If one word describes Ariana Grande, it’s graceful. She seems to move through the music industry, fame, and life with the same ease with which she sings. Most vocal divas want you to feel their work, the sheer difficulty of singing like they do. But Ariana just sounds effortless. She might have a four-octave vocal range, but she’s just as known for her restraint.
With a voice like hers, Ariana could have been a star in any decade -- from the golden age of Hollywood to the doo-wop era, ’70s disco to ’90s R&B, she’s sung it all. She’s found seemingly countless ways to deliver ballads and love songs, her bread and butter. But her outlook is thoroughly modern -- many of her biggest chart hits have been uptempo dance or hip-hop inflected tracks.
At just 25 years old, Grande’s already proven able to move deftly through the gamut of 2010s pop trends. She’s been a muse to everyone from Max Martin to Pharrell, Zedd, Babyface, Cashmere Cat, even Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown. But Ariana’s an artist, songwriter and A&R too; she assembles her albums with near-impeccable taste.
Released in 2013, Yours Truly was one of the most distinctive debut albums of the decade, channeling ’50s doo-wop and ’90s R&B into a romantic sound all Ariana’s own. Her 2014 sophomore LP My Everything crossed her over into modern top 40 pop, as high-profile collaborations with Iggy Azalea, Jessie J, Nicki Minaj and The Weeknd made Grande a household name. And 2016’s Dangerous Woman saw Ariana come into her own as a pop A-lister, tackling a diverse range of musical styles -- trap, reggae, deep house, musical theater -- with a newfound level of vocal confidence.
By 2018, Ariana Grande feels like more than a vocalist -- she’s assumed the mantle of role model and cultural icon, too. “No Tears Left to Cry”, the first single from Grande’s fourth album Sweetener, came as her first release since her 2017 concert at Manchester Arena tragically ended in a bombing attack that killed 23 and left hundreds more injured. Channeling the spirit of classic disco with the song, Ariana looked to the past to live in the present. On Sweetener, she came full circle, with a more mature take on her debut’s youthful, idealistic R&B.
Less than six months later, she’s followed it up with Thank U, Next -- a darker, more conflicted sequel that reflects on her whirlwind personal life, including the untimely death of her ex, rapper Mac Miller. After all she’s endured in the public eye, Ariana Grande has become an avatar of resilience for our tumultuous times, and somewhat improbably, the most buzzed-about pop star of the late 2010s. When all is said and done, there’s no better time than now to look back on her already-formidable catalogue.
This list includes every commercially available Ariana song -- five studio albums, bonus tracks, features and musical theater numbers. But it excludes remixes, YouTube covers, SoundCloud exclusives, and some live tracks from One Love Manchester, which have since disappeared from iTunes and streaming services. That leaves us with a surprisingly robust 116 songs, only a handful of which are outright bad -- with a solid top 70, and a near-flawless top 40.
116. “U R What You Eat” (Salad Bar, Matisyahu, Travis Barker, Ariana Grande & The Veggies, Songs for a Healthier America, 2013)
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! children’s health initiative did not, unfortunately, produce listenable music. And no, I don’t know who “Salad Bar” and “The Veggies” are either.
115. “A Little More Homework” (Graham Phillips & Ariana Grande, 13: Original Broadway Cast Recording, 2008)
The 15-year-old Ariana Grande made her professional debut in 13, written by Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown. It was billed as the first Broadway musical with a cast entirely made up of teenagers -- and while it may have worked on the stage, it doesn’t quite translate on record. “A Little More Homework” is about, of course, growing up, but it keeps coming back to its cliched homework metaphor. A barely recognizable Ariana shows up for a much-needed bridge.
114. “Over and Over Again” (Nathan Sykes feat. Ariana Grande, Unfinished Business deluxe edition bonus track, 2016)
On their second musical collaboration, Ariana and her ex-boyfriend, Nathan Sykes of The Wanted fame, deliver a wet blanket of a piano duet where every line is a different cliché. Ariana only appears on the single remix, but even her voice can’t salvage it.
113. “Brand New You” (Brynn Williams, Ariana Grande & Caitlin Gann, 13: Original Broadway Cast Recording, 2008)
Ariana takes two solos on “Brand New You”, her biggest feature on 13, which ends the musical with a gospel-style climax. “Brand New You” is charming, sure, but it’s hard to imagine it appealing to anyone over the age of 13.
112. “Too Close” (My Everything Target exclusive bonus track, 2014)
One of several bonus tracks on My Everything that feels like a Yours Truly leftover. The R&Bass sound of “Too Close” has nothing on the two songs it quotes -- Mariah Carey’s “I’ve Been Thinking About You,“ and curiously, Fatman Scoop’s “Be Faithful.”
111. “You Don’t Know Me” (My Everything deluxe edition bonus track, 2014)
A bonus track about being misunderstood by the media -- a message Ariana would later deliver in more compelling fashion.
110. “Cadillac Song” (My Everything Target exclusive bonus track, 2014)
It feels fluffy and nostalgic like cotton candy, but by 2014, Ariana had already outgrown this outtake.
109. “Research” (Big Sean ft. Ariana Grande, Dark Sky Paradise deluxe edition bonus track, 2015)
One of Big Sean’s pettiest, least-charming songs, where Ariana sings a hook so lightweight it barely registers. “Research” has none of the chemistry of the one-time pop power couple’s previous two collaborations.
108. “Intro” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
“Only comes one time a year…/ Let me sneak into your speakers”, sings Ariana, briefly welcoming you to her more modern, downtempo second Christmas EP.
107. “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” (Original Television Cast of Hairspray Live!, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event, 2016)
A cute, ‘50s-styled pop song about growing up from NBC’s Hairspray Live! production.
106. “Zero to Hero” (We Love Disney, 2015)
Ariana covered this Hercules highlight for the We Love Disney tribute album. But for once, her voice isn’t big enough to handle it -- her version doesn’t compare to the sassy original.
105. “This Is Not a Feminist Song” (Saturday Night Live Cast feat. Ariana Grande, non-album single, 2016)
Ariana’s first time hosting SNL was a blast -- and this is a genuinely funny satire of how hard it is to fit political representation into three-minute pop songs. (“This is not a feminist song/ So technically it can’t be wrong!”) But Ariana, unlike the cast, plays it totally straight -- unfortunately not using any of her old Nickelodeon comedic chops.
104. “Hands on Me” (feat. A$AP Ferg, My Everything, 2014)
The weakest official track on any of Ariana’s albums, “Hands on Me” is a dissonant, mostly unconvincing attempt at a sex jam. Not only do Ariana and A$AP Ferg have no chemistry, neither of their voices belong on Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins’ beat -- she sounds too airy, and he too goofy to take seriously. Maybe Destiny’s Child could have pulled it off in 1999, but not Ariana Grande in 2014.
103. “Winter Things” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
“Winter Things” closes Christmas & Chill with a summery ukulele ditty, Ariana dreaming of a white Christmas.
102. “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” (My Everything, 2014)
Co-written by Harry Styles, this piano ballad grinds My Everything’s string of pop bangers to a halt. The song’s pretty, but the lyrics (“I can’t find the words to say what I mean”) merely scratch the surface of Ariana’s heartbreak.
101. “They Don’t Know” (Trolls: Original Motion PIcture Soundtrack, 2016)
Taken from DreamWorks’ Trolls, “They Don’t Know” was co-written and produced by Justin Timberlake -- though you wouldn’t guess just from hearing it. “They Don’t Know” is no “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” -- just the kind of perfectly adequate children’s soundtrack song Ariana could record in her sleep.
