“You know you sound dumb / so maybe you should shut up,” Ariana Grande croons on the opening track of her sixth studio album, “Positions.” With the release of her new album Oct. 30, “shut up” is exactly what Grande makes her detractors do. She once again proves she can sing any genre — pop, broadway, Christmas and now R&B. With only a week between the lead single of the same name and the album, the LP was released with little fanfare. Its lowkey release is emblematic of the album itself. Consisting of 14 tracks and clocking in at 41 minutes long, “Positions” is a mellow, cohesive body of work.
Since her debut album, Grande’s music has held R&B undertones. However, with “Positions,” any inclination she held for pop music is completely absent. Long gone are big pop hooks of earlier hits like “Bang Bang,” “Greedy” and “Into You.” Grande is now making full-fledged R&B music. She ruled pop, and the songstress is in her own lane in the R&B world too. She’s honed in on the sound she crafted on her last album, last year’s “thank u, next” and translated it to R&B. “Positions” is a mix of trap music with jazz and orchestral undertones used as accents and tight, lush harmonies reminiscent of Brandy. While it’s clear who her R&B inspirations are on the album — especially with songs such as “my hair” that call to mind Jill Scott and Mariah Carey — the sound Grande crafted is one suited just for her.
Grande also follows in the footsteps of Madonna and Janet Jackson by making a sexual album. This is not the first time Grande has addressed sex in her music — see her 2016 hit “Side to Side” — but this album is the most explicit she’s done. Her music toes the line between the soft and sensual music of Janet Jackson and the brash and boldness of Madonna. This is best seen through the infectious “34+35” where Grande drops one-liners like “Might need a seatbelt when I ride it.”
Having spent the majority of her career appealing to the teeny-bopper crowd, it is clear that “Positions” will be an understated and underappreciated body of work in Grande’s discography. But ultimately, the album is her best work. Mature and sophisticated, it shows Grande’s mastery of her artistry. Despite being 14 tracks long, the album is void of filler. Additionally, the album stands out amongst her discography vocally. Grande is well-known for her powerhouse vocals, and while these are not necessarily on display in “Positions,” she shows the versatility of her voice by riffing, running and harmonizing over laid-back R&B beats.
The highlight of the album is its closing track, “pov.” A sweet and tender ballad, the song is highlighted with a relaxing, percussive beat and plucking strings. The track sees Grande wishing she could see herself through the eyes of her paramour who loves her, flaws and all. The singer-songwriter has numerous love songs in her discography, but “pov” stands out amongst the rest because of Grande’s intimacy and openness in the lyrics. She sings,“I'm gеtting used to receiving / Still gеtting good at not leaving / I'ma love you even though I'm scared (Oh, scared) / Learnin' to be grateful for myself.” Lyrics like those stand in stark contrast to the weaker lyrical offerings of tracks like “pete davidson'' from her 2018 album “Sweetener.”
With “Positions,” Grande once again proves she is a force to be reckoned with. In two years, she’s released three studio albums — each better than the next. The album may not have the instantaneous hits like “7 rings” or “thank u, next,” but it is without a doubt the strongest work she’s produced. She played the role of the pop star well, but the R&B on “Positions” is where Grande shines.