On Friday, Ariana Grande dropped her sixth album, Positions. It’s a markedly different affair than her last album, 2019’s Thank U, Next. Mainly, it’s dripping with sex. But is it any good? The Ringer has some thoughts.
What is your tweet-length review of Positions?
Katie Baker: Eyyy we got a sex-haver over here!
Cory McConnell: “All these demons helped me see shit differently.”
Kate Halliwell: I mean this in the best possible way: The theater kids are always the freaky ones. We should have known this was coming.
Ameilia Wedemeyer: Ladies and gentlemen, she’s happy, she’s horny, and … this album is fine.
Matt James: You don’t need to tell people that you’re fucking a lot when you’re clearly in your R&B phase. (Four out of five stars.)
Kellen Becoats: Brooklyn’s weather has been pretty crappy for the past few days and this felt like the sun coming out, only the sun was Ariana being extremely ready to give us pillow talk. Now if y’all need me, I’ll be shout-singing “Shut Up.”
Alyssa Bereznak: The official album of Cuffing Season 2020.
Nora Princiotti: Congrats on the sex!
What is your favorite song?
Princiotti: It’s “My Hair” or “34+35.” (Sorry, mom.) A general rule of Ariana Grande is the more ridiculous, the better. I also like “Love Language” a lot, but most of this album sounds very similar to me. Honorable mention to “Just Like Magic,” a good entry into the celeb-daily-itinerary genre. Wahlberg would be proud.
McConnell: [Mutes Zoom audio, mutes Zoom video, leaves Zoom call, uninstalls Zoom, throws laptop in the L.A. River, whispers.] “34+35.”
Becoats: “Shut Up” and “Just Like Magic” will be in heavy rotation for a while. Nothing is better than Ariana just flexing.
Halliwell: I was lukewarm on it to begin with, but after scrolling past 1,000 “Positions”–inspired TikToks, it’s hard to deny that hook.
Bereznak: “Nasty” really is horny Julie Andrews at its best and a gift to musical theater geeks who can get it far and wide.
James: For me, it’s “Positions.” Before Ariana’s vocals even touch this track, I would listen to it on repeat. The melody is absolutely infectious and the interplay of the broad bass hits and the ornate strings physically forces my head to bob up and down. Luckily though, I don’t have to listen to this without Ariana’s vocals. The rhythm of the chorus is brilliant, deftly dancing against and then in step with the instrumentals. I don’t expect many people feel this way, but this is one of my favorite songs she’s ever released.
Baker: Right now, “Positions” and “Safety Net,” but currently enjoying “Love Language” too. Kind of a Janet Jackson vibe!!!
Wedemeyer: This is a tough one because I think this album has a lot of nice songs, but none of them really stand out. On first listen, I’m hearing no “Thank U, Next” or “Break Free,” and that’s a shame because she has the vocals to give us something that would build on those singles and really solidify her as an icon. She needs a “Hero” (Mariah Carey) or a “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston) to display how truly talented she is, but I’m not getting that on this album.
What is your least favorite song?
Baker: Down with numbers … probably “Six Thirty” and “34+35”?
James: “POV” is the only real miss for me on the album. I actually like the verses but the chorus is a bit too theatrical and cute for me. On an album filled with so many incredible R&B grooves, this just feels like an out-of-place remnant of a past project.
Halliwell: “West Side” is two minutes long and utterly forgettable.
Bereznak: Nothing really stood out to me but “Shut Up” feels a little too inspired by being terminally online. Log off, Ari!
Princiotti: Probably “Motive,” the one with Doja Cat. A song by two people that extra has no right to be merely vibey.
McConnell: “My Hair” is the obvious answer, but that one’s going to have a long runway for humor purposes. The Ty $ and Weeknd features are also immensely forgettable.
Becoats: It’s got to be “Motive” for me. Ariana’s part is solid but as soon as Doja Cat gets on, I have to turn it off. It hasn’t been the same for me since this iconic moment.
