2020 was not the best, but in her role as one of Heaven’s angels on Earth, Ariana Grande brought light to the darkness with her sixth studio album, Positions. Following the critically acclaimed Thank U, Next, this album was highly anticipated, which has led a wide range of people, including non-fans, to write thought pieces on the work after its release. Unbeknownst to us, Grande kept on working and announced the deluxe version of Positions, which introduced us to 4 new tracks and an interlude this past month. Without further ado, let’s dive into a track-by-track review of Positions (Deluxe).
Grande is very detail-oriented and her album openers show it. Her intros perfectly set the tone for the narratives in her albums. For Positions, “shut up” is Grande’s way of acknowledging the negativity in today’s world, including the difficulties of her past, before telling all of it and the people who spread that negativity to just shut up so that they can delve into the world of Positions. While its chorus leaves more to be desired lyrically, “shut up” is a beautifully produced song with strings and a lush cinematic production that sets the mood for Positions.
Top-tier lyricism: “All them demons helped me see shit differently / so don’t be sad for me”
The strings from “shut up” carry over into “34+35,” but that’s where the similarities end. “34+35” is a fun, raunchy song as Grande does not cut any corners in making her sexual desire known. It’s evident that Grande is shooting the shit by the way she effortlessly skates through the heavily pop-infused production. Even though the song is brash (in a good way), Grande was hesitant to release the song. “I don’t want [“34+35”] to distract from the rest of the album,” Grande said in an interview with radio personality and friend Zach Sang, “but I do love it, and sonically, it’s one of my favorite things we’ve [her and her team] ever done.” There’s no need to deeply analyze the song – it’s about 69’ing and it’s fun.
Top-tier lyricism: “Even though I’m wifey, you can hit it like a side chick”
“motive” feat. Doja Cat
On “motive,” Grande and Doja Cat are trying to figure out what their lovers want from them. This house music-inspired track is surprisingly produced by Murda Beatz, who is more known for rap hits like Nicki Minaj’s “FEFE” and Drake’s “Nice for What.” Beatz infuses rap and trap in the track’s pop melody, which is a combination that Grande has mastered over her career. Doja Cat keeps up with Grande sonically, but her feature inevitably wilts in the omnipresent shadow of Grande’s long-time collaborator, Nicki Minaj. On a first listen, the track fades into the background, but it’s quite hypnotic. According to sophomore Amber Siddiqui, “‘motive’ is underrated.”
Top-tier lyricism: “Might have to curve you if you just can’t talk straight”
“just like magic”
She may not know it, but Grande created a manifestation anthem with “just like magic.” It’s a shimmery, upbeat track in which Grande humbly boasts about her successes in love and life, which she attributes to her positive affirmations and energy. Grande is big about being positive while manifesting. “I think what you put out and what you focus your attention on is what expands,” she stated in her interview with Sang. Given her belief in manifestation, it makes sense that she would produce such a magical (sorry) song. The production evokes a nostalgic feeling of magic and her vocals sweeten the track’s braggadocious (and borderline cringy) nature. This song has one of the album’s most irresistible verses (that! second! verse!) and bridges.
Top-tier lyricism: “Losing friends left and right, but I just send ‘em love and light”
Also: “Take my pen and write some love letters to heaven,” which is followed by a quiet moment of introspection
“off the table” feat. The Weeknd
If you’ve kept up with the narrative so far, Grande has engaged in some no-strings-attached fun with her new lover and has entertained an idea of a crush. In “off the table,” the narrative reaches a very real bump as Grande not only doubts her ability to dive deep into this relationship, but also her ability to love again. The R&B-heavy song, which is primarily written by Grande, is an incredibly mature and realistic look into how a relationship is formed and how much it requires of a person. The Weeknd plays the part of Grande’s reassuring lover, who is willing to stick with Grande as she continues to heal. This track is Grande’s best collaboration on the album and is a clear standout, fit with powerful vocals and lush production.
Top-tier lyricism: “Might not be quite yet healed already / Should I be goin’ too steady?”
Now that Grande is reassured that she can delve into love, she wants to make sure if her lover is also down like the clock hands when it turns “six thirty.” Kind of like that simile, the song is transparent with Grande’s message being loud and clear. In terms of production, it is a classic Grande song with its pop and R&B flairs and healthy dose of strings. While the song is cute, its lyrical depth (like “Am I enough to keep your love?” as Grande croons on the bridge) is shrouded by the song’s not-so-great production, which is not good for a track that follows “off the table.” Nonetheless, it’s a catchy song and the bridge demonstrates the beauty of Grande’s harmonies.
