Positions: Decently Forgettable

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In these times, any new release of art or entertainment is comforting. With the Oct. 30 release of a new album from Ariana Grande, one of pop musics’ biggest names, that sentiment can be doubled. The album was a smash hit, crushing new records by having all 14 tracks chart on the Billboard Hot 100 with much fanfare. However, while the album does provide quick songs with beats to dance to and a notable vocal performance, it lacks the lyrical and musical substance to make it memorable. 

“Positions,” through and through, is a pop album, but it does try some interesting combinations. The album blends R&B with varying forms of hip-hop like mumble rap and trap influence. I believe that the overall vibe was, in my words, somewhere between soft electro-pop and energetic lofi hip-hop. All of this is to say that this album has fingers in many different pies, yet they all turned out the same. No single song on this album made a musical impression on me. While listening to it, I did frequently enjoy the backing tracks and beats of the songs. They made me want to get up and dance, and I think they conveyed intriguing musicality.  

Yet, as the moment the final notes faded away, I sat there, pen hovering over my notebook, ready to jot down my summative thoughts, I realized something: I didn’t have any. While in the moment, I may have felt an iota of something, or just bobbed my head, satisfied to be moving along with the music. Afterward, though, I had nothing left but a profound amount of emptiness. There were multiple songs in the album that did not hold my attention, what sparse interest the genre-bending could bring me was not enough to catch my ears. Only a few songs- “Just Like Magic,” “Off the Table,” “Pov”- got me thinking. But even then, the moment the track switched, anything I felt was immediately gone. 

So, “Positions” has me in a weird, well, position. How do you talk about an album that you have no thoughts on? Is this just my problem? Every time I sat back down to write this review, I felt as if there was some greater message, a secret door I was supposed to fall into, that I simply missed. Was it me? Did I miss the moment where I was given the key that unlocked that door? I do not think so. I think this album just served as a momentary distraction for those interested in it. Distracting as it was, it’s now infuriating as I linger, trying to piece together something of worth here. Because, as much as I disliked this album, very few things are without note or possible praise, and I do try to remain optimistic with my reviews, if harsh.

With that stated, it is important to know that not every song was an apathetic experience for me. I thought the idea behind “Off the table” was one of the stronger outings on this album. It deals with one of the central focuses of the album, love after grief, and the singer questions whether she is ready to truly love again. There is thick doubt and conflict through the lyrics, and with the ballad-like instrumentation, the song puts forth a clear expression of effort. Coupled with a decent feature performance by The Weeknd, the song stood out to me. The track “Pov” was also a lyrical highlight. With vocals that felt human, it was a breath of fresh air, even with its simple beat. It was a slow, ponderous song that built and built wonderfully. It had a simple meaning, but it was an agreeable song about accepting all of a person in a relationship. 

Still, while I can recognize the attempt to explore deeper themes on the album, most of the songs felt incredibly hollow. While Ariana Grande sang them very well- her vocal performance was a definite high to this album- many tracks just flew right through me, leaving me unmoved. If not for the instrumentals keeping this album some semblance of alive, I may have completely tuned everything out. 

The pandemic has created an extremely odd scene for the music industry as a whole. Concerts were canceled and live streams held in their place. Tours are relics of the past. Award shows have rearranged their usual acts. Albums have seen their entire life span set in quarantine. I was genuinely excited to start writing music reviews again once I saw releases begin to pick up. This album was unfortunately a letdown, both lyrically and musically. Still, there can be something said for its ability to completely take a person out of their mind, for better or worse. I just wish I enjoyed myself a little more while it happened.