Pop

Every Song Ranked on Ariana Grande’s ‘Positions’: Critic’s Picks

If Ariana Grande’s last two albums -- 2018’s Sweetener and last year’s Thank U, Next -- were devastatingly powerful explorations of personal trauma from one of pop’s biggest artists, new full-length Positions represents a sustained healing brought upon by new love. Grande’s sixth full-length captures a superstar in blissful transition, keeping her guarding up while pursuing happiness through love, sex, personal understanding and professional achievement.

Her voice remains a main attraction, and the strings layered upon the R&B production gives Positions the sheen of an especially unified statement -- yet the highlights of the album come from completely different areas of Grande’s skillset, speaking to her status as one of music’s most well-rounded A-listers. Positions is ostensibly about the excitement of a fresh relationship, but regardless of the subject matter, Grande continues to grow by leaps and bounds as a recording artist.

Although Positions does not have any false notes or glaring weak spots, some of its 14 songs are immediate standouts. Here is a humble, preliminary opinion on the best songs on Ariana Grande’s Positions.

14. “West Side”

“I don’t wanna think too much, I just wanna feel,” Grande begins the shortest song on the Positions track list, which is meant to relieve pressure in a new romance by laying out expectations and promising euphoria. “West Side” is a woozy declaration of intent, Grande steady in her beliefs and uncompromising in her emotion, even as the beat keeps skipping back to the start.

13. “Obvious”

“Obvious” is the sound of Grande embracing the thrill of young love -- all the dreams, fears, sex, expectations, hopes and fantasy packed into two-and-a-half minutes, constructed around a hook that spells out why Grande’s love doesn’t cost a thing. “I knew you were the real thing when you walked through the door,” she sings about both her new partner and the love they share, the song’s collection of warm beats serving as a cocoon for the sentiment she’s describing.

12. “Nasty”

A bit more subtle than “34+35,” “Nasty” still allows Grande to exert her sexual power without pretense, showing off her sterling vocals over a crackling beat while promising to “give it to you like you never had it.” Although “Nasty” isn’t presented as a lynchpin of the Positions track list, Grande’s nuanced performance should not be overlooked.

11. “Just Like Magic”

“Just Like Magic” pairs a trap beat with some entertaining insight into Grande’s current day-to-day: team meetings, meditation, listening to her demos, staring at her phone too much (who can’t relate to that last one, right?). “Swear it’s tricky at the top, gotta keep a slim ego for a thick wallet,” admits Grande, a complex star who’s offering an authentic mix of self-examination and hard-earned braggadocio.

10. “Six Thirty”

The bridge in “Six Thirty” represents one of Positions’ singular highlights: in the back half of a song about questioning the limits of commitment, Grande starts rapping hypothetical scenarios to wonder aloud how her partner will react (“What you gonna do when I'm bored / And I wanna play video games at 2 AM? / What if I need a friend? Will you ride 'til the end?”). By specifying the abstract, Grande typifies a very human impulse and injects the song with new immediacy.

9. “Off The Table” feat. The Weeknd

The lyrics to The Weeknd collaboration “Off The Table” are ready to be prodded and over-analyzed -- who is Grande singing about when she focuses on a love that’s “so damn hard to replace”? Step back, though, and digest the track as a classic R&B duet with an affecting concept, with Grande admitting that she can’t be as present in a relationship as she once was and The Weeknd trying to process that reservation. More meditative than their top 10 hit “Love Me Harder,” “Off The Table” finds Grande and The Weeknd pulling off a tricky songwriting concept.

8. “Love Language”

The effervescent “Love Language” sounds like it could fit in nicely on the airy middle third of Grande’s Sweetener album: its chorus happily tumbles forward, as the lush strings congeal into percussive support for her words of romantic encouragement. Like with many of the album’s highlights, “Love Language” makes a complicated arrangement sound effortless under Grande’s gentle guidance -- and whether or not it becomes a single, it’s a song that will be worth returning to on Positions.

7. “Safety Net” feat. Ty Dolla $ign

As Grande and Ty Dolla $ign croon about jumping off the deep end in a relationship, the ghostly production -- all contemplative percussion and vocal yearning -- scoops up their lingering doubts and makes them audible. Although “Safety Net” sounds a bit out of step with the album’s strings-laden DNA, the song gets at the heart of its purpose: Grande has found new love, and while she’s fearful to take another leap, the rush is too exhilarating to deny.

6. “Shut Up”

The opening track on Positions is stately and sumptuous: Grande gives an update on her life by dismissing those who presume to know all about it, while strings and layered harmonies turn the brush-off into a decadent affair. “All them demons helped me see s--t differently / So don’t be sad for me,” she sings, turning in something of a thesis statement for her last two albums, and setting up her latest in grandiose style.

5. “My Hair”

A song about Grande allowing someone to run their fingers through her signature ponytail naturally carries a looser vibe than the rest of Positions, making for a breezy, tension-releasing frolic with a killer vocal take. “My Hair” would have anchored an Ariana Grande album had she been recording in the mid-‘90s; here, it exists as a wonderfully executed nod to a bygone era of rhythmic pop (but still a top-notch belt-along, to be sure).

4. “Motive” feat. Doja Cat

On a track in which Grande and special guest Doja Cat question the pure intentions of their romantic partners, Positions picks up the tempo, and the thump of the production (co-helmed by Murda Beatz) guides the song forward. Considering how much success Grande found with singles like “Problem” featuring Iggy Azalea and “Side To Side” with Nicki Minaj, “Motive,” with its radio-ready rap feature from Doja Cat, could be a top 40 staple in the near future.

3. “Positions”

When presented with the rest of the project for context, “Positions” makes a ton of sense as the lead single and inspiration for the album title, representative of its thematic focus and sonic blueprint but with perhaps the most accessible hook across the 14 tracks. The single works the margins and exceeds in the details, but repeated listens reveal the special level of Grande’s performance -- she weaves through ad-libs and soft observations before nailing the major-key chorus, and makes it all look easy in the process.

2. “34+35”

Few artists working today could release an explicit sex track that sounds this luxurious and ornately detailed: “34+35” (do the math, it’ll make you giggle, just like Grande does in the chorus) allows the pop star to toss out lines like “F--k me ’til the daylight” against an opulent background of strings, beats and vocals. The result is unapologetic and dizzyingly fun, with Grande shrugging off the need for euphemism and rightfully confident in her approach.

1. “POV”

While album closer “POV” may be in the mold of a traditional R&B ballad, Grande uses the Positions finale to break that mold: the song is a breathtaking show-stopper, the most elegant -- and arguably the flat-out best -- deployment of full-on balladry in her catalog to date. Part of the reason “POV” works so well is due to its lyrical concept, a exaltation of the way love can smooth away imperfections in perception (“I'd love to see me from your point of view,” Grande concludes); the observation itself isn’t groundbreaking, but the level of intimacy on display makes for a moving peek inside a new relationship. Bask in the splendor of “POV,” and try not to feel your heart skip a beat when Grande enters her upper register during the final chorus.

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