Ariana Grande, "Positions" (Republic)
Staying home doesn't appear to have been a disappointment for Grande. In song after song on her very horny new album, the pop star exults in the intimate possibilities of a quiet night (or 200) in quarantine.
Singing about sex is nothing novel — not for pop stars in general nor specifically for Grande. On "Positions," though, the bedroom setting registers as more than a fulfillment of her obligation to titillate; her focus feels like an inward turn after the intense scrutiny documented on Grande's two previous LPs: 2018's "Sweetener," which followed the terrorist bombing of her Manchester, England, concert, and last year's "Thank U, Next," which grappled with ex-boyfriend/rapper Mac Miller's sudden death and with her breakup with comedian Pete Davidson.
Sex as represented on her sixth album is an act of tenderness and enveloping — and also monogamy. In many songs here, Grande, 27, describes home as a kind of cocoon for two: a place to play video games at 2 a.m., as she puts it in "Six Thirty," or the sanctuary in "Nasty." For someone so skilled at using social media to cultivate fans' interest in her personal life, it's striking — and more than a little moving — to hear her dreaming of seclusion.
"Positions" opens with "Shut Up," an orchestral-pop number in which Grande tells off people too concerned with her life. Though her subject matter shifts after "Shut Up," the song's Disney-like strings carry through "Positions," which is brighter and sprightlier than the comparatively bleary "Thank U, Next." At times, the tidy arrangements recall her 2013 debut. Her singing, too, strikes a throwback note, with less of the almost-rapping heard on songs like "7 Rings" and more of the fluid R&B melisma she inherited from Mariah Carey (witness the acrobatic vocals of "My Hair").
"Positions" closes with one of its strongest tracks, "POV," a pretty, pillowy ballad in which Grande longs to see herself through her lover's eyes. It's a welcome frisson on a record about humanity's oldest pastime — and a reminder that every couple is a world unto itself.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
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