Top-tier lyricism: “Down like six thirty / Down like sunsets / Down like my head on your chest”
“safety net” feat. Ty Dolla $ign
“safety net” revels in the all-consuming nature of love that makes people forgo their normal sense of security. Against the expert R&B production courtesy of The Rascals, Grande’s vocals rise and fall from her verses to the chorus, casting us listeners in a love-like trance. Finding herself in a similar trance, Grande cannot help but jump into the love that she feels for her new beau despite her mind’s reservations. Ty Dolla $ign comes in, matching Grande’s vocal energy to play the part of Grande’s lover, who is also falling deep in love. However, his verse isn’t as introspective as Grande’s is lyrically. It’s a stunning song for the album’s overall narrative, but a part of me feels that it could have been destined for more if Ty Dolla $ign had not been on it.
Top-tier lyricism: “I came to peace with my path / Now you got me off track”
Grande’s hair has always been a major part of her image as an entertainer – her red hair as Victorious’ Cat Valentine, her high ponytail in the early stages of her career, her short-lived platinum hair for Sweetener, her long straight hair for some parts of the Sweetener/Thank U, Next world tour, etc. However, her real hair, “the curly poof” as she called it in the interview, is her most personal self that even her fans don’t see. In this context, letting her new beau run his fingers through her hair is HUGE and a sign of the trust building in their love. Like a lot of songs on Positions, “my hair” has strong R&B influences, but it also sees Grande going into some neo-soul. It’s a no-brainer that Grande’s vocals are amazing here, but she goes the extra mile on the last chorus, where she belts in her whistle notes. “my hair” is a gorgeous song from its production to the vocals and lyrics.
Top-tier lyricism: “I want you to touch it softly / Like the way you do my mind”
There literally could be no other name for this song. On “nasty,” Grande embraces her sexuality, holding none of her thoughts back. The first few seconds of the song play like the opening of heaven’s gates thanks to Grande’s giggling and whistle notes in the background. The song’s sultry subject matter pairs well with its heavenly production. Continuing the album’s narrative, we see Grande become even more comfortable with her beau, which is evident by how well she dominates “nasty.” As is her style, Grande’s vocals effortlessly meander through the track and save the lyrics from sounding too repetitive. Cuts like “nasty” lead listeners like senior Haleigh Hashem to say that Positions is Ariana Grande being “horny on the main.”
Top-tier lyricism: “Swear it’s just right for ya / Like this pussy’s designed for ya”
On each of her albums, Grande always sneaks in a song that’s more on the experimental side. For Positions, “west side” is that song and it is incredibly understated. The shortest song on the album, “west side” is an R&B/trap delight of two minutes and 12 seconds. The track features minimalistic production by frequent collaborator Tommy “TBHits” Brown and a sample from the late R&B singer Aaliyah. Against this production, it’s no surprise that Grande’s vocals knock it out of the park. The song is a simple but beautifully crafted treat as Grande harmonizes on a glittery pre-chorus and chorus. As for the subject matter, “west side” is a peek into Grande’s self-assured nature when it comes to love – she knows what she wants, and she’ll make it known.
Top-tier lyricism: “Tell ‘em you closing the door / I am the only for sure”
Grande steers back to pop with “love language,” but its disco flair puts the track on the edge of the album’s experimental territory. Lyrically, the song complements the self-assured nature of “west side,” but takes it into the bedroom à la earlier cuts “34+35” and “nasty.” Similar to those tracks, Grande balances sensuality and maturity on “love language” in such a way that opens her music to a broader age range. Her maturity is even visible in the lower register with which Grande sings the song as she keeps up with the song’s tempo and creates the album’s prettiest chorus. “love language” ends with what sounds like a completely different but equally catchy song that sheds light on who this track (and maybe the album) is about – Dalton Gomez, Grande’s real-estate agent boyfriend.
Top-tier lyricism: “If you’re gonna keep speaking my love language / You can talk your shit all night”
Honestly, this is the best first single that Grande could’ve chosen for this album. Other than the fact that it’s the album titular track, “positions” and its trap-pop production set the breezy and mellow tone of this era of Grande’s career. It’s incredibly catchy and pretty straightforward when it comes to its lyrics. While “love language” has the album’s prettiest chorus, “positions” boasts the album’s catchiest chorus (you can’t just sing one line – you’ve got to go the whole way). As the first single, it’s clearly destined for streaming success, but it’s not a clear standout in comparison to the album’s other offerings. However, it’s still a bop (with a spectacular music video).
Top-tier lyricism: “Know my love infinite, nothin’ I wouldn’t do”
Following the high energy of the preceding tracks, “obvious” is like when you wake up the morning after a night out and to your surprise, you don’t feel groggy, but refreshed. “obvious” is a melodic song that fits too perfectly in Grande’s pop-R&B catalog that we’ve seen on her pre-Sweetener albums. On the track, Grande sings about her growing comfort with being in love again. However, much like how you spend a lot of your day reminiscing about the night before, “obvious” is quite boring in comparison to the preceding tracks. It’s a shame because it’s a cute song, but that’s all it really is.