100. “Boys Like You” (Who Is Fancy ft. Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor, non-album single, 2015)
This is a unique idea -- an ode to cute boys, sung by a gay man and two straight women. But the singsongy end result feels too much like a children’s novelty song. And Meghan and Ariana don’t even get to have a sing-off!
99. “Faith” (Stevie Wonder ft. Ariana Grande, Sing: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2016)
A collaboration between these two promises so much. But “Faith”, from the animated film Sing, is too overproduced for them to have much chemistry -- like a Glee tribute to Little Richard.
98. “Put Your Hearts Up” (non-album track, 2011)
Ariana’s long-forgotten debut single isn’t a bad song, but it was totally wrong for her. With a chorus that quoted “What’s Up”, 4 Non Blondes’ 90s alt-rock power ballad, “Put Your Hearts Up” was a motivational anthem that immediately typecast her as a bubblegum-pop tween starlet. Ariana stopped promoting the song, and later called called it “inauthentic and fake… the worst moment of my life.” The Ariana Grande we know has always had good taste in songs, in part because the failure of “Put Your Hearts Up” motivated her to do better.
97. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” (Original Television Cast of Hairspray Live!, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event, 2016)
The penultimate song on Hairspray Live! is a raucous, uptempo Motown pastiche that celebrates racial integration -- how can you possibly hate it?
96. “December” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
A Christmas & Chill track with a skittering, DJ Mustard-style R&Bass beat.
95. “Not Just on Christmas” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
The one truly old-fashioned song on Christmas & Chill, where Ariana proclaims that she’ll love her boy 365 days a year.
94. “True Love” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
Ariana rewrites “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a twinkling R&B jam that’s, mercifully, just half the length of the original.
93. “Step on Up” (Dangerous Woman Target exclusive bonus track, 2016)
A funky, drum-heavy Dangerous Woman track in the Rich Harrison-like vein of “Crazy in Love” and “1 Thing,” though it can’t compete with either of those modern classics.
92. “Without Love” (Original Television Cast of Hairspray Live!, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event, 2016)
“Now I’ve tasted chocolate and I’m never going back”, sings Ariana’s cheerleader Penny, as her African-American boyfriend Seaweed unties her from a bed. John Waters probably loved this song.
91. “Arturo Sandoval” (Arturo Sandoval & Pharrell Williams feat. Ariana Grande, Ultimate Duets, 2018)
On a track written and produced by Pharrell, the legendary Cuban-American jazz musician Arturo Sandoval pays tribute to his decades-long musical legacy. Combining hip-hop 808s with traditional Latin jazz instrumentation, “Arturo Sandoval” evokes just a fraction of his tumultuous life story, but Ariana and Pharrell narrate it with an understated sense of grandeur: “Arturo Sandoval and the story that he tells/ Reminds me/ Of El Dorado...”
90. "Focus” (Dangerous Woman Japanese edition bonus track, originally released as a single in 2015)
“Focus” was the original first single from Ariana’s third album Dangerous Woman, but it turned out to be a rewrite of “Problem” -- only wackier, and inferior in every way. Instead of Big Sean and Iggy Azalea, an uncredited Jamie Foxx provides a bewildering Ray Charles impression. Sure, it was catchy, but “Focus” was more meme than song. The rare outright flub in Grande’s catalogue, “Focus” -- like “Put Your Hearts Up” -- pushed her next album in the opposite direction, for the better.
89. “Wit It This Christmas” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
Christmas & Chill’s best song cheekily asks, “Are you down for some of these milk and cookies?” Surprisingly, Ariana’s wouldn't explore this sound further until Sweetener -- jazzy chords, strings and hip-hop beats, almost a neo-soul vibe.
88. “Almost Is Never Enough” (with Nathan Sykes, Yours Truly, 2013)
Sykes and Grande briefly dated in 2013, and this soulful Yours Truly piano ballad prematurely mourns the death of their relationship. It’s elegantly written and sung, though Sykes can’t match Ariana’s vocal fireworks.
87. "Santa Baby” (feat. Liz Gillies, Christmas Kisses, 2013)
There are notoriously few good versions of “Santa Baby”, but at least Ariana’s is laugh-out-loud funny -- she almost sounds like she’s making fun of the song itself. Liz Gillies, a longtime friend, plays the husky alto to Grande’s breathy soprano.
86. “All My Love” (Major Lazer feat. Ariana Grande, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2014)
Ariana’s contributes a solid EDM-pop song to the Lorde-curated Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack, but Major Lazer’s harsh drop doesn’t quite match Grande’s sugary vocals.
85. “E Più Ti Penso” (Andrea Bocelli with Ariana Grande, Cinema, 2015)
Ariana duets with classical tenor Andrea Bocelli in Italian, on this cover of an Ennio Morricone composition from the 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America. Today’s pop stars rarely attempt this kind of classical crossover, but Bocelli’s tenor gels perfectly with Grande’s soprano. Syrupy, but heartfelt.
84. “Better Left Unsaid” (Yours Truly, 2013)
The final track on Yours Truly opens as an orchestral ballad, then abruptly becomes an EDM-lite banger in the chorus. The two styles don’t mix, but “Better Left Unsaid” paved the way for many more credible dance tracks of Grande’s to come.
83. “L.A. Boyz” (Victorious Cast feat. Victoria Justice & Ariana Grande, Victorious 3.0: Even More Music from the Hit TV Show, 2012)
“L.A. Boyz” melds bubblegum, electro and power-pop into a relentlessly catchy song from Nickelodeon’s Victorious. Victoria Justice owns the verses, but Ariana nails the soaring high harmonies in the chorus.
82. “Popular Song” (with Mika, Yours Truly, 2013)
“Popular Song” has an odd lineage: originally a Kristen Chenoweth solo from Wicked, it was rewritten by Mika for his 2012 album, then remixed again for Ariana’s Yours Truly. It doesn’t really fit on the album -- Mika’s musical sensibility is more juvenile than Ariana’s. But it’s as charming as it is silly, and the Tim Burton-esque video is, well, wickedly funny.
81. “Beauty and the Beast” (Ariana Grande and John Legend, Beauty and the Beast: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2017)
Angela Lansbury’s original, featured in Disney’s 1991 film, is the best song ever sung by a teapot. But Grande and Legend’s cover is a worthy, if restrained, take on Céline Dion and Peabo Bryson’s pop duet version.
80. “Love Is Everything” (Christmas Kisses, 2013)
This track from the Christmas Kisses EP finds Ariana doing an uncanny Mariah impression. Over “Little Drummer Boy”-inspired snares, she nails the exact breathy tone of Mariah’s high register -- though the song itself doesn’t reach the heights of “All I Want for Christmas Is You”.
79. "Give It Up” (Victorious Cast feat. Elizabeth Gillies & Ariana Grande, Victorious: Music from the Hit TV Show, 2011)
Another Victorious cut that’s aged surprisingly well. Ariana sings this Xtina-lite song with a deeper, brassier tone than we’re used to -- but aside from one enormous vocal run, Liz Gillies is the star of this one. Ariana wouldn’t be long for the Nickelodeon machine, but their team could write a hell of a teen pop banger.
78. “Borderline” (feat. Missy Elliott, Sweetener, 2018)
With its jazzy, airy synth chords and West Coast hip-hop drums, “Borderline” feels like a throwback to the My Everything bonus tracks “Only 1” and “You Don’t Know Me.” “You know I’m the wifey type, babe.../ Once you tastin’ my ice cream, I bet you won’t ever leave,” sings Ariana, playfully insistent on settling down with her lover. Originally a Missy Elliott solo cut, her presence is always welcome -- but her guest verse doesn’t outshine Ariana, either. Even so, “Borderline” doesn’t quite fit on Sweetener, and it’s too ephemeral to leave much of a lasting impression.