How does this album compare to Thank U, Next and Sweetener?
Princiotti: She sounds great, as always, but I don’t hear hits on this album. There’s nothing as juicy or funny as “Thank U, Next” or anything that packs the dopamine hit of “No Tears Left to Cry.”
Halliwell: Better than Sweetener, which I forgot existed, but not anywhere near the massive “fuck you” achievement that was Thank U, Next.
Becoats: It may not produce the radio hits that Thank U, Next and Sweetener did, but I really like this direction from Ariana. Not everything has to be a timeline-clogging megahit for it to be good. That being said, I expect to hear “Positions” endlessly for the next three months.
McConnell: It’s better than those albums. The orchestration and dabbling in deep house that she hinted at with Dangerous Woman are in full force here. It’s a breezy, fun sound, and unique compared with what her contemporaries are doing.
Wedemeyer: Somewhere between the stellar Thank U, Next (and My Everything—I loved that album) and the underwhelming Sweetener. As I said, Positions is fine, and that’s about it for now. A lot of these songs kind of meld together into one breathy—albeit beautiful—display of vocals. But come back to me after I’ve played this album a few times.
James: I prefer Positions to both Thank U, Next and Sweetener but I think many people will feel differently. If you’re big on Ariana’s ballads, you might be disappointed with Positions. I don’t know if every Ariana fan wants the vibe that’s going on in “My Hair,” but I absolutely do.
Bereznak: Thank U, Next was perfectly raw and emotive, and remains my favorite for its high gossip/dance-party value alone. But after all Ariana’s been through, it’s nice to hear some peace in her voice. Contrast a song like “Ghostin,” from her last album, with “Off the Table”—ostensibly both about how memories of her late ex, Mac Miller, have complicated her subsequent romances—and you can hear the pain in her voice replaced with real hope. Both of those wavelengths feel more emotionally meaningful than the headspace she was in for the pleasure-seeking fever dream that is Sweetener. (Which, to be clear, I also loved.)
The last album was largely seen as a kiss-off to her exes (in particular, one). This one was recorded while she was falling deeply in love with her new beau, Hollywood Realtor Dalton Gomez. This raises the question: What makes for better art, breakups or domestic bliss?
Princiotti: Breakups by a million, though “quietly dating a real estate agent” is a very funny tabloid line.
James: Breakups stir strong and complex emotions that newly single artists have plenty of time to explore. When you’re blissfully in love, your primary focus is often enjoying that love. When Adele got divorced last year we were all immediately sad for her, but chances are that your second thought was a guilt-imbued pang of excitement for a breakup album.
Becoats: If we’re talking hits and memeable moments, then I suppose I’d have to argue for breakups. The song “Thank U, Next” broke the internet for a minute. But there’s nothing wrong with dropping a sexy album at a time when we could all use some levity.
Bereznak: Breakups, obviously! The good news is that there are plenty of artists who can use the emotional clarity of a healthy relationship to better see through the fog of their past love life. (See: Lemonade, Folklore.) We don’t have to wish bad romances upon our favorite pop stars in the name of better music! That being said, I am very much looking forward to Kacey Musgraves’s next album.
Wedemeyer: Hate to say it, but breakups, no question. This album and Thank U, Next—in my opinion, there’s no comparison, though it should be noted that I’m one of the two people who disliked Folklore, so no one should ever have to be subjected to my music opinions.
Baker: I will always remember when one of my best friends went through her first, like, real breakup—the rug-out-from-under-you, cry-so-much-your-eyes-actually-start-glowing, lose-your-appetite kind—and her mother, thinking she was helping (?) said: “Haven’t you ever noticed how many good songs there are about breakups? Go listen to some. You’re not the first person to feel like this.” Savage but fair! I wish Ariana happiness, but her contributions to this canon are important and I hope/assume she’ll ultimately contribute more. (Sorry, Daltz.)
McConnell: Usually I’d say breakups, but Ari’s proving that sadboi maxim wrong.
Halliwell: How good can an album inspired by a Realtor possibly be?
