Four score and seven years ago, there was a time where I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ariana Grande. Dating back to 2013 with her debut album Yours Truly, there was something different I felt when I listened to her sing.
While the rap game was slowly building back up to supremacy with the likes of Kendrick Lamar coming into the forefront, pop and R&B were in this era of boredom and blandness.
Insert Grande with tracks like “Right There”, “Tattooed Heart” and “The Way”, which still hold up to this day and emphasize the prowess and strength of her vocals. From there, I expected we were going to get our next queen of R&B who could, by the time she gets into the latter stages of her career, compete with the likes of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey since a new, legendary voice was needed for the genre.
Unfortunately, garnering one of the biggest followings in music today turned Grande to the dark side where she threw away the appeal of her voice for the over-produced sound that you hear on your run-of-the-mill, top-40 hits radio station.
Her last album thank u, next was a turn to the abomination of the trap and R&B crossover. Call me crazy, but the rap-sung flow is one of the worst things to ever happen to music. I don’t care what anyone says, “7 rings” is not a good song.
Going into Positions, I wasn’t expecting anything outside another radio-friendly sound.
After listening to this record, one of the few positives I can give it is that we can finally separate Grande, the actress from Victorious, from the artist we hear now because her sex drive was through the roof on this album. This is definitely an NSFW project if there ever was one, and I gotta say that I do admire her for being open with her love life.
However, the trap-instrumental sound continues for Grande as she continues to merge between Carey and Megan Thee Stallion throughout the album.
I guess the opening track “shut up” will be the anthem for all the stans who come across this review. If she wanted to clap back at her critics, then she could’ve at least made that song interesting in the slightest. It’s not a very attention-grabbing opener with these odd strings in the instrumental as if I were listening to some ballad.
“34+35” is quite the nice anthem, and no, not because I like the song. Grande goes explicit in her sexual desires with lines like “Even though I’m wifey, you can hit it like a side chick. Don’t need no side d**k, no. Got the neighbors yellin’ “Earthquake!” 4.5 when I make the bed shake.”
The first standout comes in the form of “motive.” Doja Cat’s feature here is tolerable, but what I enjoy about the track is the nostalgia of early 2010s club bangers that I listened to in middle school. There are times where I reminisce on how popular the sound of the hook was during that era.
Next, we get throwaway tracks in “just like magic” and “off the table.” While it’s nice to hear The Weeknd on the latter, these tracks are just so bland, boring and sound of nothing at the end of the day. It serves the lowest common denominator of pop fan.
The album picks back up in the middle beginning with “six thirty.” A soft, pleasant trap-instrumental this time, but it actually benefits her vocals like I said earlier in the review. This song serves a perfect appetizer for “safety net.” Grande is at her most vulnerable on this track as she talks about taking that leap of faith in her current relationship even when she had to swim through some rough currents in the past.
Finally, we get the R&B sound I’ve been wanting more of from her with “my hair.” It’s instrumentally sexy and perfectly matches the intimacy of the lyrics. We also get those copycat Carey whistle notes at the very end of the track.
Now, a little footnote to add to the review. While it’s perfectly fine to enjoy and praise Grande’s music, we have to keep in mind that this is a total gentrification of a sound popularized by some of the greatest black vocalists ever. Just because she has the talent to pull off something like the whistle notes, it doesn’t excuse the fact that this is a non-POC woman pulling heavy from those great women and I hope that her fans don’t go the path of calling her the greatest vocalist ever without crediting those that gave her this sound. You have to take Grande’s music with a grain of salt nowadays.
“nasty” and “west side” are, once again, wastes of Grande’s talents and just feel like filler. They don’t add to the record and they are just tracks that exist to beef up streaming numbers.
Fortunately, we do run into the best track on the record in “love language”, which brilliantly fuses jazz and soul. Another perfect-sounding song in the Grande catalogue, which is what makes this album such a frustrating listen because these are the songs she should be pumping out all the time.
The title track builds on the momentum from the previous track and is an incredibly fun time. I love the plucky guitar in the background. Yeah, this is an absolute banger right here, ladies and gentlemen.
As much as I love Grande’s vocals, she once again falls short of meeting her potential. This record is an improvement from her previous two, but it’s time to break away from the trap sounds and embrace more of those soul and jazz fusions that we heard on “love language.”
She knows she can do it. Now, it’s time to execute even if your biggest fans may hate you for it. Just look at Taylor Swift with evermore and folklore. Make the music you want to make, not what the fans want.
Richest Tracks: “motive”, “safety net”, “my hair”, “love language”, “positions”
Worst Tracks: “nasty”