77. “Snow in California” (Christmas Kisses, 2013)
With its acoustic guitar and finger clicks, this Christmas Kisses track sounds more than a little like Céline Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” It’s a silly premise: Ariana prays to Santa for snow, to delay her lover’s departure flight after the holidays -- but she’s so committed that it’s genuinely moving.
76. "Make Up" (Thank U, Next, 2019)
“Make Up” seems like one of the more joyful songs on Thank U, Next, but it’s about intentionally provoking a lover into makeup sex -- “I’m stayin’ mad all day so we can let it out tonight!” But even through all the ups and downs of their relationship, Ariana knows everything will turn out okay. She won’t lose her shine -- “highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit.” Thank U, Next is full of little gems like “Make Up,” built around mellow reggae beats. Still, at less that two and a half minutes, it’s arguably the most lightweight song on the album.
75. “The Wizard and I” (Wicked [15th Anniversary Special Edition], 2019)
Ariana Grande first performed “The Wizard and I,” Wicked’s signature showcase for Idina Menzel, as a young teenager. Back then, she was a prodigy with Broadway aspirations -- her vocal strength was already astonishing. Years later, she’s carved a very different path as a popstar, with a more soulful, almost unrecognizably different voice.
Recorded live for NBC’s A Very Wicked Halloween special, Ariana delivers a solid, though not quite spectacular rendition of “The Wizard and I.” She’s long since lost her theater-trained enunciation, but still seems totally at home within a Broadway-style setting. It’s worth watching just to see the visibly moved kids in the audience -- no doubt inspired by Ariana, the same way she was by Idina Menzel.
74. “My Favorite Part” (Mac Miller feat. Ariana Grande, The Divine Feminine, 2016)
Mac Miller’s transformation from slacker rapper to neo-soul crooner was one of the strangest in recent memory. The lyrics are a bit too “What Makes You Beautiful,” but the vibe’s lovely, and the now-ex couple had obvious musical chemistry.
73. "Everytime" (Sweetener, 2018)
“Why, oh why does God keep bringing me back to you?” pleads Ariana, unable to stay away from a toxic, yet irresistible relationship. Should she fight it, or give in? “Everytime” has no answers -- she just goes “back to you, back to you, back to you everytime.” A behind-the-scenes Instagram video gave us a glimpse of Ariana’s stunning ad-libs in the studio, but the rest of the Max Martin and Ilya-produced track feels, perhaps, a little too familiar. “Everytime” could’ve fit nicely on Dangerous Woman, but lacks the sizzle of Sweetener’s very best.
72. “Only 1” (My Everything deluxe edition bonus track, 2014)
“Only 1” is one of Ariana’s best bonus tracks. Over a boom-bap beat reminiscent of Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push,” Ariana gently matures past Yours Truly’s tales of infatuation: “I ain’t saying that I’m not deserving of you/ But I was dreaming bigger than I ever knew”.
71. “Lovin’ It” (Yours Truly, 2013)
“Lovin’ It” is a goofy but charming album cut driven by a jazzy piano vamp. How many different ways can Ariana sing “loving you” in the chorus?
70. “Bed” (Nicki Minaj ft. Ariana Grande, Queen, 2018)
Nicki Minaj doesn’t mince words. “Bed” leaves the come-hithers to Ariana -- “Got a bed wit’ your name on it…/ Got a kiss wit’ your name on it” -- while Nicki does the heavy lifting. “Waitin’ for you on some thousand dollar sheets/ I got Carter III on repeat,” raps Minaj, offering the most luxurious of experiences. Nothing but the best for two queens -- though musically, “Bed” is easily the slightest of their now five collaborations.
69. "Better Off" (Sweetener, 2018)
One of Sweetener’s two breakup songs, “Better Off” was written about Ariana’s decaying relationship with Mac Miller. “I’d rather your body than half of your heart,” sings Ariana, looking back on the ups and downs of their lives together while she prolongs their inevitable breakup. The song’s wistful, lullaby-like beat ends with an achingly brief glimpse of “Honeymoon Avenue”-style strings, denying us the happily-ever-after we crave.
68. “Why Try” (My Everything, 2014)
Co-written and produced by Ryan Tedder, “Why Try” is the rare Ariana ballad that might actually go too big: “Now we’re screaming just to see who’s louder,” she belts in the chorus. It’s all melodrama, but the hushed verses and bridge are more compelling.
67. “Daydreamin’” (Yours Truly, 2013)
This Yours Truly cut was recorded in 2012, when Ariana was just 17. Over doo-wop backing vocals and a light hip-hop beat, Ariana fantasises “about you, you, and only you”, before drifting off into her dreams. “Daydreamin’“ is an ode to a young crush, but the song closes on a tale of lifelong love, with a clip of her grandparents telling the story of how they met.
66. “Heatstroke” (Calvin Harris ft. Young Thug, Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, 2017)
On 2017's Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, Calvin Harris pulled a DJ Khaled, hiring an all-star cast of vocalists to vamp over his disco-funk tracks. Between Young Thug and Pharrell’s tradeoffs, Ariana unfurls a soothing bridge, like a gentle breeze on a summer’s day.
65. "What Do You Mean? (Remix)" (Justin Bieber & Ariana Grande, Purpose iTunes preorder bonus track, 2015)
Bieber’s original was one of the best pop songs of 2015, but it wasn’t written as a duet: “What Do You Mean?” should feel lonely, fragile, and Ariana’s adlibs add too much. Ariana’s version would’ve worked better as a straight cover -- and indeed, this fanmade solo edit feels just right.
64. "Leave Me Lonely” (feat. Macy Gray, Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Ariana Grande and Macy Gray couldn’t sound more different, but Gray’s husky contralto is a perfect foil for Ariana’s pure soprano. On this bleak torch song from Dangerous Woman, Gray plays Grande’s conscience, begging her to walk away from a toxic lover.
63. "Fake Smile" (Thank U, Next, 2019)
“Fake Smile” is the flipside of “No Tears Left to Cry” -- let her cry if she wants to! Whether she’s feeling anxious in public or scrolling through her timeline, being Ariana Grande isn’t easy: “I read the things they write about me.../ But every now and then it’s shocking, don’t blame me,” she sings in the second verse. The song’s lite-reggae vibes have none of the suffering-from-success woes of, say, Drake or The Weekend --it’s simply about being honest with yourself, whoever you are. “Fake Smile” might be Ariana’s definitive statement on her social media-era fame, but it’s not quite as memorable a song as the very best of Thank U, Next.
62. “I Don’t Care” (Dangerous Woman deluxe edition bonus track, 2016)
As the lightest song on Dangerous Woman, “I Don’t Care” could easily be mistaken for a Yours Truly-era soul throwback. But it’s a touch sassier -- “If I can’t be me, the fuck’s the point?” Ariana gently croons, letting go of other people’s preconceptions of her.
61. “Raindrops (An Angel Cried)” (Sweetener, 2018)
Sweetener’s opening track is, amazingly, Ariana’s only solo a cappella performance on record. On “Raindrops,” she sings just one chorus of The Four Seasons’ “An Angel Cried,” turning a doo-wop breakup song into a breathtaking lament. Ariana’s voice is just as haunting as the cavernous silence that surrounds her. In a coincidence that seems like fate, she learned after recording her version that Charlie Calello, one of the song’s writers, was a close friend of her late grandfather. “Raindrops” is just 38 seconds long, but the song and its video provide an essential foundation for the rest of Sweetener’s emotional journey.
