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Ariana Grande evolves her sound with ‘Positions’

| Friday, November 6, 2020

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Ariana Grande released her sixth studio album, “Positions,” on Oct. 30, and it undeniably has the “Ariana Grande sound.” Grande is known for blending her angelic, powerhouse voice with a driving, trap beat. The title song, “positions,” has the feeling of a hit that’s catchy enough to be on the radio but can still be belted by mediocre singers trying to imitate her in the car. When looking back at Grande’s list of successful studio albums, “Positions” is most similar to her 2018 album “Sweetener” in that both albums feature songs with melodic choruses and optimistic lyrics. As Grande navigates the COVID-19 pandemic with the rest of the world, “Positions” is a shining light that blends multiple genres that would never be expected to mix well together.

One of the most impressive features of “Positions” is how beautiful Grande’s lyrics are. A hallmark of her songs is that her lyrics tell a story, and this album does not break that mold. One of the best written songs on “Positions” is “safety net (feat. Ty Dolla $ign).” Grande sings of “tripping, falling, with no safety net” and explains how “I’ve never been this scared before” — she “don’t know if [she] should fight or fly.” With Grande’s smooth voice and the ethereal background track, the lyrics sound even more magical to the ear.

Meanwhile, Grande hints back to some of her previous hit songs in her new lyrics. In her duet, “off the table” with The Weeknd, the two artists have a conversation about reuniting. Not only does The Weeknd sing about how he was “haunted by the hills” — reminding listeners of his 2015 hit, “The Hills” — but he also calls back to his previous duet with Grande, “Love Me Harder,” when he sings, “I can love you harder than I did before.”

What’s unique about “Positions” is that it pairs R&B lyrics with theatrical instrumentation in the background. Many songs on the album, like “love language” and “shut up,” have orchestral backtracks that sound like they should be a part of a movie soundtrack. “pov” is a great example of a song that creates beautiful melodies that would give anyone a lifting feeling in their chest. The vast majority of the songs have that interesting blend of dramatic music and simple, electronic beats.

Although, Grande’s push to have something unique about her songs goes a bit far in a couple of her tunes. The opening of “six thirty,” especially, sounds more like the kind of noises R2-D2 would make in the “Star Wars” movies than a popular song.

This pushing of the envelope — the question, “Has Grande crossed the line in trying to be too out of the box?” — is present in a few songs on the album, specifically those that someone should never listen to with their parents. Songs like “34+35” and “nasty” are extremely explicit songs that are just over-the-top. While there are songs that cleverly avoid explicitly saying anything that could be deemed inappropriate, like “my hair,” “34+35” unapologetically crosses the line. The lyric, “Just give me them babies!” is evidence enough of that. While Grande blurring the lines of whether a song is “proper” could be seen as admirable, some of the songs on “Positions” don’t even have the line in sight.

Overall, though, “Positions” is Grande’s most mature album yet. She impressively blends R&B with trap music, theatrical backtracks and pop music. The lyrics are witty and tell a narrative throughout every song. The music prompts people to dance and bop their heads along to the melody, even though a lot of the songs are too complex to easily get stuck in someone’s head. Although, the fact that the songs are so complex implies that Grande is evolving in her music with this new album. “Positions” may not have many catchy songs that would fit perfectly on radio airwaves, but it’s a work of musical art.

Artist: Ariana Grande

Album: “Positions”

Label: Republic Records

Favorite tracks: “pov,” “safety net (feat. Ty Dolla $ign),” “love language”

If you like: “Sweetener,” “Rare”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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