
So far, "Good karma, my aesthetic" feels like the thesis of this album, and it's one of my favorite phrases on a Grande song to date.
Larocca: The emphasis on "middle finger" leading into a description of snapping to manifest something — instead of the appendage's more common use to snap back at someone — is a subtly brilliant allusion to bake into an ode to "good karma" and keeping your "conscience clear."
"Just Like Magic" brings back shades of "Successful," but she somehow feels even more sure of herself than she did when she was crooning about being "a baller, babe." There's an added maturity here, with her understanding that when you're good to people, good things come back to you — it's not just about your work ethic.
"Off the Table" is a smoldering R&B duet with The Weeknd.
Ahlgrim: I just love a song that's both sexy and sad, and The Weeknd was the perfect choice to help execute that vibe.
Thanks to "Love Me Harder," we already knew "Off the Table" would be a powerful duet, but I love the spookier, headier production here; the spacious beats and dramatic strings compliment both artists' operatic vocal abilities.
Larocca: Track No. 5 came quick. It feels like I'm speeding through this album, which might explain why Grande put this slowed-down, four-minute collaboration with The Weeknd here.
"Will I ever love the same way again?" is a devastating way to open an Ariana Grande track. That anxious vulnerability sticks around, but the overall landscape is warm and calming, thanks to The Weeknd's reassuring presence. Let's be real, you can't pair up these two artists and have the resulting collaboration be anything short of obviously stellar.
Also, The Weeknd didn't need to give me goosebumps with that ending "Ooh, ooh," but I appreciate the chills anyway.
"Six Thirty" is elevated by pretty strings and a refreshing bridge.
Ahlgrim: The first six seconds of this song sound like a cute robot is humming underwater, and I mean that in the best way. On a pop-forward album, these kinds of weirdo production flourishes give each song a personality without making it sound too obvious.
I also love the perky strings and sputtering sound effects throughout "Six Thirty," especially in the second verse.
The bridge takes a more elegant orchestral approach and it totally works, swooping in like the climactic romantic kiss on a beach in a rom-com, the waves sparkling with the light of the setting sun.
Larocca: I can always respect a key change from the first verse to the chorus. Something else I highly respect is strong architecture in a song's bridge, and "Six Thirty" definitely has that.
The juxtaposition of the rushed "What you gon' do when I'm bored / And I wanna play video games at 2 a.m.?" with the gentle flow of "Am I enough to keep your love? / When I'm old and stuff, will you still have a crush?" is enough to carry the entire track — and it needs to since the rest of the lyrics are quite bland.
Ty Dolla $ign is the perfect guest for a rich, atmospheric slow jam like "Safety Net."
Ahlgrim: This is easily the most successful collaboration of the album's three; Ty Dolla $ign's voice melts effortlessly into the song's gelatinous energy.
To borrow a phrase from JoJo (who gave me permission to use her words in future reviews), "Safety Net" is a "thick head nod." The beat is perfectly paced, neither too fast nor too slow, and the tone is somber and contemplative without bumming you out. Catch me playing this on a loop as I gaze out my window on rainy days.
My only qualm with "Safety Net" is that it doesn't last longer.
Larocca: I am an absolute sucker for "Thank U, Next" deep cut "In My Head," so I'm a fan of the subtle nod to the track with "Is it real this time or is it in my head?"
This Ty Dolla $ign collaboration is slick, shiny, but still so full of that breakable heart that Grande infuses into everything she does.
"My Hair" is a retro bop with delightfully specific lyrics.
Ahlgrim: For Ariana Grande, a woman whose image is anchored in her ponytail ("Know this ain't usually mе / But I might let it down for ya," she winks), singing a song titled "My Hair" is inherently campy. So I'm really glad she leaned into it with a jazzy, theatrical sound.
You could almost imagine this as a seduction number in a Broadway show — a solo moment for the coquettish female lead who steals the second act with her effortless whistle notes. I'd buy tickets.
Larocca: Grande naming a song "My Hair" is the same amount of on-the-nose as when Taylor Swift released "Dress." Both pop queens plucked out elements from their signature style to emphasize, and then dismantle and twist into sexy invitations to their lovers.
And, also like Swift's "Dress," Grande's "My Hair" is enjoyable, but not particularly memorable. At least this one has whistle notes, though.