60. "Pete Davidson" (Sweetener, 2018)
Ariana Grande and SNL star Pete Davidson lasted just five months, but in that time, they got engaged, got matching tattoos, and in the most permanent move of all, she named a song after him. To some, that (correctly) rang alarm bells, but never fear: “Pete Davidson” is a sweet, universal love song that transcends the relationship that inspired it. In just over a minute, Ariana sings “happy” 25 times, so you know she means it. “Pete Davidson” is the very essence of Sweetener -- why not do what feels true to you right now?
59. “Jason’s Song (Gave It Away)” (Target exclusive bonus track, 2016)
Named for the song’s co-writer Jason Robert Brown, “Jason’s Song” reunites the 13 composer and Ariana on this critique of modern celebrity culture, with a sense of humor: “You focused your frustration on a small detail/ Blew it out of scale, like my ponytail.” Grande and Brown have performed together several times, including the definitive rendition of “Jason’s Song” on The Tonight Show -- featuring The Roots, and a ferocious jazz piano solo by Brown.
58. “My Everything” (My Everything, 2014)
“My Everything” brings the album full circle, using the intro’s chords and arrangement to tell a tale of regret. “Now that he’s gone, my heart is missing something/ So it’s time I push my pride away,” confesses Ariana -- nothing matters but the lover she’s lost. The song’s since taken on new significance: After the death of her grandfather, Ariana dedicated the song to him on her Honeymoon Tour, and she memorably performed it with the Parrs Wood High School Choir at One Love Manchester.
57. “Intro” (My Everything, 2014)
A gorgeous, “Pure Imagination”-inspired hymn, “Intro” cheekily leads into “Problem” -- a song that’s anything but sweet. A little of the old Yours Truly magic, before something totally new.
56. “Last Christmas” (Christmas Kisses, 2013)
Wham!’s iconic Christmas single has been covered countless times since 1984, but no one really remembers the verses. Ariana’s version is one of the few that attempts an original interpretation, rewriting the verses for her own voice -- an audacious choice that succeeds completely.
55. "Bloodline" (Thank U, Next, 2019)
Ariana gets sassier with each new album, and this is the latest incarnation -- an ode to wanting someone in your bed, but not your “Bloodline.” Over live horns and “Side to Side”-like reggae bass guitar, Ariana sets firm boundaries: “Get it like you love me/ But you don't, boy, it's just for show.” Where’s the fun in overthinking it? But even in a song as light as this, there’s insight into her newfound emotional maturity: “I know what you looking for, but I’m complete.”
54. "Goodnight n Go" (Sweetener, 2018)
With a completely rewritten first verse, “Goodnight n Go” doesn’t reveal itself to be an Imogen Heap cover until the chorus. “It’s always say goodnight and go,” sings Ariana, dreaming of a hookup who’s oblivious to her desire for a deeper connection. Imogen Heap is Ariana’s all-time favorite artist, and her influence is all over Ariana’s music -- the twinkling production, the ethereal vocal harmonies behind every song. Ariana’s is a worthy cover, with its more angelic vocals, Purity Ring trap synths, and a very 2018 future-bass drop -- but it lacks the heart-skipping, nervous quality of the original. Ariana sounds more confident, but Heap’s “Goodnight & Go” embodies the feeling of first infatuation like few other songs; the moment when real life takes a left turn into a heightened, magical realm.
53. “Sometimes” (Dangerous Woman deluxe edition bonus track, 2016)
Ariana often sings about falling head-over-heels in love, but “Sometimes” takes a gentler approach. Over acoustic verses, synthy choruses, and a stunning, vocoder-driven bridge, Ariana sings wistfully about a relationship that just works -- because love shouldn’t have to be so difficult.
52. “Let Me Love You” (feat. Lil Wayne, Dangerous Woman, 2016)
A desperate, lonely tale of post-breakup sex, Ariana coos sweet nothings she doesn’t entirely believe. “Just let me lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-love you”, goes the chorus, her voice broken up by digital effects -- she can’t make a connection. The only thing that brings it down is a raunchy Lil Wayne verse that leaves too little to the imagination: “She grinding on this Grande, oh lord/ I’m drowning, I’m gon’ need that coast guard.”
51. “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)” (Ariana Grande & Jennifer Hudson, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event, 2016)
NBC’s Hairspray Live! concludes with a hell of an encore; a celebration of civil rights, and a reminder that progress is never finished. But it’s also an excuse to stage a sing-off between two of pop’s biggest voices, and boy, do they deliver.
50. “The Light Is Coming” (ft. Nicki Minaj, Sweetener, 2018)
The first taste of several Pharrell cowrites on Ariana's fourth LP Sweetener, Williams’ minimalist touch is instantly recognizable. “The Light Is Coming” feels like a continuation of N.E.R.D.’s 2017 album No_One Ever Really Dies, which took a globalist approach to combining hip-hop, dance music and idealistic politics.
Ariana’s “big sister” Nicki Minaj handles the opening verse with ease, but this is bold new territory for Ariana herself -- we’ve rarely heard her bring her pipes to such a melodically fragmented song. For once, she lets the track’s offbeat rhythms shape her voice, not the other way around. “The light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole,” raps Ariana over and over, a mantra for our conflicted times.
49. “Thinking Bout You” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Each of Ariana’s first three albums albums closes with a song about a former love: “Better Left Unsaid,” “My Everything.” But unlike its predecessors, “Thinkin Bout You” ends Dangerous Woman without a sense of closure: “I don’t have you here with me/ But at least I have the memory.” The last chorus is triumphant, but ends abruptly -- will they get back together? Who knows?
47. “Best Mistake” (feat. Big Sean, My Everything, 2014)
The most mature song on My Everything, “Best Mistake” was a first for Ariana. Like a Broadway ballad with Drake production, “Best Mistake” stays quiet where most of her songs go big. Even Big Sean’s verse is unusually restrained. She confesses her feelings for an on-and-off paramour: “Can we please make up our minds/ And stop acting like we’re blind?” She answers her own question: “There’s no pot of gold in the rainbows we chase/ But we hold on…”
47. “Tattooed Heart” (Yours Truly, 2013)
“I wanna say we’re going steady/ Like it’s 1954”, sings Ariana on “Tattooed Heart”, the best pure doo-wop cut on Yours Truly. Her vocal gifts are timeless, but the hip-hop hi-hats bring the song firmly into 2013.
46. “You’ll Never Know” (Yours Truly, 2013)
One of the few songs on Yours Truly that hints at heartbreak, about a former lover who wants her back. But Ariana has no regrets. The track’s skittering R&B is gentle, but her lyrics are firm: “You can wish a thousand times/ But none of that will change my mind, boy.”
45. "Successful" (Sweetener, 2018)
Don’t let Pharrell’s signature four-beat intro deceive you -- “Successful” is no “Blurred Lines.” In fact, it’s a celebration of women: “And girl, you too, you are so young/ And beautiful and so successful, yeah/ I’m so successful!” Much of Sweetener is an exercise in humility, but on “Successful,” Ariana appreciates how far she’s come in her life and career, while seducing her man at the same time. The track has an almost ASMR-like effect, accentuating the hiss of hi-hats, breaths, and every stray “s” syllable -- an unlikely callback to Pharrell’s beat for Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Like Ariana says, “issa surprise.”
