Ariana Grande’s Positions Is Lockdown Pop -

Ariana Grande’s Positions Is Lockdown Pop

 Ariana Grande’s Positions Is Lockdown Pop

The arc of Ariana Grande’s career is generally understood in two halves: B.S. (Before Sweetener) and A.S. (After Sweetener). B.S. consists of, allegedly, unremarkable teeny bopper-oriented radio fodder, while A.S. is the edgier, more grown-up era.

Even starting with her 2013 debut Yours Truly, though, there has been an aesthetic throughline to Grande’s work — one that suggests a degree of both creative gumption and consistent vision not found in many of her pop peers. The prototype is probably that album’s opener, the over-the-top, nearly six-minute ballad “Honeymoon Avenue,” which includes barbershop quartet-styled scatting, lush orchestration and a trap-lite beat. Even with all that competition, Grande’s full vocal range is front and center for the entirety of the Babyface-penned epic; the result is a little absurd and utterly fantastic.

Truly’s Broadway theatrics and sugary sweetness plus old-school hip-hop samples with the verve and spontaneity sanded away wasn’t exactly a fool-proof formula, but it did demarcate the contours of the Ariana Grande project. When she wanted to establish herself as a pop force to be reckoned with, Grande made the obvious call to Max Martin for her second album, My Everything; that worked, and now she can debut singles atop the charts with next to no effort.

Simultaneously, she’s continued to toy with the tension between the Great White Way musical hyperbole she grew up in and her clear affection for sultry R&B (see Dangerous Woman’s “I Don’t Care” and Macy Gray collaboration “Leave Me Lonely”). On Positions, those forces are no longer at odds but rather chicly, subtly married; the resulting album — warm, intimate and bright all the way through — may be Grande’s most coherent to date.

The intro “shut up” offers new aesthetic and lyrical ideas: Ariana’s no stranger to string orchestras, but the airiness of this one is new—it creates depth while leaving plenty of space for Ari times a million (there are no background singers credited on the album), while the singer rejects the explicit tabloid fodder that fueled so much of the conversation around Sweetener and Thank U, Next. There are some Easter eggs throughout to reward her devotees and their assiduous online documentation of her personal life, but for the most part names and specific details are left unsaid — Positions suggests that Ariana and her new BF might be having a lot of good sex in quarantine, but we still don’t know the size of his dick.

The album’s opener also threads the needle that Grande has been working towards for a few years now: conversational, sometimes provocative lyrics that read like text messages, sung dramatically in the hardest-to-reach corners of the singer’s wide range. On “34+35” (“Means I wanna 69 with you,” she clarifies, in case anyone missed that), she coos “Can you stay up all night/fuck me ‘til the daylight?” in a higher range than anyone would dare attempt at karaoke. The prim plucked strings and Grande’s sweet serenade form the musical equivalent of the painted-on freckles and blushes with which E-Girls so often temper their abundant cleavage.

The album as a whole is more playful than truly seductive, which also helps balance its gloss — where on Truly the production sometimes felt stiff and gaudy, a mechanical recreation of what an ex-Disney star is supposed to sound like, Positions is understated and organic. They share a theatrical flair, but Positions has exponentially more breathing room; some of the instrumentals, like “pov”, even seem to inhale and exhale.

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