Over the lightly plucked strings of Positions’s opening track, “shut up,” Ariana Grande sings, “All them demons help me see shit differently / So don’t be sad for me.” The self-assured lyrics swiftly address the emotional core of her two previous LPs, Sweetener and thank u, next, with a nonchalance meant to herald a new, more carefree era in the pop superstar’s music. For the most part, Positions is just that: A continuous slew of understated R&B beats paired with the bravura of Grande’s vocals, escaping track after track into the simple joys of vibing with someone you may not love, and having lots of sex with them, too.
Positions’s sonic cohesion, though, is its biggest weakness. Without the producing genius of Sweetener‘s Pharrell Williams—who made what could have been repetitive tracks into endlessly loopable listens—Grande too often breathily croons her lyrics over indistinguishable low-tempo riffs. “nasty” and “six-thirty” lack the sparse string arrangements that liven the album’s highlights, and are as forgettable in their sound as the one-night-stands that Grande sings about. In “34+35,” Grande coyly asks, “Can you stay up all night? / Fuck me ’til the daylight,” without the vocal acrobatics needed to keep the chorus’ unabashed sexuality exciting for the entire song. Sex is hardly new in Grande’s discography, but without the euphemistic playfulness and catchy hooks of past hits like “Side to Side” and “Into You,” too much of Positions overstates its horniness to the point of boredom.
The album’s best moments, then, are featured when Grande explores the more personal sentiments underlying Positions’s flirtations. On “off the table,” a more cautious Grande sings about the uncertainties of finding love again until she rushes to the end of her chorus with, “Just want to know, is love completely off the table?” framing the line more like a desire than a question. In these brief moments, songs like “pov” and “safety net” feature the same earnest lyricism that cast doubt on Positions’s easygoing attitude, though the sincerity of Grande’s singing can equally be found in the album’s lighter tracks. Like a breath of fresh air to the LP’s dull assembly, “my hair” is a jazzy, tongue-in-cheek bop where Grande flexes her vocal range as she sings about letting her hair down for a lover. The song’s subject matter is a clever and intimate reversal of the singer’s most publicized feature—and unlike so much of Positions, Grande finally seems to be embracing her album’s concept, letting loose and just having fun with it.