44. "In My Head" (Thank U, Next, 2019)
“I thought you into my life/ Look at my mind,” sang Ariana on Sweetener’s lovestruck “Pete Davidson.” Just six months later, she refutes herself with “In My Head”: “Painted a picture, I thought I knew you well/ I got a habit of seeing what isn't there.” Instead of simply blaming her ex for a failed relationship, she lays out a mutual case of mistaken identity. “In My Head” sounds dreamy, but it’s a stark confession -- especially for a woman who’s spent much of her discography fantasizing about romance. It’s not easy to explore emotional ambiguity in a pop song, but on Sweetener and Thank U, Next, Ariana’s emerged as a sophisticated songwriter in her own right. “It was all in my head,” she sings in the chorus -- drawing out the last word into 11 ascending syllables, as if she’s throwing her regrets into the void.
43. “7 Rings” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
Ariana’s third Thank U, Next advance cut was inspired by a real-life shopping spree at Tiffany’s, where she bought diamond friendship rings for her and six of her closest friends. No trap remake of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” should work, but “7 Rings” just clicks: In both the song and the Hannah Lux Davis-directed video, Ariana nails the cutesy-trap aesthetic that so many other white-girl influencers have tried and failed to make theirs. In the third verse, she pulls off a triplet flow like she’s her own guest rapper: “Ain't got enough money to pay me respect/ Ain't no budget when I'm on the set!”
“7 Rings” is Ariana’s most high-profile embrace of hip-hop to date, and controversially, the likes of Soulja Boy, 2 Chainz and Princess Nokia have accused her of jacking their style. But Ariana’s true forebearer is Destiny’s Child. The song’s harmonic minor palette is distinctly Y2K-era R&B, and like in “Bills Bills Bills” or “Independent Women Part 1,” the diamonds are a metaphor -- what they reflect is self-love, sisterhood, and of course, success. “7 Rings” not only debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100, it broke Spotify’s record for most streams within 24 hours, with almost 15 million.
42. “R.E.M” (Sweetener, 2018)
“R.E.M” was originally known as “Wake Up,” a Pharrell-composed demo for Beyoncé’s self-titled album, but Ariana decided the song was too good not to claim for herself. Where Beyoncé’s “Wake Up” is a little earthier, “R.E.M” is -- appropriately -- entirely dreamlike. Ariana floats among the clouds, over a space-age track built out of vocals, breaths, and synths that sound like puffs of vapor. Every Ariana album has at least one doo-wop-inflected love song, but “R.E.M” is the weirdest yet.
41. “Dance to This” (Troye Sivan feat. Ariana Grande, Bloom, 2018)
“We’ve already seen all of the parties/ We can just dance to this,” goes the fourth advance track from Troye Sivan’s sophomore album. A wistful dance-pop track inspired by Janet Jackson’s “All Nite (Don’t Stop),” “Dance to This” chronicles an intimate night at home in the early stages of a relationship, when the present is so fleeting it already feels like a distant memory.
Sivan and Grande are pop’s gentlest male and female vocalists -- Ariana hasn’t had a duet partner this suited to her since The Weeknd. But “Dance for This” has no vocal fireworks, just whispered suggestions, designed to pull you in closer. The song climaxes softly with Ariana’s final ad-libbed chorus, then fades into the night, leaving the rest to your imagination.
40. “Adore” (Cashmere Cat feat. Ariana Grande, non-album single, 2015)
Cashmere Cat’s pillowy R&B production showcases Ariana’s voice as an pure instrument. She croons a chorus that’s all vowels, indistinct syllables, and pure joy, enunciating even less than usual -- but where she’s going, we don’t need words.
39. “Break Your Heart Right Back” (feat. Childish Gambino, My Everything, 2014)
Ariana leaves her mark on the iconic Nile Rodgers guitar riff from Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” famously sampled on Biggie and Puff Daddy’s “Mo Money Mo Problems”. It’s a worthy sequel -- but where “I’m Coming Out” was a gay anthem, “Break Your Heart Right Back” cheekily flips the script, with Ariana calling out a boy who cheated on her with another boy. The second verse dips into her rarely-heard lower register, and Donald Glover even delivers a tongue-in-cheek verse that already feels near-unrecognizable just four years later. But the song’s all about the joyful, sarcastic chorus hook: “My baby loves me!” Yeah, right.
38. “Piano” (Yours Truly, 2013)
A love song dedicated to a musical instrument. If “Piano” seemed naïvely innocent in 2013, it feels timely now. “I could sing about how love is a losing battle…/ But I’d rather make a song they can play on the radio/ That makes you wanna grab your lover’s hand”, sings Ariana. She’s written many breakup songs since, but the message of “Piano” still rings true: cynicism is easy. Choose optimism.
37. “Greedy” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
A little Prince synth-funk, a little Gwen Stefani sass; “Greedy” is all about Ariana’s lust for, well, something more than love. She offers no apologies, singing: “I ain’t talking money, I’m just physically obsessed/ And I’m greedy” -- before pulling out a physically stunning last-chorus key change.
36. “Get on Your Knees” (Nicki Minaj feat. Ariana Grande, The Pinkprint, 2014)
A highlight from the moody first half of The Pinkprint, “Get On Your Knees” casts Minaj as a goddess ready to be worshipped by men. Katy Perry wrote the song’s hook, but Ariana sounds every bit as imposing: “I don’t need a pretty poet/ Ooh, gettin’ all emotional/ You gotta beg for it” -- climaxing in a jaw-dropping four-part harmony.
35. “NASA” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
Thank U, Next immediately follows “Needy,” Ariana’s ode to her own insecurities, with “NASA,” an ode to someone else’s insecurities. How would Ariana Grande describe a boy who’s too clingy? Like an astronaut… who can’t stop exploring the universe! “Give you the whole world, I’ma need space!” chirps Ariana, spinning an absurd metaphor into a relentlessly catchy chorus, as the track bounces along. “NASA” is as romantic as songs about self-love get -- because there’s nothing selfish about spending time and space apart.
34. “Bad Decisions” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Dangerous Woman is about letting go of shame and embracing pleasure -- nowhere more than on “Bad Decisions,” a joyous celebration of wild nights with bad boys. “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?”, whispers Ariana in the bridge. The song’s highlight: the end of the chorus, where she drags the word “bad” out to 15 glorious syllables
33. “Quit” (Cashmere Cat feat. Ariana Grande, 9, 2017)
“Quit” pairs a familiar, Sia-written ballad with Cashmere Cat’s not-so-typically wonky synths. As Ariana repeats the chorus -- “I can’t quit you” -- Cashmere Cat fractures her fragile vocal harmonies, then unveils a disorienting, quiet drop built around a flute sample. But the song’s most moving part is all her, when the instrumental fades away and leaves only Ariana’s haunting whispers. Cashmere Cat is one of today’s most original pop producers, and “Quit” could be the most experimental song in Ariana’s catalogue. (The unique lyric video seems to imply that she’s trapped inside a laptop.)
32. "Bad Idea” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
With its plucked, chiming guitars reminiscent of The Police, “Bad Idea” skulks around with a malevolence that’s unsettling for an Ariana Grande song. A spiritual sequel to “Let Me Love You,” Ariana propositions a new lover purely to get over her ex: “I got a bad idea/ Yeah, I'ma call you over here to numb the pain.” Temptation is sweet, but this can’t possibly end well… can it? Twice, the track’s briefly interrupted by orchestral strings, emerging like sunlight through dark clouds -- until the beat comes back in, eventually giving way to an ominous chopped-and-screwed coda that lasts for a full minute. Subject matter aside, when it comes to Ariana’s music, there’s seemingly no such thing as a bad idea.
