Months before the February 2019 release of thank u, next, Ariana Grande told Billboard she wanted to "put out music in the way a rapper does," meaning that she didn't want to be beholden to the strict release schedule of a pop singer. She wanted to release singles and albums as quickly as she recorded them, a modus operandi that seemed sensible when she delivered an album as vibrant as thank u, next, but when the album is as monochromatic as its swift sequel Positions, it's questionable. Grande designed Positions as mood music -- specifically, it's a soundtrack for long nights of sex. None of the glitz of "7 Rings" can be heard here, nor is there a sense of mischief. Positions is single-minded in its pursuit of carnality, an album devoted to Grande singing dirty over elastic, erotic slow jams. Her lyrics are often explicit, causing a slight tension with her vocals, which are always controlled and very rarely given to moments of sensuality; she never seems quite as carnal as the words she's singing. This cool, reserved vibe doesn't necessarily sabotage Grande's intent, as it does help maintain the mood. Such an intense, sustained focus does mean Positions succeeds in sounding sexy, but it doesn't do much outside of that: apart from the title track, few songs stand out individually, the rhythm and productions are all painted in shades of grey, and Grande disappears into the setting of her own design. Maybe this is the entire point of Positions -- it's meant to be sex music, nothing more, nothing less -- but the swift succession of albums suggests that Grande may be better off slowing her creative process down just enough to help sculpt the album into a soundtrack that has an ebb and flow instead of a single sustained thrum.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine