If you’ve listened to Ariana Grande’s discography in its entirety — I’m talking Yours Truly, Christmas & Chill, the deep cuts on My Everything and Dangerous Woman, etc. — “Positions” should come as no surprise. R&B has been running through Ariana’s musical DNA since her YouTube cover days. One week away from the launch of her as-yet-untitled sixth studio album, Ariana has debuted the record’s lead single: “Positions.”
This year Ariana scored back-to-back #1 singles with her Justin Bieber-assisted “Stuck With U” and her Lady Gaga collaboration “Rain On Me.” The Grammy winner also guested on “Time” from Childish Gambino’s 3.15.20. While she flew to the top of the Hot 100 with a schmaltzy pop ballad and a club-ready dance pop anthem, “Positions” is a track that carefully straddles the line between pop and R&B. Ariana’s sultry vocal delivery, the sensual lyrics, and unconventional flow of the verses (similar to Summer Walker, Bryson Tiller, and SZA), place “Positions” squarely in the middle of late 2010s trap&B. With production contributions from London On Da Track (“My Type”; “Playing Games”) along with Tommy Brown (“Ice Cream”; “boyfriend”), “Position’s” production sounds like a natural progression from the glittery trap of thank u, next into a more organic interpretation of R&B. The blend of guitar and a gorgeous string orchestra offer the perfect soundscape for Ariana’s intricately stacked harmonies and backing vocals. The guitar plucking is the backbone of the track, a direct reference to 90s R&B, while the underlying trap beat pushes the song forward. On the outro of “Positions” there are what sounds like filtered drums and hi-hats which recall the instrumental of Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna…” This similarity brings London On Da Track’s production full circle as one of his biggest songs, Summer Walker’s “Come Thru,” makes heavy use of a “You Make Me Wanna” sample. Of course, the strings add that trademark Ariana touch that has been there since the opening song on her debut album. There’s a lot going on with the song instrumentally, so it helps that the hook melody is so straightforward — and so incredibly catchy. This is where the pop side of “Positions” comes into play. This is a melody built for pop radio, it immediately lodges itself in your brain after first listen. “Positions” bears a few sonic similarities to the brighter moments on Justin Bieber’s Changes, but Ariana sounds more natural on this track. Between Sweetener, thank u, next, and “Positions,” Ariana has really honed her signature sound.
Ariana wrote “Positions” with Nija Charles (“No Guidance,” “Come Thru”) and the track falls in line with most of her love songs but with some added depth in maturity. She sings of a love so strong that it will have her figuratively switching positions between the domestic and work sphere and literally switching positions in the bedroom. All of this is laid out by the Dave Meyers-directed music video. Lyrically, the song isn’t really anything to write home about, but it does display some semblance of growth from the fun love and sex songs that populated her previous albums. The bridge, however, is particularly lackluster and while it doesn’t completely stunt the song’s momentum, it feels like a missed opportunity to do something greater. On a more positive note, the string arrangement during this part of the song is pretty great.
“Positions” is carried by Ariana’s confident cool and her relaxed demeanor on the track; she sounds right at home over the slow-burning production. Between the video and the strength of this song’s hook and melody, “Positions” is a smart lead single — especially if Ariana’s sixth album is truly as R&B-leaning as it has been rumored to be. This isn’t anywhere near her best song and she’s already proven that she’s capable of better. It may initially seem underwhelming, but after a few listens, it proves itself to be a truly solid track. All things considered, “Positions” is a winner and an enjoyable listen overall.