31. “Get Well Soon” (Sweetener, 2018)
Sweetener closes with “Get Well Soon,” an offbeat soul song that feels less produced than stitched together by Pharrell. Equal parts soothing and disorienting, the track’s full of text-message synth chimes, and call-and-response vocals that sound like Ariana’s lower-case tweets: “girl whats wrong wit u come back down?” Describing the song’s creation, she told ELLE: “I’ve always had anxiety, but it had never been physical before. There were a couple of months straight where I felt so upside down… It’s all the voices in my head talking to one another.” Sweetener, unlike Ariana’s past albums, has a moral to its story: if you feel depressed or anxious, don’t get stuck in your own head. Let other people bring you back down to earth, until you feel safe enough to calm yourself.
“Get Well Soon” ends mid-phrase, followed by 40 seconds of silence -- taking its length to 5:22, the date of last year’s tragic Manchester attacks. You can heal, but you’ll never forget.
30. “Sweetener” (Sweetener, 2018)
“Sweetener” sounds familiar, at first. Over a gospel chord progression, Ariana sings, “You come through like the sweetener you are/ To bring the bitter taste to a halt…” Until the beat drops: “And then you get it, get it, get it, get it!/ Hit it, hit it, hit it, hit it!/Flip it, flip it, flip it!”
“Sweetener” is the laugh-out-loud bubblegum-rap motivational we didn’t know we needed. A less earnest vocalist than Ariana couldn’t pull this off, nor a less eccentric producer -- Pharrell adds all sorts of cheeky ad-libs in the background, cheering her on. The two are an unconventional recipe, but a perfect salted caramel combination.
29. “Bang Bang” (Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj, My Everything deluxe edition bonus track, 2014)
“Bang Bang” is the sound of a guaranteed pop blockbuster. It’s this decade’s “Lady Marmalade”, striking video and all, uniting three very different artists in a female empowerment anthem. Jessie J is explosive, and Nicki Minaj raps circles around the beat, but it’s Ariana who makes the biggest artistic leap, finding a new level of vocal confidence. “Bang Bang” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, Grande’s third top five hit.
28. “One Last Time” (My Everything, 2014)
With an unusually uptempo beat for a single that structurally feels like a ballad, “One Last Time” saw Ariana expressing real sorrow for the first time in her lyrics. In the verses, she admits to having an affair -- “I was a liar/ I gave into the fire”… a brave admission for someone who just months earlier was still a Nickelodeon star. She doesn’t redeem herself in the lyrics, but her honesty sends an important message -- haven’t we all been tempted? Made mistakes?
Of course, “One Last Time” took on more significance after the 2017 Manchester attacks -- it was re-released on iTunes to benefit victims and survivors, and recharted at No. 2 in the U.K. However you interpret the song, there’s a sense of regret -- and hopefully, healing through catharsis.
27. “Touch It” (Dangerous Woman deluxe edition bonus track, 2016)
The Dangerous Woman single that could’ve been, “Touch It” is a dizzying rush of blood to the head. Ariana sings about love and desire as an uncontrollable force, with the kind of emotional clarity that only a top-tier popstar can bring. There’s no holding back: “We both know what we want/ So why don’t we fall in love?”
26. “Right There” (feat. Big Sean, Yours Truly, 2013)
Yours Truly’s third single is an ode to commitment that’s not too innocent to let Big Sean in. The first of their four collaborations, “Right There” casts them as a classic hip-hop/R&B pairing: Jay-Z and Mariah, Ja Rule and Ashanti, and now Big Sean and Ariana. In the video, Ariana gets with Patrick Schwarzenegger, but she and Sean clearly had a deeper attraction -- the two dated from late 2014 to mid-2015.
25. “Everyday” (feat. Future, Dangerous Woman, 2016)
The biggest surprise on Dangerous Woman, “Everyday” is Ariana’s hardest banger -- and one of Future’s best pop crossover hits. Lyrically and musically, it’s new territory for Ariana, her most explicitly sexual song to date. The song plays off their differences -- Ariana and Future don’t meet in the middle, but they’re equally at home on the song’s trap beat and wobbly EDM bass.
“Everyday” spawned two memorable videos: a charming lyric video that’s just Ariana vamping on a soundstage; and a second, proper video where couples of various ages and orientations make out in public, as Ariana and Future cheekily serenade and cheer them on.
24. "Breathin" (Sweetener, 2018)
Most of Sweetener embodies serenity, but “Breathin” is life-or-death. Inspired by the anxiety attacks she was experiencing in the studio, Ariana tries to outrun her inner demons: “Feel my blood runnin’, swear the sky’s fallin’/ I keep on breathin’.” “Breathin” is one of Sweetener’s most immediate, stadium-ready tracks -- like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” mixed with tropical house -- even if it could still use one last epic chorus to push it to true ’80s movie-soundtrack heights.
23. “Love Me Harder” (Ariana Grande & The Weeknd, My Everything, 2014)
A sparkling synthwave-R&B track that teeters on the edge of explicit—and is all the more seductive for it. Pop moves so quickly that we forget this is the song that broke The Weeknd to a mainstream audience, giving him his first top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100. “Love Me Harder” smoothed out his lecherous persona without watering it down, and opened his mind to the possibilities of pop -- connecting him to Max Martin, with whom he’d later cowrite “Can’t Feel My Face.” The fourth single from My Everything, “Love Me Harder” was Ariana’s most adult track to date, and her biggest co-sign as a pop tastemaker.
22. “Knew Better/Forever Boy” (Dangerous Woman deluxe edition bonus track, 2016)
An ambitious two-part suite, “Knew Better” opens as a kiss-off to an ungrateful lover -- “If you knew better/ Boy, you would do better”. But the song soon grinds to a halt, as a synth bass riff leads into a confession: “Never been with a boy more than six months…/ But you showed me what it means to be happy ever after”. “Forever Boy” is a gorgeous, tropical house-inflected song, where Ariana puts her ego aside for true love. The transition proved controversial -- some fans prefer the pettier “Knew Better Part Two“. But the contrast between “Knew Better” and “Forever Boy” is essential -- Ariana gives you both sides of her in one song, with no contradictions.
21. “Side to Side” (feat. Nicki Minaj, Dangerous Woman, 2016)
A reggae-inflected jam about getting it so good you can’t walk straight, “Side to Side” is even funnier because Ariana sings it with a straight face. The video is a modern camp classic -- the song’s not about riding an exercise bike! Nicki’s verse is short but sweet, speaking nothing but the truth: “I’m the queen of rap, young Ariana run pop”.
20. “Needy” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
On track two of Thank U, Next, Ariana Grande reintroduces herself, flaws first. “I’m obsessive and I love too hard/ Good at overthinking with my heart,” Grande confesses over sparse fingerclicks and chiming, detuned electric piano. But in the chorus, she turns those potential negatives into a positive: “I can be needy, so hard to please me/ I know it feels so good to be needed.” “Needy” is one of her most soothing songs, and a perfect character study in under three minutes: she’s small but brave; emotional, but never overbearing. Ariana Grande contains multitudes -- judging by this list, at least a hundred of them.
19. “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
Thank U, Next ends with a heel turn no one saw coming. By the time track 12 rolls around, Ariana’s thanked her exes and dreamt of walking down the aisle… and then comes “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” the most gleefully amoral song in her discography. “Took one fuckin’ look at your face/ Now I wanna know how you taste,” she sings, lusting after a man she can’t, but will have. She’s sung about sex before, but she’s never corrupted her angelic voice with such lechery, in the vein of The Weeknd, FKA twigs, Banks...
