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.
54. “Motive” (with Doja Cat, Positions, 2020)
One of Ariana’s many songs about wanting a real love, but this time set to a shuffling house beat that throws back to Moloko in the late ’90s. Now 27, Ari’s in full control of the situation. She’s not hung up on a man’s words, but auditioning her suitor’s intentions: “Before I lead you on/ Tell me, what’s your motive?” The song’s jazzy, unresolved chords provide an ambiguous tone -- we don’t hear if she gets a response. Where Ariana’s vocals are perfectly in the pocket, Doja Cat raps like a scratchier-voiced Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC. Never one for subtlety, her bridge adds an aggressive energy to an otherwise smooth song -- you’ll either love or hate it. Either way, at less than three minutes long, there’s barely even enough of Ariana to go around -- it makes you want to hear an entire album in this style.
53. “Time” (Childish Gambino feat. Ariana Grande, 3.15.20, 2020)
The third track on Donald Glover’s surprise-released fourth album, “Time” plays like a tribute to Prince’s Sign o’ the Times, with its psychedelic, deconstructed drum-machine funk. Gambino sings anxiously through warped auto-tune -- looking at the universe with wonder, yet fearful of what the future and climate change will bring. Ariana makes a great foil for him; even when she’s singing lines like “My feet are falling to the bottom of the ocean/ Running out of time,” her voice is utterly soothing. Her verses are brief, but as it turns out, psychedelia suits her perfectly. Like most great works of speculative fiction, “Time” isn’t necessarily pessimistic: It’s a warning to us in the present, to act before it’s too late.
52. “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.
51. “Dance to This” (Troye Sivan feat. Ariana Grande, Bloom, 2018)