In a current interview with the radio character Zach Sang, Ariana Grande described the second she and one in all her writing collaborators first listened to a part of the instrumental monitor that will change into “34+35,” the second tune on her new album, “Positions.” “We heard the strings that sounded so Disney and orchestral and full and pure,” she mentioned. “And I was just like, Yo, what is the dirtiest possible, most opposing lyric that we could write to this?”
They got here up with an ethereal hook centered round that titular math drawback, which provides as much as a lascivious wink. (Nice.) Like the very best songs on her previous album, “Thank U, Next,” “34+35” shares a light-weight, inside-jokey intimacy with its listener; it’s stuffed with Grande’s conspiratorial giggles and whispered secrets and techniques.
But it additionally comprises just a few new thrives: theatrical, plucked strings that don’t evoke grandeur a lot because the creep of mischievous cartoon characters; unapologetically and generally humorously libidinous lyrics; and occasional slips of vulnerability that reveal the giddiness and nervousness of recent love.
As the follow-up to the report that subtly reframed Grande’s persona and launch technique, “Positions” has some massive Gucci tennis sneakers to fill. The implicit argument of “Thank U Next” — a much less polished and extra rapidly made album that Grande put out lower than six months after her extra rigorously orchestrated 2018 LP, “Sweetener” — was that the meticulously deliberate, reflexively world-toured Big Pop Album had change into too gradual and impersonal a supply system for a digital-era pop star to precise herself with any semblance of authenticity or timeliness. This was notably true for Grande, now 27, who endured two life-changing occasions within the months after “Sweetener” got here out: the dying of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, and the dissolution of her engagement to the comic Pete Davidson.
“My dream has always been to be — obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does,” Grande defined in a December 2018 interview, whereas she was engaged on the album. It was a winningly reformist strategy if not an outright revolutionary one: to show the pop report into one thing extra like a mixtape than a multiplatform company product launch — all the higher to swiftly ship songs that might seem to be standing updates.
With its text-speak tune titles and air of relative idiosyncrasy, “Positions” continues in that path. But it additionally gestures towards Grande’s earlier, extra conventional previous. Its R&B leanings (just like the twinkling, ’90s-nostalgic nearer, “POV,” or the understated “West Side,” which samples Aaliyah’s “One in a Million”) think about a extra mature replace of Grande’s 2013 debut, “Yours Truly.” “Off the Table,” a slinky, looking out duet with the Weeknd, even name-checks their collaboration from Grande’s pop 2014 breakout “My Everything”: “I can love you harder than I did before.”
While “Thank U Next” emphasised hip-hop cadences, “Positions” largely finds Grande exploring her full vocal vary, from these whistle notes to the low croon she employs on “Safety Net,” a moody ballad during which she trades verses with Ty Dolla Sign. Both the Weeknd and Ty Dolla Sign collaborations, although, really feel extra like demure throwbacks, and present that Grande hasn’t fairly discovered the best way to replace her strategy to balladry with the identical contemporary, personable vitality that enlivens her extra upbeat tunes.
She fares higher with a home beat (as on the weightless spotlight “Motive,” which options manufacturing by Murda Beatz, or the disco-inflected “Love Language”), which permits her to capitalize on one in all her breathy voice’s best strengths: its uncanny skill to make a tune really feel prefer it’s hovering just some inches off the bottom. The luxurious manifestation anthem “Just Like Magic” makes this Good Witch vitality specific. “Middle finger to my thumb and then I snap it,” she sings — a intelligent lyric in the best way it thwarts expectation by transferring from saucy to candy.
“Positions” isn’t fairly the reinvention that “Thank U Next” was, however it continues Grande’s effort to make the mainstream pop album a looser, weirder and extra conversational area. Some of the credit score for that environment must also go to Victoria Monet and Tayla Parx, two of Grande’s closest mates, who’ve been writing together with her since “Yours Truly.” On Grande’s most distinct songs, their bestie chemistry is palpable.
Many pop stars try and take their sound to the following degree by making more and more grand and bombastic big-tent statements. Grande has succeeded largely by doing simply the alternative: turning her music into an environment as intimate as her bed room, a spot the place she’s generally entertaining a lover however simply as typically cracking goofy jokes together with her closest mates.