Which collaboration works the best? The Weeknd? Doja Cat? Ty Dolla Sign?
McConnell: Regrettably, the Doja Cat one, “Motive.” It’s the feature that fits most seamlessly with the rest of the album, and the house beat recalls some of her best singles, like “Be Alright.”
Becoats: It’s got to be the Weeknd joint (“Off the Table”) for me. Both artists are a bit understated on the song, but listening to two people who can SANG going back and forth is always a good time.
Baker: Best for working out: the Doja Cat one.
Best for thinking, “Wait, is the ‘run away’ supposed to sound like the ‘look around’ from Hamilton: the Ty $ one.
Best for turning on when your parents are in the car: the Weeknd one, oddly enough.
Halliwell: I was working in a mall during the 2014 “Love Me Harder” era, which means I’d be happy to never hear Ariana and the Weeknd again. I’ll take Doja Cat.
Princiotti: Ty $ for sure. They actually sound like they’re talking to each other. He’s an oddly good pairing with Theater Kid Energy Ariana and makes her sound less saccharine.
Bereznak: The Ty $ feature was the most compatible with Ari’s vibe, I like that he acknowledged her superior vocals and let her lead.
James: It’s Ty. The guy lives to collaborate. His new album is called Featuring Ty Dolla $ign. He’s in his wheelhouse guesting on a track. On “Safety Net” he adds to the narrative of the song, sounds great, and provides engaging supporting vocals. Doja’s very competent feature feels more pasted into “Motive,” and the Weeknd’s feature on “Off the Table” slows the album to a near stop without being particularly memorable.
Wedemeyer: I liked the Ty $ song the best, but can I be that annoying person and acknowledge how good her collaboration with the Weeknd is on “Love Me Harder” from My Everything?
Does the ever-present orchestra work, or is this too theatrical-sounding?
McConnell: I think it’s time we put the cabin-core sensibilities of “quarantine albums” behind us. IMAX-level pop sheen has always been a good fit for her, and the strings that serve as the through line for the album make it feel like a cohesive statement instead of a disjointed collection of singles (which some of her albums have been guilty of).
Princiotti: I don’t mind it at the individual song level, but it’s a big reason that very little jumps out from this album. It would have been nice if she’d left her wheelhouse just a little. These songs are also mostly very short, and it’s hard for something like that to build effectively in less than three minutes.
Wedemeyer: I like it. I think it’s one of the best parts of this album.
Baker: I’m into it, but then again, I would be. When the single “Positions” came out last week the opening notes reminded me of the intro to the Andrew Bird song “Olympians” and I got really excited that this was all gonna be another Taylor Swift–Aaron Dessner–style collab. Not exactly, but I’ll take it.
James: Aside from “POV” I didn’t notice an overwrought orchestra. I thought the use of more traditional instrumentation throughout the album often gave Ariana new spaces to work within. When there were string sections they were often paired with more modern production elements in interesting ways.
Becoats: I kind of liked it, or rather, I wasn’t bothered by it.
Halliwell: Too theatrical? Ariana? How dare you?
“My Hair”: a jumping-the-shark bit about her famous ponytail or a legit show of intimacy?
Halliwell: Hilarious display of self-awareness—and a bop to boot. I loved this one.
James: Legit intimacy! Or maybe both! I don’t care, this song has such a deep, delicate groove that it makes my face do that thing where if someone saw me they might assume I’m smelling something bad. I looooove this song and was not surprised to see frequent Ariana collaborator (and fantastic solo artist) Victoria Monét’s name in the writing credits. If you’re an Ariana fan, you’re probably also a Victoria Monét fan whether you know it or not.
Baker: An editor once gave me some great advice that any time I have a list of things in my writing, one of them should be a little bit of a novelty item, so to speak, and I think you could say the same about a good album. This is that track, and I support it! Also, more so than even the most explicit songs on this album, it’s the one that conjures for me an actual visual image of Ariana Grande hooking up. Sing about fumbling with bras next!
