Ariana Grande shocked fans last week following cryptic social-media dispatches hinting at new recordings with the announcement that her sixth album, the follow-up to the one-two punch of Sweetener and Thank U, Next, would be out by the end of the month. The lead single, “Positions,” hit Thursday night on the heels of a contentious final presidential debate where two elderly male candidates split hairs over their dramatically divergent visions for the future of the country but came to a rare consensus on the importance of fracking. That one common ground put both at odds with younger voters worried about the long-term environmental effects of the practice, and raises the question of why the job of president always falls to middle-aged men — the perfect lead-in to the “Positions” video’s exploration of how the White House might work with women in charge.
Throughout the clip, helmed by Dave Meyers (see: Ari’s “God Is a Woman” and “No Tears Left to Cry,” Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later,” and most of the classic Missy Elliott videos), Ari presides in Oval Offices and War Rooms serving Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis splendor alongside a cabinet and security detail full of familiar faces like collaborators Victoria Monet and Tayla Parx and her mother, Joan. Nighttime shots of Grande gliding wistfully through bedrooms and kitchens ties the song’s video to its lyrics, which toast to new romance.
Musically, “Positions” is delightfully simple, all strings, trap drums, and the barely audible sound of crickets chirping. At once, it calls to mind the tuneful sparseness of Ariana Grande’s own “Knew Better” and “Best Mistake,” the (perhaps too) streamlined production of Justin Bieber’s Changes, and the way Mariah Carey managed to bend and combine hip-hop, pop, and R&B sounds in the late ’90s. “Positions” swings like rap music but it’s also light, breezy, and short; that versatility should aid it on the charts. The involvement of Young Thug collaborator London on da Track is set to draw in casual hip-hop listeners Grande seemed to court through collaborations with Pharrell and 2 Chainz in the last couple of years while preserving her pliable pop sound and coyly blessing her gay fans, who were already editing themselves into the single art after it was posted this week, with a nod in the chorus line (“switching the positions for you”).
The reflexiveness of the lyric sheet is a reminder of how much thought can go into even the most unassuming pop tune, and the video’s further exploration of the themes in the song’s hook shows how a smart concept in the visual can open up new avenues in a song. Ariana Grande might not be in contention for president, but her run on the charts this fall will be a fun respite from that nightmare.