In a move that’s pure pop genius, Ariana quotes *NSYNC’s 2000 deep cut “It Makes Me Ill,” reclaiming their pre-chorus for her own song’s bridge. Nothing and no one matters except her own desires: “You could call me crazy ’cause I want you/ And I never even ever fuckin’ met you...” The erotic thriller-like video escalates things further, as Ariana plays both sides of a couple against each other, delivering her most beguiling performance as an actress to date.
The last song added to an already spontaneous album, “Break Up with Your Girlfriend” is the literal "next" in Thank U, Next. Where’s the fun in playing nice? After all that’s happened to her, maybe all that’s left for Ariana to do is embrace the darkness.
18. "Blazed" (feat. Pharrell Williams, Sweetener, 2018)
Ariana Grande used to sing of true love as if it were a Disney fairytale. But after public breakups and tragedy, she’s known loss too. “Blazed,” track two on Sweetener, doesn’t dwell on sadness. Instead, Ariana marvels at her good fortune, at the cosmic magnetism that brings two people together: “What are the odds that you'd appear?/ The universe so vast to me.../ Could've been anywhere, but you're here with me.”
Entirely written and produced by Pharrell, the song’s gentle, funky groove is his best work in years. Ariana sings her vocal harmonies unusually close to the microphone, more intimately than ever before, as if to envelop you in a warm, pillowy hug. “Blazed” marks an infinitesimal, yet monumental shift in the way Ariana looks at life: Love isn’t fate, but a beautiful, human coincidence in the midst of random chaos. We can’t control what life throws at us -- only the way we choose to tell our stories. So love deeply and generously, and don’t take anyone or anything for granted. “Once I have you/ I will never let you/ Never let you go…”
17. “Baby I” (Yours Truly, 2013)
Co-written and produced by R&B legend Babyface, Yours Truly’s second single was no ordinary ‘90s throwback -- the track steps and stutters as much as Ariana’s vocal range. Many likened Grande’s early songs to Mariah Carey; fair, but she earned those comparisons. Who else was recording pop songs as virtuosic as “Baby I” in 2013, with key changes and whistle-register vocals? (Even better is the song’s sublime Frankie Knuckles remix, one of the Chicago house legend’s last before his death, which transforms Ariana into the timeless disco diva of her dreams.)
16. “Be My Baby” (feat. Cashmere Cat, My Everything, 2014)
There’s no shame in being the second-best song called “Be My Baby.” The My Everything single that never was, “Be My Baby” is as sweet as anything on Yours Truly. Cashmere Cat’s been one of Ariana’s most consistent collaborators since 2014, and his cascading synths are every bit as soothing as her voice. But Ariana’s no longer singing about puppy love -- she’s an adult, making promises she doesn’t intend to break: “If you treat me right just the way that I want you/ Oh baby boy, I promise that I’ll be on you.”
15. “Santa Tell Me” (Non-album single, 2014)
Great Christmas music is about feeling the highs and lows of the season, the delicate balance between joy and melancholy. Writing good originals is easier said than done, but Ariana makes it seem effortless. “Santa Tell Me” is the rare 2010s holiday song that’s already entering the all-time canon -- as of 2016, it was YouTube’s sixth-most viewed Christmas video of all time, with now over 170 million views.
Like “Last Christmas”, “Santa Tell Me” is about missing an ex-lover, but Ariana prays to Santa for guidance instead. The bridge offers a new year’s resolution, too: “I don’t want a new broken heart/ This year I’ve got to be smart!” -- climaxing in a glorious group singalong. But whatever the time of year, “Santa Tell Me” is a perfect pop song in its own right.
14. “The Way” (feat. Mac Miller, Yours Truly, 2013)
It can’t be overstated: “The Way” was an odd choice for the first single from a Nickelodeon star’s debut album. What’s with the ’90s R&B? Why are the verses too high to sing along to? Why does it feature Mac Miller, of all rappers? It samples the piano riff from two classic songs -- Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit of Love”, via Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” -- and somehow is every bit as good as either of them?
After “Put Your Hearts Up”, Ariana’s official debut, tanked in 2011, she rebooted her music career with “The Way” -- this time with full artistic control. She’d already showcased her vocal gifts on her YouTube covers, but this was the first time she seemed truly herself. Like so many of Ariana’s best songs, “The Way” is transcendent because she sings with so light a touch. Underestimate her at your own risk.
13. "Dangerous Woman” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
The title track of Ariana’s third album is a guitar-heavy slow-burner that could pass for a Bond theme. The lyrics are devoted to an inspiring new lover, but “Dangerous Woman” is really about Ariana’s relationship to herself. Said Grande before the album’s release, “To me, a dangerous woman is someone who’s not afraid to take a stand, be herself and to be honest.” Each chorus adds new layers of vocal harmonies, escalating from a whisper to an empowered roar.
The a cappella version showcases Ariana’s entire vocal range, as she sings on a soundstage without accompaniment or studio enhancements. Her vocal control is, as always, stunning -- she’s never been a more charismatic performer.
12. “Be Alright” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
“Be Alright” opened every show on Ariana’s Dangerous Woman tour with a striking set of black-and-white visuals. As her dancers vogue, Ariana’s onscreen visage weeps silver tears -- but her composure never breaks. As she sings over deep-house piano, brief flashes of rainbow flicker onscreen, and her dancers’ expressions gradually turn from sorrow to joy.
By 2016, Ariana already had a significant LGBTQ fanbase, but “Be Alright” cemented her status as a burgeoning gay icon. Not just because of the song’s nods to ball culture and Madonna’s “Vogue,” but because Ariana fully understood -- and embodied -- the healing power of house music. “We’re gonna be alright”, she sings -- but unlike Kendrick Lamar’s anthem from the year before, her song’s not a call to arms, but a soothing balm.
11. “Imagine” (Thank U, Next, 2018)
Ariana describes “Imagine,” the opening track of her upcoming fifth LP, as “a simple, beautiful love that is now (and forever) unattainable.” At first, her fantasies sound unremarkable -- “Staying up all night, order me pad thai” -- but they give way to a chorus that yearns for more: “Imagine a world like that?” Surreal, impressionistic production envelops her voice: lush synthetic string plucks, drums with long artificial trails of reverb. As “Imagine” builds to a series of call-and-response vocals -- “Can you?/ Imagine it?” -- the song culminates with Ariana’s breathtaking whistle tones, so impossibly high they seem to bend reality itself. The love she sings of may never exist -- but at least in her music, the possibilities are endless.
10. "God Is a Woman" (Sweetener, 2018)
Ariana’s music has explored the sacred and profane before, but never both so explicitly at once. “God Is a Woman” depicts sex not as a luxury, like Nicki and Ariana’s “Bed,” but as an act of spiritual healing. Over a hip-swaying trap beat and sugary psychedelic guitars, Ariana lays out a sexual encounter so ecstatic that it transcends time and space. She becomes one with the sacred feminine, part of God herself: “He see the universe when I’m in company / It’s all in me.”
The video, directed by Dave Meyers, depicts Ariana in an eye-popping tableaux of religious and art iconography, reinterpreting each scene through a feminist lens. Madonna, the original queen of sex-positive feminism, narrates an interlude. And at the 2018 VMAs, Ariana performed the song with over 50 female dancers, inspired by Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, even bringing her mother and grandmother onstage. None of it feels sacrilegious, or even mildly controversial, because “God Is a Woman” isn’t a fantasy -- it’s how sex and romance should feel.
