Updated: Jan 17
Ariana is back with a new album: Positions. It is an R&B, funk, hip-hop, soulful, and pop masterpiece full of stacked harmonies and amazing, chill instrumentals. Positions did not disappoint--it is definitely not what most fans expected at first when Ariana announced the album’s release in a tweet on October 14th. When the album’s title track “Positions” was released, we were able to get an idea of the musical direction Ariana was leaning towards.
Ariana has been known to experiment in the R&B genre in the past, especially with her previous studio album, thank u, next. Positions, though, uses the R&B sound at its forefront and in a very tasteful way, with just enough of her classic trap-pop flare. The string instrumentals and orchestral execution of the album are what also set it apart from Ariana’s previous projects.
Right off the bat, we hear sweet string melodies in “shut up” and “34+35.”
The upbeat track “34+35,” which has blatantly obvious sexual undertones, is intended to be funny, and the shock factor of the raunchy lyrics catches first time listeners off guard and is not meant to be taken too seriously, according to what Ariana said in an interview with Zach Sang.
The album features collaborations with Doja Cat, The Weeknd, and Ty Dolla $ign.
“Motive” with Doja Cat is the most upbeat song on the album, with a runway-type,hip-hop beat. Doja’s colorful rap verse with its slow breakdown sits perfectly nestled in the track, giving it a dancier feel than the album’s other tracks. The instrumentals have softer tones and a warm bass, making the song chill, yet in a funky and danceable fashion. “Just like magic” hits harder than the previous songs, with a higher and punchier kick to it and a deeper bass. Here, Ariana comes closer to rapping rather than singing, even though the melodies give it a more melodic effect with a sultry and dark flare.
The slowest song on the album, “off the table” with The Weeknd blends Ariana and The Weeknd’s light and airy vocal styles perfectly with a call-and-response dynamic between them and alternating vocal lines that are to die for. The Weeknd is the perfect male vocal counterpart to Ariana and that is evident in “off the table.” This was the collaboration we all needed--The Weeknd and Ariana singing a funky, slow love song together.
“Six thirty,” similar to “just like magic,” has a harder bass and a more rap-like vocal progression. This track, however, is much lighter vocally speaking, and has softer harmonies and hums as she hits us with a beautiful rap-like post-chorus bridge.
The album’s final collaboration, “safety net” featuring Ty Dolla $ign includes tasteful harmonies between Ariana and Ty Dolla $ign. Their alternating vocal riffs sit perfectly together in the middle of the warm background melodies. The backing vocals and instrumentals are haunting and sensual, yet angelic, keeping the listener entranced throughout the entire track.
The funky and sassy track “my hair” puts Ariana’s upper vocal register and whistle notes at the forefront in a very subtle way. Her stacked high and low harmonies are backed with a soothing beat, making for a funky feel throughout, while still being able to appreciate her high notes. Similarly sassy in execution, the following track, “nasty” also features Ariana’s whistle notes--however, here, they are integrated into the backing instrumentals, while the song is mainly driven by the bass and Ariana’s lead vocal in order to keep the song moving.
“West side” serves a hip-hop flare with dynamic beats, giving off an early 2000s vibe.“Love language” has a swing feel to it with a 90s inspired, jazzy vibe and once again, a tasteful string backing instrumental with a slight disco touch. The electric piano drowns the listener out and adds to the entrancement of this song, which reflects a recurring effect that the album as a whole has on the listeners.
The album’s title track “Positions” came with a music video, which showed Ariana literally holding important positions, namely the presidency, and the song has the most stacked harmonies out of any of the album’s other songs, preparing fans for what the album as a whole would ultimately sound like. “Obvious” features amazing transitions with snares and high-hitting sounds that make it a bit more on the poppy side.
The album concludes with one of its strongest and most beautiful tracks, “pov.” It perfectly wraps up the album in a ballad-like, sonically beautiful, and angelic manner. It has the album’s most beautiful vocal and rhythmic progression and features belting notes from Ariana as well as string instrumentals that make this a very solid track. It is reflective of Ariana’s musicality and how much she has evolved over the course of her musical career as an artist, bringing the album to a sweet and satisfying conclusion.
While not everyone is satisfied with Ariana’s new album, her and her production team--consisting of her close friend Victoria Monét and producer Tommy Brown--did an amazing job at creating a funky, R&B-pop-infused, chilled down album that many enjoy for its soulfulness and grooviness, rather than the traditional pop sound people normally expect from artists like Ariana. Positions has similar undertones to Sweetener (2018) and thank u, next (2019) and it has proven that Ariana has successfully gotten the R&B, trap-pop sound down. For a surprise album which was released amid the crazy year that is 2020, it did what it needed to do in the best way possible.