McConnell: Probably could have left that one off. But I’m also aware she has a lot of young fans whose parents will be nervously skipping through the sex jams to get to the nice song about her ponytail.
Becoats: I mean, what isn’t a bit these days? If we’re being honest, given the general vibe of the album and without looking at the title, I did not think she was talking about her ponytail before we hit the chorus. I think it jumps the shark a bit but is also legitimately funny and intimate in its own right.
Bereznak: I always used to joke that Ariana Grande’s ponytail was cemented so permanently to her skull that she slept by hooking it onto a ceiling hook and hanging upside down like a bat. So I think she’s earned the cred to sing a tongue-in-cheek ditty about it.
We’re all adults here—this is a very horny album. What’s the horniest song on Positions? And is it, as some have suggested, too “performatively” horny?
Baker: [Extremely ad read voice.] This question was brought to you by Friend of The Ringer Allison P. Davis’s forthcoming book, HORNY—to which you, yes you, can contribute by filling out The Horny Census now!
The horniest song is the math one—it’s like her “think about baseball” equivalent. But look, the real performative horniness is what’s going on in this piece from The Guardian. From the headline, “All-night romps but no climax” to the phrase “gazumped by a grotty British tabloid in full stick-it-up-your-punter mode” to its true delight in cherry-picking only her wildest lines.
McConnell: It’s the one about 69ing. And most pop music is performative horniness! It’s fine. Let her 34+35 in peace.
Halliwell: It has to be “34+35.” And no, it’s not too horny. What is there to live for, in 2020, besides being horny on main? Go forth with your Realtor with our utmost blessings, Ariana.
Wedemeyer: “34+35.” And no, it’s not too “performatively” horny, what does that even mean? C’mon now. The girl is happy and in love, let her live her life!
James: “34+35” is very horny. “34+35” being Track 2 is performatively horny. You know that your ex is going to listen to at least the first two tracks of your album. They might not make it to Track 13, but definitely Track 2. I admit I laughed out loud at the end of “34+35” when she unnecessarily explained that it “means I want to ‘69’ with you.”
Bereznak: I don’t think there’s anything more obviously horny than a song about a math problem whose solution is “69.” But I would prefer not to play the role of horn police! She’s a performer who makes music for public consumption. Her vocal range is like a winding Parisian staircase. And she just so happens to enjoy her sex life. All of it seems perfectly natural to me.
Becoats: It has to be “34+35.” The song literally ends with her saying, “It means I wanna 69 with ya, nooooo shit,” which, if that’s “performatively horny,” give me more, because that’s hilarious. This whole discourse feels strange because dudes write horny music all the time and nobody blinks an eye. Ariana can be performatively horny if she wants!
Princiotti: What is horniness if not to be performed? The horniest song on Positions is probably “Nasty,” since it is both about boning and sounds as if it were written as a soundtrack for said boning. Silver medal goes to “34+35,” but sonically, it sounds like the inside of a snow globe.
Where does Ariana Grande go from here?
Princiotti: Get Max Martin back on the Zoom.
James: I have no idea but if it were up to me, she’d go even deeper into R&B.
McConnell: This is her most confident-sounding album. If her trajectory is making more assured, adult, lush pop albums, we’ve got a lot to look forward to.
Halliwell: From the kitchen to the bedroom. Please pay attention.
Baker: I was gonna joke “outside?” but then I remembered she already sang about doing it on the roof.
Becoats: I feel like Ariana’s legacy is pretty well cemented at this point. She’s been making hits for damn near a decade, she can give you sexy albums, she can give you heartwarming moments. Just look at her social media presence. She was holding a countdown for her album last night that hundreds of thousands of people were interacting with. Ariana releasing music is an “event” that demands your attention, and deservedly so. Whatever direction she goes in from here, people will be paying attention.
Bereznak: Straight into a well-priced Hollywood Hills mansion with full amenities and thoughtful accents, courtesy of her emotionally available Realtor boyfriend.