Ariana Grande’s Positions: a modern take on the Madonna-Whore complex and women’s sexual liberation

Even though the title could be for an academic dissertation, when I heard Grande’s newest studio album, the utter profoundness of her lyrics had my mind running wild with the psychological allusions (whether intentional or not). In essence, for anyone who hasn’t heard it, the album is complete with songs openly vocalising female sexual desire, significantly about the different roles one woman can play.

The link to Freud’s Madonna-Whore complex is evident. According to his theory, a man can face issues in a relationship when separating women into two categories: women to love and care for that is wives, mothers and lovers, or ‘degraded’ women to use for purely sexual pleasure, prostitutes for example. The argument posits that sexual relationships can face harsh consequences when men cannot view one woman as both, a romantic partner with whom to share their life and a sexual being. Ariana, almost as if in direct response, sings explicitly about her innate ability (and desire) to be both. She is quite literally switching the positions. One need look no further than the title track, Positions:

Boy, I’m tryna meet your mama on a Sunday
Then make a lotta love on a Monday (ah-ah)
Never need no (no), no one else, babe
‘Cause I’ll be

Switchin’ the positions for you
Cookin’ in the kitchen and I’m in the bedroom
I’m in the Olympics, way I’m jumpin’ through hoops
Know my love infinite, nothin’ I wouldn’t do
That I won’t do, switchin’ for you

She’s playing the role of the partner, meeting his parents, and loving him but switches, within the same line, to reference their sexual relationship – they ‘make a lot of love’ and she’s ‘in the bedroom.’ She tells of how he need not seek elsewhere for fulfilment, he needs ‘no one else’ and she is all he needs. The sexually progressive and liberating message is important for our society. Ariana speaks for women telling their partners how she is enough.

But the extent of her ground-breaking album message does not end there. Whilst she has never been one to shy away from sexually explicit lyrics (her collaboration with Nicki Minaj Side to Side, and the video where they both subtly ride bicycles), this album takes it a step further. Nasty certainly doesn’t keep her intentions implicit, and in 34+35, Ariana quite clearly says ‘it means I wanna 69 with you.’ Her album aids the idea that women should not have any embarrassment when it comes to discussing sex, which is such a strong message to send to impressionable young girls and women. Why should women be silent when it comes to the topic? The opening of her song, to illustrate:

You might think I’m crazy
The way I’ve been cravin’
If I put it quite plainly
Just get me them babies
So, what you doing tonight?
Better say, “Doin’ you right” (yeah)
Watching movies, but we ain’t seen a thing tonight (yeah)

I don’t wanna keep you up (you up)
But show me, can you keep it up? (It up?)
‘Cause then I’ll have to keep you up
Shit, maybe I’ma keep you up, boy

I think there are other elements of self-awareness and emotional sensitivity across the album. In POV, she sings about wanting to love herself as much as her partner loves her. My Hair explores her experience guiding her partner through how and where he can touch her, and in West Side, perhaps one of my favourite lines from the album – ‘there’s more love if you follow emotions.’

So you may dislike her, you may dislike her music, and you may even dislike this album, but what you cannot deny is that she is breaking taboos and shattering expectations of women.

Image by genius.com

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