"Nasty" is a seductive, spooky masterpiece.
Ahlgrim: The abstraction of "Nasty" — the idea that I could eventually hear a studio version of the short clip Grande posted on Instagram in March — sustained me through some dark moments in quarantine. I'm so relieved it didn't disappoint.
It's actually one of the longer songs on the album, but as soon as it's over, I already want to press replay. "Nasty" shimmers and floats like a mist that makes you tipsy if you walk through it, or a very glamorous ghost.
Once again, Grande makes her explicitly sexual appetite feel ethereal: "Get all the homies to bounce / Switch from the bed to the couch / And get to know how I'm feelin' inside," she sings, somehow sounding more like a one-person choir than a horny teenager.
It's fun to remember how, in a 2014 New York Times feature, Grande quipped wistfully, "Maybe one day I'll get away with something naughty." Now, she may as well own the concept of "naughty."
Larocca: Grande carries the whistle notes over from the end of "My Hair" into the beginning of "Nasty," so we're already blessed.
The entire album so far has been overwhelmingly sexy, but this one recalls the direct explicitness and winking qualities of "34+35" that were so intoxicating. Again, you have to be completely comfortable with yourself to breathe "Like this pussy designed for ya" on a song you know is going to be listened to by millions of people.
And for that, it's also instantly iconic.
"West Side" leaves you wanting more.
Ahlgrim: "West Side" is so brief that it almost feels like an interlude, but we all know Grande can do a lot in two short minutes; "Pete Davidson" is only one minute and 14 seconds long, but it's one of the most beautiful moments on "Sweetener." It always ends too quickly, but that's part of its magic.
"West Side" has a similar, crave-inducing effect. Grande glides over a woozy beat, casually drops that she wants to get married ("Just let me be in your life like that / Be your wife like that"), and then just as you're really starting to feel it, she dips — fulfilling her promise that she's "gonna make you want more."
Larocca: I had no notes on this track the first time I listened to it, and after circling back, I realized this one is forgettable. It flows seamlessly with the other tracks (and is also the shortest one) so I wouldn't classify it as a skip, but it doesn't exactly hold my attention, either.
"Love Language" is a sexy take on a "Yours Truly" vibe.
Ahlgrim: "Yours Truly" stans really won. "Love Language" has the bubbly, Broadway-girl vibe of Grande's debut album — except this time, she's not a starry-eyed girl on Honeymoon Avenue. She's a grown woman who dedicates an entire bridge to thinly veiled requests for oral sex ("it's AG in your face" is a truly bonkers lyric and I love it).
Based on this song, I can only assume Grande's love language is physical touch. (It can't be words of affirmation, given the lyric, "Could you speak in tongues?")
Larocca: The theatrical soundscape on "Love Language" gives the impression that Grande's out on the town, flirting with her date across the dining table, hoping the other restaurant-goers don't hear what she's planning for dessert.
It's a cute image, even if that scenario is near-impossible right now. It's made even better with the directness of the outro and the final line, "I'm just gon' make you my home" — it's the end of the night, and she's back at their place getting cozy.
"Positions" has perhaps the catchiest hook on the album.
Ahlgrim: This was a very smart lead single selection.
I may have been slightly underwhelmed by "Positions" at first, but it really crept up on me. I found the chorus gleefully bouncing around in my brain as soon as I woke up. I began playing the song four or five times a day and never grew tired of it. I didn't understand a word Grande was saying, but I was vibing.
Now, my appreciation for "Positions" has deepened.
I think its unassuming, effervescent energy is even more effective within the context of this tracklist — which has flowed so nimbly, I can hardly believe it's almost over.
Larocca: After hearing most of the tracklist now, "Positions" made complete sense as a lead single. It's upbeat, radio-friendly, but also gets to the gist of what the album is all about (sex).
I've had this on repeat since it came out, so it has growing potential, too. It doesn't wear itself out or becoming grating over time. As Grande has advised before, "listen twice."
"Obvious" feels like a too-brief rush of dopamine.
Ahlgrim: Several elements of this song stand out to me as mini moments of genius: those sparkly piano chords, the phrase "dirty truths," the tiny break in the chorus before Grande chirps, "Ooh!"
