We always wish that someone would say exactly what they mean. Everyone wants to be able to understand someone else, especially in a relationship. On Ariana Grande’s Positions, the singer is direct about what she thinks and desires. She’s full of love, and she’s falling for someone new. Her reality is seen through a shiny veneer of optimism, a sort of positivity mostly found in deep affection. What’s most prevalent is that Grande is happy. She’s found peace in lovers long gone as well as in herself in “just like magic,” support of a new partner in “my hair” and fulfillment of that partner’s needs as well in “love languages.” Many listeners will find her unambiguity refreshing. As one of the most successful artists currently working, Grande knows that she’s empowered and that she has every reason to be confident. Consequently, it makes sense that Positions is consistently accessible on all levels; pure pop instrumentals only further cement her vision as unblurred. Everything coalesces around perhaps the most versatile voice of our generation.
On another hand, Positions exemplifies something larger than itself: There’s been a curious shift in how we talk about love, with a degradation of said language in our mainstream consciousness. Undivided attention was a given in the past — in a time when distractions were less effective and lust accordingly brewed in incredible ways. Imagination had to take the place of overt references to desires frowned upon by a repressive society. Before the sexual revolution, there was an extensive lexicon of poetics and subversion around the taboo topics of how sex was performed, who was doing it and the passion that went along with it.
We now lack a willingness to live with ambiguity. There is little desire to live outside of something explicitly defined, especially extended in the calls of normalizing our relationships to be purely transactional. It’s satisfying to get exactly what you want, i.e. the other making the parts of their being explicit, with no reason for you to do any work otherwise speculating what could possibly be unsaid — but this is inherently unfulfilling. It’s as beneficial as a diet of candy, never actually satiating any sort of long term involvement. So this brings us back to Grande’s album, where poetics have been discarded and the album comfortably reflects a lack of nuance when it discusses topics of love and sex. Nothing is obscufated, and any sort of subjectivity is replaced by the clearest of intentions (best illustrated by the line: “fuck me till the daylight” from the track “34+35”), including an authoritative accounting of past relationships. Grande makes some of the lyrics tip into being undignified, heavily clashing with Grande’s entrancing voice. Lyrics like “you know I keep it squeaky” (“34+35”), and “what you gon’ do when I’m bored / and I wanna play video games at 2 AM?” (“six thirty”) fall flat and give nothing but the impression that every detail, no matter its irreverence, has to be included.
Positions is undeniably heavenly. With highlights like “shut up,” “safety net” and “pov,” Grande has presented some of her strongest songs yet. The ways she harmonizes in heart-stopping choruses is what gives her an edge over all of her virtuosic peers. Grande has most importantly succeeded in embodying the sound of the moment. All the techniques of the vast world of pop music are on display here, and the attitude just the same.
Daily Arts Writer Vivian Istomin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.