9. “Ghostin” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
“Ghostin” is the closest Ariana’s come to heaven -- and without question, her most heartbreaking song. Produced by Ariana herself, with Max Martin, Ilya and Victoria Monét, the track takes the melancholy strings of Mac Miller’s “2009,” and smears them into watercolor synths, like a memory of a memory. Ariana’s words are arresting, her voice almost uncomfortably close. “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again/ Over him,” she sings, caught between her current lover, and one she can no longer be with, neither of whom can heal her sorrows. Like a trap door midway through Thank U, Next, “Ghostin” is almost too confrontational for casual listens -- in both the reality of the song’s sadness, and the dreamlike beauty of its art-pop soundscapes.
8. “No Tears Left to Cry” (Sweetener, 2018)
“No Tears Left to Cry” begins as a hymn. “Ain’t got no tears left to cry/ So I’m picking it up”, sings Ariana, as her soothing, wordless harmonies float around her. The song accelerates into a disco track, echoing “I Will Survive”, but it’s not exactly an anthem. It’s contemplative, internal, a song for headphones as much as dancefloors.
In one of her best videos to date, the world is topsy-turvy -- but Ariana remains at the center, unaffected by gravity. She swaps faces, signalling the different versions of her yet to come. Almost a year after the Manchester attacks, “No Tears” marks the end of the healing process, and a tentative opening back up to joy. Since its release last April, it’s remained in the pop consciousness all year -- a perfect, comforting radio single for these troubled times.
7. “Moonlight” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
“Moonlight” marks the culmination of Ariana’s lifelong love for doo-wop. “He’s giving me Elvis/ With some James Dean in his eyes,” she sings, but at this point in her career, Ariana’s well on her way to joining their iconic ranks. Over electric piano and plucked violins, she serenades you with an intoxicating lullaby. “Moonlight” is romance: personal, musical, artistic, in every sense of the world. As gentle as it is overpowering, Ariana’s voice is unlike anything else in modern pop.
6. “Problem” (feat. Iggy Azalea, My Everything, 2014)
“Problem” made Ariana Grande a household name, but it’s as unconventional as pop hits come. Max Martin, Ilya and Shellback devised a new way to use Ariana’s pipes -- to express mania, not joy. The offbeat verses build to an impossibly high note, but just when you expect an anthemic chorus -- no! There’s the quietest drop you’ve ever heard, a void of negative space. Then Big Sean’s whispers, a saxophone riff, and the fiercest Iggy Azalea verse of all time.
“Problem” might have seemed jarring on first listen, but now you can’t imagine it any other way. Until "Thank U, Next," it was Ariana’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
5. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (One Love Manchester, 2017)
After three hours of music, Ariana Grande walks to the front of the One Love Manchester stage alone. The crowd’s still-excited screams are soon hushed, as they realize what song she’s singing. As Ariana delivers the first verse of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” she barely holds back tears -- though soon, much of the crowd is weeping.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has long been associated with nostalgia. It’s frequently played at funerals, and three of its most famous performers -- Judy Garland, Israel Kamakawiwo?ole, Eva Cassidy -- died young. We listen to it not only to remember those who’ve passed, but to long for a brighter, childlike past -- one that only exists in our memory.
When Ariana sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” she acknowledged the tragedy that brought her back to Manchester. But she refused to look backwards, to give into sadness. If she had cracked, we would have too -- but instead, she gave the most emotional performance of her life without missing a note. If she could live through this, then so could we.
Art is political because existence is political. That was true in 1939, and it’s true now. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is historic -- but we still have so much history left to live.
4. “Honeymoon Avenue” (Yours Truly, 2013)
Ariana’s debut album opens with a wildly ambitious track only she could pull off. “Honeymoon Avenue” weaves together doo-wop vocals, Hollywood strings and R&B beats for a song worthy of a Disney fairytale. But there’s as much joy as heartbreak, as Ariana dreams about going back to fix a broken, one-of-a-kind relationship. “They say only fools fall in love/ Well, they must’ve been talking about us”, sings Ariana -- some might call those lyrics naive, but but Ariana made you believe every word she sang.
“Honeymoon Avenue” signalled that Yours Truly was no ordinary pop debut. At just 20, Grande was already a fully mature vocalist, and an artist who knew exactly what she wanted from her music. Later fans owe it to themselves to give Yours Truly a listen -- “Honeymoon Avenue”, in particular, is as stunning now as the day it was released.
3. “Break Free” (feat. Zedd, My Everything, 2014)
After the runaway success of “Problem”, Ariana had the world’s attention -- what would she do next? She threw another curveball, collaborating with Zedd on a thoroughly modern EDM track, with a timeless disco sentiment. In one song, she grew up, moved past her old heartbreaks, and celebrated her newfound artistic freedom. Many teen stars have strained to shed their image, but Ariana managed to do so without ever losing her sense of wonder. She made her evolution feel inevitable: “This is the part when I break free/ ‘Cause I can’t resist it no more!”
And when Ariana hits the high F in the bridge -- “every time!” -- it’s a pure expression of joy, her most jaw-dropping vocal moment in a career full of them.
2. "Thank U, Next" (Thank U, Next, 2018)
In the age of the hot take, “Thank U, Next” is an instant reflection. In the wake of Sweetener, Mac Miller’s death, and her breakup with Pete Davidson, Ariana released an unexpected new single, rewriting the script in real-time. One listen, and the song was memorable: that twinkling synth hook, that unusual, jazzy chord progression, that churning bass. “Thank U, Next” soon revealed itself to be much more: a truly wise statement from a young woman who’d endured so much in the public eye. Ariana’s voice is a little fragile, but full of joy and life; she’s as generous to the listener as she is to her exes. She sings of “love,” “patience,” and “pain” like only a great pop star can -- condensing, but not simplifying, huge emotions into melodies we can embrace for ourselves.
The music video, directed by Hannah Lux Davis, casts Ariana in scenes from Mean Girls, 13 Going on 30, Bring It On and Legally Blonde. Through Lindsay, Jennifer, Kirsten and Reese, Ari learns to love herself, just as we might from her. In some ways, Ariana’s still the hopeless romantic of Yours Truly, still dreams of walking down the aisle. But now 25, she’s well and truly grown up -- always looking forward, no longer naive.
It took her over half a decade, but in November 2018, Ariana finally topped the Billboard Hot 100; not with a blockbuster, but -- for once, it’s not a cliché -- her most personal song to date. “Thank U, Next” has already changed how we’ll look back on her career. Those three words have become her mantra: whatever life may throw at you, the future’s yet to be written.
1. “Into You” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Every sentence starts with an intake of breath. But Ariana can’t. “I’m so into you, I can barely breathe…” Her voice reverberates. A low vocoder pulses. The kick drum syncs up with the beat of your heart. “Been waiting and waiting for you to make a move”, she coos, willing you to come closer, until there’s nothing left to say -- but “a little less conversation/ and a little more touch my body.”
People don’t talk about “Into You” like they talk about regular pop songs. No one can tell you why it’s sublime -- you just know. No words, no lyrics can describe the feeling. It’s all in Ariana’s voice, and Max Martin and Ilya’s immaculate beat: air particles vibrating at the exact frequency that makes the hair tingle on the back of your neck. The truth is, Ariana doesn’t even need instruments -- her isolated vocals might be better than the original song.
Pop music -- like dance, like love, like sex -- is about transcending yourself. It’s about control, being the best possible version of yourself. And then it’s about letting go, feeling everything; opening yourself up to the level of joy you can only experience with another person. Ariana Grande is one of the most impressive singers on the planet, but on “Into You”, she’s found a love so great that even she’s lost for words. All that’s left to do is give in to the music.