By: Antonio Salgado
So, Ariana Grande is very good at making music.
This isn’t breaking news to be honest. Ms. Grande has been churning out pop hits since her debut album Yours Truly back in 2013. The ability to make a quintessential pop track is definitely her biggest strength as an artist. Saying an artist makes great “radio music” (to use a dated term) can be seen as a backhanded compliment, but that’s not always the case and that’s certainly not the case with Ariana Grande. The child actress turned singer is now a fully fledged musician who has carved out a nice career for herself. Grande’s latest album, the surprise release Positions, is another fun listen littered with Top 40-leaning and R&B-leaning music that showcases Grande’s skill in crafting enjoyable and sexy pop music.
Pop Sound Ariana:
With the emphasis on pop music in the intro it’s only right to highlight the best of the genre on Positions. I would be remiss to highlight the best pop songs on the album and not discuss the title track, “Positions.” On first listen, it was obvious why this song was given the mantle of lead single. It definitely passed the vaunted “how does it sound in the car?” litmus test. Any mundane task can be made infinitely better while this song blasts on the speakers. “Heaven sent you to me” is the opening line of the song, and heaven definitely sent this song to earth. The song details all the cheesy things Grande would love to do with a significant other. Now, being cheesy is not meant as a slight here because surface level cheesy is part of relationships. She mentions wanting to meet their mother on Sunday, a reassuring step in a relationship that is a certain quirk many romance-leaning tracks lack. “34 + 35” is a bit more about the X-rated aspects of relationships. Math wizards who can put two and two together (well 34 and 35) will get the gist of the song’s message. The song’s hook serves its purpose effortlessly, bringing the explicit nature of the song full circle. The lyrics are not particularly family friendly, but the song’s execution and accessibility are well balanced, so it is definitely a must listen on the album. The instrumental on “Love Language” are another high point in the album. The opening lead up and chorus instrumentals are akin to the soundtrack during a chase scene in a cartoon. Opening the song with that sound builds anticipation just like anticipation of Mojo JoJo getting caught by the Powerpuff Girls, building on a very unique (but altogether pleasing) aesthetic..
Speaking about R&B sounds on the album and not talking about the Weeknd’s feature should be “Off the Table”. Now, bad jokes aside, the soothing sounds of this song are perfect for the Weeknd’s melodic style and give Ms. Grande the space to get into her elite vocal pocket. The song dives into insecurities that come with exploring love and relationships. It opens with the question “Will I ever love the same again?”. This speaks to the emotional scars and doubt that are felt after her various relationships have ended in traumatic fashions. The Weeknd continues his great run in 2020 with his stellar feature here, adding another W to his long list of accomplishments this year. On “Safety Net,” Ariana dips into a popular sub-genre: Ft. Ty Dolla $ign. The famed internet theory is that getting a feature from Ty means a banger is likely on the way, a theory proven true by this song’s quality. It’s a melodic deep-dive into the fear and insecurities associated with letting your guard down in a relationship. “Tripping, falling with no safety net” is a poignant line: love can take a person by surprise. At times, love is not anticipated and falling in love can feel like falling without security. The solo R&B leaning record “My Hair” is terrific. As the title might suggest Ms. Grande is speaking to a lover and telling them to run their hands through her hair. This is, again, a bit cheesy, however it is a subtle intimate act between two people in a relationship/situationship, something that Ariana’s honest songwriting is excellent at portraying.
Positions is a fun listen, and that’s the best attribute to give to the album. As a fan of rap and r&b music, this album probably won’t crack my personal top 10…but whenever I play music on shuffle, a song from this album will likely not get skipped. Making music that is fun and easy on the ears means an artist did a good job constructing their tracks. Sometimes “bubble gum” music can be fun and veering to different music genres can be fun.
Tracks to Save: “Positions,” “My Hair,” “34+35,” “Off the Table,” “Safety Net”
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