Pop Superstar Ariana Grande released her surprise album positions on October 30, 2020, following the release of the album’s lead single of the same name with an accompanying music video. So far, 2020 has catalogued some of the best music in recent years across all genres, however positions just doesn’t stack up to what has been released. Despite the album establishing a new musical and visually pleasing stylistic era for Grande, fans are divided on how it compares with the rest of her music and the performance compared to 2020’s stellar list of hits.
The 1960s inspired aesthetic of her new look and new album was teased last year in August of 2019 when she released the standalone single “boyfriend” with featured artist Social House. The song was notably similar to her previous album thank u, next due to the mix of contemporary R&B, pop, and her classic breathy vocals. On October 23 of this year, she revealed on her Twitter account that she would release her album the following week on October 30 (twitter.com).
Her two most recent albums, sweetener and the previously mentioned thank u, next redefined her music style and cemented her as a pop icon. Her lead single, positions, gave listeners a sneak peek to how the rest of the album would sound. Unfortunately, compared to all of her other lead singles such as “Problem”, “Dangerous Woman”, “no tears left to cry” and arguably one of her most famous songs “thank u, next”, “positions” dramatically pales in comparison. The mid-tempo song describes Grande’s willingness to do anything in order to please her love interest, which is a drastic change from her female empowerment anthem “god is a woman” and “7 rings”, both fan favorites and critically acclaimed songs of Grande (rollingstones.com). Unfortunately, “positions” is one of the more enjoyable songs and one of the more up-beat ones on the album.
Grande dives into a more disco-inspired and soul sound for much of the album; however, the songs “shut up”, “34+45”, “six thirty” and “love language” sound very similar to each other, even using a lot of the same synth riffs and vocal pitches during the choruses. The first two tracks — “shut up” and “35+35” — sound completely identical, which is a disadvantage because all the songs already sound really similar as it is. Being sonically similar was a repeated criticism for the album from many publications, with The Guardian going so far as to say that each tune pretty much blended together into one long song (theguardian.com).
Senior Honieh Hemati, like many of the album’s critics, noticed how all the songs sound the same: “I feel like she has no variation in the instrumentals she uses and how she uses them,” said Hemati. One of Grande’s most impressive talents as a singer is her ability to fit into virtually any music genre, which she has been able to prove with all of her other albums, making this album even more of a disappointment. Another main criticism is the content of the lyrics, which again lack diversity. The album is about intimacy and love, but songs like “34+35” and “hair” are a little too tongue-in-cheek regarding what she is singing about and therefore misses anything clever and memorable (spin.com).
The album contains three songs with a featured artist, a component notably missing from her last album. While having another singer on a song usually works to the song’s advantage, somehow all three songs still get lost in the mix. “motive” was the strongest of the three collaborations and features Singer and Rapper Doja Cat, who usually is able to elevate any song she is featured on. Unsurprisingly, not even a rap verse could save the song from its uninspired and repetitive chorus. “off the table” features The Weeknd, who she has collaborated with before on “Love Me Harder” for her album My Everything. “Love Me Harder” was one of the standouts from My Everything; however, Grande and The Weeknd couldn’t capture the magic they had with their first collaboration, as this is the weakest of the collaboration songs, and even one of the low points on the album. “safety net” with Ty Dolla Sign brings nothing different or exciting to the album and gets lost in the shuffle of the many slow ballads. However, the chorus is one of the stronger ones on the album, but that doesn’t say much since the choruses on most of the songs were criticized for being bland anyways (slant.com).
Luckily, the last song on the album, titled “pov”, is a highlight and one of the better written and produced tracks, despite being a slow ballad. Named the top song on the album by Billboard, “pov” differs lyrically and sonically from the rest of the album (billboard.com). Upon further listening, the song’s success on the album could be attributed to the fact that it sounds a lot like “imagine” from her thank u, next album, which is one of the standouts on that album. Sadly, not even the highlight of positions is due to its originality, as repetition plagues every single song on the album.
Junior Rachel Schneider ranked positions as her least favorite Ariana Grande album. “I think her past albums like Dangerous Woman were a lot better. It just is not my favorite album of hers,” said Schneider. Listeners and music critics agree that this is the least interesting album she has put out so far.
Although this album might have been a misstep, it is fairly common for almost every singer to have that one album that just doesn’t quite reach the same success as their others. Despite being lyrically repetitive and sonically bland, there is no denying Ariana Grande’s impressive vocals on each song and her ability to make each song sound completely like her own. Listeners can only hope this is just a phase she will outgrow, or instead improve upon to ensure the next project she does captures the likeability of the rest of her albums.