On Ariana Grande’s ‘Positions,’ Intimacy Is a Topic and an Aesthetic

On Ariana Grande’s ‘Positions,’ Intimacy Is a Topic and an Aesthetic
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On Ariana Grande’s ‘Positions,’ Intimacy Is a Topic and an Aesthetic

On Ariana Grande’s ‘Positions,’ Intimacy Is a Matter and an Aesthetic

In a latest interview with the radio persona Zach Sang, Ariana Grande described the second she and one in all her writing collaborators first listened to a part of the instrumental monitor that will develop into “34+35,” the second track on her new album, “Positions.” “We heard the strings that sounded so Disney and orchestral and full and pure,” she mentioned. “And I used to be similar to, Yo, what’s the dirtiest attainable, most opposing lyric that we may write to this?”

They got here up with an ethereal hook centered round that titular math drawback, which provides as much as a lascivious wink. (Good.) Like the very best songs on her earlier album, “Thank U, Subsequent,” “34+35” shares a lightweight, inside-jokey intimacy with its listener; it’s stuffed with Grande’s conspiratorial giggles and whispered secrets and techniques.

However it additionally accommodates a number of new thrives: theatrical, plucked strings that don’t evoke grandeur a lot because the creep of mischievous cartoon characters; unapologetically and typically humorously libidinous lyrics; and occasional slips of vulnerability that reveal the giddiness and nervousness of recent love.

Because the follow-up to the report that subtly reframed Grande’s persona and launch technique, “Positions” has some huge Gucci tennis footwear to fill. The implicit argument of “Thank U Subsequent” — a much less polished and extra shortly made album that Grande put out lower than six months after her extra rigorously orchestrated 2018 LP, “Sweetener” — was that the meticulously deliberate, reflexively world-toured Large Pop Album had develop into too gradual and impersonal a supply system for a digital-era pop star to precise herself with any semblance of authenticity or timeliness. This was notably true for Grande, now 27, who endured two life-changing occasions within the months after “Sweetener” got here out: the loss of life of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, and the dissolution of her engagement to the comic Pete Davidson.

“My dream has at all times been to be — clearly not a rapper, however, like, to place out music in the way in which {that a} rapper does,” Grande defined in a December 2018 interview, whereas she was engaged on the album. It was a winningly reformist strategy if not an outright revolutionary one: to show the pop report into one thing extra like a mixtape than a multiplatform company product launch — all the higher to swiftly ship songs that might seem to be standing updates.

With its text-speak track titles and air of relative idiosyncrasy, “Positions” continues in that route. However it additionally gestures towards Grande’s earlier, extra conventional previous. Its R&B leanings (just like the twinkling, ’90s-nostalgic nearer, “POV,” or the understated “West Facet,” which samples Aaliyah’s “One in a Million”) think about a extra mature replace of Grande’s 2013 debut, “Yours Actually.” “Off the Desk,” a slinky, looking out duet with the Weeknd, even name-checks their collaboration from Grande’s pop 2014 breakout “My All the pieces”: “I can love you tougher than I did earlier than.”

Whereas “Thank U Subsequent” emphasised hip-hop cadences, “Positions” largely finds Grande exploring her full vocal vary, from these whistle notes to the low croon she employs on “Security Internet,” a moody ballad wherein she trades verses with Ty Dolla Signal. Each the Weeknd and Ty Dolla Signal collaborations, although, really feel extra like demure throwbacks, and present that Grande hasn’t fairly discovered the way to replace her strategy to balladry with the identical contemporary, personable vitality that enlivens her extra upbeat tunes.

She fares higher with a home beat (as on the weightless spotlight “Motive,” which options manufacturing by Murda Beatz, or the disco-inflected “Love Language”), which permits her to capitalize on one in all her breathy voice’s best strengths: its uncanny capacity to make a track really feel prefer it’s hovering just some inches off the bottom. The luxurious manifestation anthem “Simply Like Magic” makes this Good Witch vitality express. “Center finger to my thumb after which I snap it,” she sings — a intelligent lyric in the way in which it thwarts expectation by transferring from saucy to candy.

“Positions” isn’t fairly the reinvention that “Thank U Subsequent” was, however it continues Grande’s effort to make the mainstream pop album a looser, weirder and extra conversational house. Among the credit score for that environment must also go to Victoria Monet and Tayla Parx, two of Grande’s closest buddies, who’ve been writing along with her since “Yours Actually.” On Grande’s most distinct songs, their bestie chemistry is palpable.

Many pop stars try and take their sound to the subsequent degree by making more and more grand and bombastic big-tent statements. Grande has succeeded largely by doing simply the alternative: turning her music into an environment as intimate as her bed room, a spot the place she’s typically entertaining a lover however simply as usually cracking goofy jokes along with her closest buddies.

Ariana Grande
“Positions”
(Republic)

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