"Obvious" feels like that warm, swoopy feeling in your stomach when your crush says something cute. I wish it had a bridge or a third verse, because I didn't want it to end — though I do appreciate the wavy textural details in the outro.
Larocca: "Could I be more obvious?" is a perfect refrain for Grande. There's never been anything subtle about her love life, and it's really heartening to see her fully embracing and reveling in all of her boundless emotions throughout this project.
Lyrically, "POV" is the strongest song on the album.
Ahlgrim: The bridge of "POV" is subtly, cleverly sprinkled with details that recall Grande's pain on "Thank U, Next" — but now, she reconsiders those dark streaks in the new light of dawn.
"All my baggage fadin' safely," she sings, healing from the debilitating image of baggage in "Ghostin."
"And if my eyes deceive me / Won't let them stray too far away," she adds, acknowledging the delusion she described on "In My Head," but forgiving herself for that mistake.
It also makes perfect narrative sense to have "POV" as the farewell track. This is the quietest, most piercing moment of vulnerability on an album that's all about the obsessive excitement of a new relationship; settling into that relationship is the next frontier.
Grande can (and does) fall in love easily, so it's not revelatory that she's happy with a new man. The real growth comes from trusting herself to truly know her partner and to embrace all the complexities of love, not just the distracting parts.
Larocca: "I'd love to see me from your point of view" is the best lyric on all of "Positions," and that's saying a lot considering "How you touch my soul from the outside / Permeate my ego and my pride" brought genuine tears to my eyes.
There's something so soft and tender about the way she grapples with knowing she's so loved, but knows she's not quite there yet with herself. If only we could all be this delicate with ourselves.
Final Grade: 8.6/10
Ahlgrim: You can tell that Grande had an absolute blast making this album, and her breezy, unpretentious bliss is truly contagious.
The tracklist is lithe and astonishingly cohesive. Grande glides from song to song like a figure skater nailing jump after jump; she flings her body into the air, colors whipping around her, and lands so gracefully that you forget how thin the blade is.
After just 41 breathless minutes, the album doesn't have to beg you to come back. You've already restarted from the top.
"Positions" may be Grande's most fun body of work to date — perhaps because it feels like the music she has always wanted to make. There are shades of all her previous eras folded into these songs: the retro theatricality and '90s R&B of "Yours Truly," the slick pop hooks of "My Everything," the vocal acrobatics of "Dangerous Woman," the glittering optimism of "Sweetener," and the urgent trap stylings of "Thank U, Next."
Indeed, Grande has shapeshifted, metabolized trauma, and explored new sounds. She has opened her chest and let her own guts spill out.
Now, she wants to soundtrack moments of joy and warmth, to guide us towards unselfconscious sexual liberation, her ponytail glinting like a lighthouse. Who wouldn't follow her?
Grande has been licking her wounds, moving through fear, and having plenty of sex — and frankly, she's earned that right. Her most recent albums felt either meticulous or urgent or both. "Positions" feels free.
Larocca: For someone whose last two projects delved deep into the remnants of more trauma than any one person should ever have to endure in their lifetime, Grande has, at first glance, seemingly emerged shiny and new on "Positions."
But as you sit with the tracks (and the lyrics on Genius), there's a depth and vulnerability that permeates the project and grounds all those bangers about banging. You get the sense on songs like "Just Like Magic" and "Shut Up" that she feels so at home within herself, even when she's clearly explaining that she doesn't ("Off the Table," "POV").
It would be misguided then, to believe she's actually delivering an album that is shiny and new. Sure, it's slick, shimmery, and recent to her discography — but "Positions" is a capstone on a journey of self-exploration, tumultuous love affairs, and earth-shattering heartbreak.
And while Grande's found someone who she wants to jump in bed with and whose eyes she'd love to see herself through, she's still trying to clearly see herself, too. She doesn't quite get there, but that's perfectly OK: it leaves even more room for growth in her own life, and a spot for AG7 to land.
So, is this Grande's best album? No. But is it a welcome reassurance that Grande is finally feeling safe, happy, and utterly horny? Yes. And that's a triumph in itself.
Worth listening to:
"Motive (with Doja Cat)"
"Just Like Magic"
"Off the Table (with The Weeknd)"
"Safety Net (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)"
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," .5 for "Split decision," 0 for "Press skip").
Source: Read Full Article