Ariana Grande would like you to know that she has been having an awful lot of sex. Not a relatively unusual position for a 27-year-old of course, but it’s still a rarity to hear one of the biggest mainstream stars in the world sweetly sing about how much she enjoys a good old 69ing.
This isn’t unusual territory for Grande of course – she’s always been a fan of the double entendre, and Side To Side remains one of the most subversive pop songs about being shagged so hard you can’t walk straight. It’s nice to see that she’s having fun after the break-up angst of Thank U, Next, but any parents may want to steer their small children away from an album that has ‘explicit’ marked on nine of its 14 tracks.
So, after the obligatory kiss-off to “the haters” in Shut Up, we’re straight in to an hour’s chat about carnal pleasure. 34+35 is an ode to the joys of mutual oral sex (for anyone who still struggles with basic mathematics), featuring lyrics like “fuck me till daylight”, Nasty sees her boasting of a “pussy designed for ya”, while the title track has a chorus of “in the bedroom, I’m in the Olympics”.
It’s a shame then that the music on Positions doesn’t quite match the startling lyrical content. Part of the problem is that Grande’s last two albums, Sweetener and Thank U, Next contained some truly inventive pop music, but too much of Positions is the sound of Ariana on autopilot. While there’s nothing particularly bad here, most of the album is just pleasant Auto-Tuned light RnB.
Maybe it’s the fact that this is Grande’s fourth album in four years, but there’s something about this conveyor belt approach to her music that can render it a bit predictable. Even the guest spots from the likes of The Weeknd and Ty Dollar $ign have a weary sense of inevitability about them, while Just Like Magic literally sees Ariana reciting her schedule for the day: “12 O’Clock, I got a team meeting, then a meditation at like 1.30.” The days of someone writing a song about a Zoom conference call are surely not that far away now.
That said, there is still a lot here for the loyal army of Arianators to swoon over. Grande and her team have proved countless times over the years that they know how to write a memorable pop song, and Just Like Magic, 34+35 and Love Language are all engagingly catchy. Off The Table, the duet with The Weeknd, drops the sex chat for just a moment to reflect on emotional vulnerability and the death of Grande’s former fiancé Mac Miller (“I’ll wait for you, even though it always feels like I’ll be number two to someone you can’t hold anymore). It’s one of the most touching moments on the album.
Positions is a perfectly fine light pop/RnB album by the numbers, but Grande’s relentless work ethic over the last few years means that the shine on her songs is starting to dull a bit. Perhaps a longer break and a battery charge would do her good, as once the novelty of hearing about the very healthy state of Ariana’s sex life wears off, there’s not much that’s particularly memorable on Positions.