Top-tier lyricism: “Never thought I’d believe in love again”
In the final part of her narrative in Positions, Grande affirms her ability to trust in love again, thanks to the love and support of her current boyfriend. “pov” begins softly with the sound of rainfall, allowing for Grande’s vulnerable lyrics to shine through. As the song builds, the production becomes grander with Grande’s vocals tying in perfectly. Grande also acknowledges that she is still learning when it comes to loving herself. However, her beau’s unconditional love offers hope; she now pledges to love herself with the same fervor. “pov” humanizes the larger-than-life popstar that is Ariana Grande.
Top-tier lyricism: “I wanna love me / The way that you love me / For all of my pretty, and all of my ugly too”
“someone like u – interlude”
Sonically, “someone like u – interlude” picks up where “pov” left off, which allows for a seamless transition from the main album to the deluxe. Even as an interlude, the track offers more insight into Grande’s mindset. She is happy to have found her new beau, but she is still cautious (à la “off the table”) about whether she can fully trust it. For those of us who have not listened to Positions in a while (couldn’t be me), “someone like u – interlude” is a great reintroduction into Grande’s sound and story in this era.
Top-tier lyricism (not much to choose from tbh): “I’ve been waiting for someone like you”
Also produced by Murda Beatz, “test drive” sounds like the fun little sister of “motive.” Using some heavy automobile metaphors, Grande asserts her confidence in her new relationship, stating that she doesn’t need to “test drive” it. Grande ticks all her usual boxes (vocals, trap-pop sound, catchy lyrics), but the track does not do much to showcase the variety of her talent. However, much like “motive,” “test drive” is undeniably hypnotic and shimmery, which makes it cool enough to be a summer bop.
Top-tier lyricism: “No second guessin’, checkin’ the rearview” – “Honeymoon Avenue” Ariana is grown up!
“34+35 Remix” feat. Doja Cat & Megan Thee Stallion
Grande amps up “34+35” with the help of Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion, who are the no-brainer choices for a cheeky song like this one. While each of them individually shine as stars, the remix as a whole is uneven as Grande fades in the background of her own song (where is that killer bridge from the original?) and Megan Thee Stallion offers an uncompelling verse that’s unlike her sharp, sex-positive rhymes. Doja Cat does what she does well with a fun verse that matches Grande’s cheeky energy, but it doesn’t elevate this remix to “Savage” or even “Say So” levels. The remix is not bad per se, but maybe “34+35” should’ve just been left by its wonderful self.
Top-tier lyricism: “I want that six-nine without Tekashi”
I’m not even going to hide it – “worst behavior” is the best deluxe song added to Positions. Fight your mom! On the track, Grande sings about keeping a relationship private as she and her new boy (ding-ding, Dalton Gomez!) explore it, physical and all. Grande delivers an irresistible chorus fit with sweet harmonies and diva-like backing vocals. She successfully taps into a 90s R&B sound that harkens back to similar tracks on this album (“my hair”, “love language”) and her Yours Truly era. “worst behavior” is THAT girl.
Top-tier lyricism: “But I kind of like the way I / Feel when I just don’t give a fuck”
Grande closes out the Positions era with “main thing,” which is a cute ode to her beau that establishes their love for the long run. The production compliments Grande’s vocals pretty well, featuring classic snaps and digital-like bits that allow for her voice to ring loud and clear. Grande is happy and content with her love life and she does not spend a second longer to discuss it (is that good or bad? really depends on your preference). “main thing” is a short and sweet way to end the album, fulfilling the listener’s appetite just enough to be satiated with the whole narrative.
Top-tier lyricism: “All I wanna do is spend my time with you / Even when the learning’s done and nothing’s new”
At first glance, Positions does not shine as bright as her predecessors Sweetener and Thank U, Next. However, that’s not necessary – Grande has already established herself as a global pop icon with vocals and starpower to boot. Sweetener was Grande’s carefully crafted opus of healing after the tragic Manchester Arena bombings and her breakup with longtime beau, Mac Miller. In the following months, Grande’s world was turned upside down, starting with her whirlwind engagement to Pete Davidson, Mac Miller’s passing, the subsequent public scrutiny that Grande faced, and her heavily publicized breakup with Davidson. Thank U, Next was Grande taking control of her narrative from these months, sharing the good, the fun, and the painful. Almost a year and a half later, Positions (Deluxe) is Grande’s way to officially close the door to her past and carry her lessons into the future – a future where she learns to love herself for the strong woman that she is.