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Ariana Grande Grande demands her lover “just gimme them babies” amid the salacious sex talk of “34+35”.

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“I wish everybody the best of luck and if this is the career path they choose, hopefully they can achieve,” Mariah Carey said in a radio interview in 2014.]

 

It might help to imagine this lukewarm encouragement being spoken through clenched teeth and with taut knuckles — for Carey had just been asked about a singing newcomer who was being heralded as a “mini-Mariah”.

At that point, Ariana Grande had recently released her first album, Yours Truly. Her reputed four-octave range resembled a nimble battleship sailing up to the imposing aircraft carrier of Carey’s supposed five-octave voice.

Not only was Grande able to match the fluent swoops and trills of her childhood idol, she also excelled at mimicking Carey’s signature trick: the whistle register, the highest notes a soprano can reach. A new diva had arrived in US pop.

Her new album Positions returns to the Mariah-inspired tone of her debut. The style is smooth R&B and soul, with Grande’s voice fluting through slow jams as though she were both singer and lead instrumentalist.

Absent are what she has described as “the big, big, big pop records” that she made in the albums that followed Yours Truly.

“I kind of played the game for a little bit,” she explained in 2018. Buttressed by super-celebrity, she can now step outside that game. It appears to be a typically diva-like move — except that Positions calls into question the stereotype of the diva.

Since the rise of opera in the 18th century, the star soprano has been exoticised as a larger-than-life character whose volatile personal life and capricious sensibility are understood to match the vertiginous acrobatics of her magnificent voice.

But Grande, whose life underwent a traumatic transformation following the murderous terrorist attack at her Manchester concert in 2017, represents a different kind of diva.

Although Positions is full of elaborate singing, including numerous examples of the whistle register, Grande’s tone is unforced rather than loudly self-assertive.

The only time she permits herself a vocal belt is in the last song, “POV”. Sex and romance are the album’s main topics.

A traditional view of domesticity runs through them, such as when Grande demands her lover “just gimme them babies” amid the salacious sex talk of “34+35”.

Beneath these conventional themes lies the idea of balance. The diva-like behaviour she sings about in “Six Thirty” (“You know I’m very impatient/ Might change my mind so don’t keep me waiting”) is balanced by similar behaviour from the “possessive and crazy” man who she is addressing.

Meanwhile, guest singer The Weeknd shadows her vocal movements in the duet “Off the Table”, a display of complementary rather than competitive vocalising.

Languid beats and melodies keep musical drama at bay, which can make the songs seem unassuming.

Even the “earthquake” that Grande jokes about causing during a night of passion turns out to have a modest value on the Richter scale (“4.5 when I make the bed shake”). But the avoidance of drama is deliberate.

The album’s demonstration of vocal control and harmonising is designed to give the persona of the diva a positive new spin, as the exemplar of a well-adjusted, rounded life.

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