Ariana Grande’s New Single “positions”: Heteronormative Burnout or Empowerment Anthem?
Before the sea of Ariana Grande fans comes after me, I want to make it clear that I would elect Ariana Grande, with my mail-in voting ballot, as pop queen president. Last night my girlfriend and I watched “positions” from our bed, which prompted a ten-minute examination of heteronormative undertones that hold women to different standards than men. It’s worth asking, is this a song a straight man would ever sing? I am weary of the rhetoric of empowerment that marries women to a never-ending to-do list and certain requirements of being in a heterosexual relationship.
As a queer woman, my partner and I are in daily conversation about the dishes that soak in the sink, work balance and the vulnerability of intimacy. We never have to assume roles. Our roles are in continual flux because we don’t need to prove our merit as superwomen. Ariana, as a straight woman, has a responsibility to critically examine her language and ideas of female empowerment. The palatable ideas that women in positions of power regurgitate affirm a comfortable, less revolutionary feminism to the masses.
Anne Marie Slaughter, the first women director of policy planning at the State Department questions the boss bitch feminist chant “you can have it all!” Slaughter notes that “almost all [professional women] assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.” Grande’s new single glorifies the already exhausting expectations of women to lead important meetings, sweat over meals, and all the while remaining a bombshell that exudes constant sex appeal. What if western-centric feminism wasn’t about exhausting ourselves to the point of burnout or upholding unspoken heteronormative rules?
Ariana is one of the most notable and influential artists who consequentially holds a lot of sway with young women. Women gobble up any you go girl, reach for the stars, shatter the glass ceiling anthem that often enables men to reap the rewards of current pop feminism. If you tell women they can do everything, then what are men doing? Does her “love infinite” justify buying into the traditional heteronormative division of labour in a relationship. Grande tries to acknowledge her agency as she sings, that “this is some shit I usually don’t do, but for you, I kinda, kinda want to.” I would have loved for her to talk about a gendered role reversal, share what your man does for you, Ari! Although Ariana acknowledges how she gets tired of the running, it seems that to be in a stable partnership justifies a new type of running.
I’m not here to cancel Ariana Grande, as we’ve got to stop doing that. Conversations around mass media, the dominant, often heterosexual narrative, need to be questioned and picked apart bit by bit. Just like the “positions” video flips the song’s visuals on its head, we should be doing the same with any pop feminism song, even one from our beloved Ariana Grande.