If one word describes Ariana Grande, it’s graceful. Whether she’s setting pop music trends or navigating the ups and downs of fame, she seems to move through life with the same poise with which she sings. Most vocal divas want you to feel their work, the sheer difficulty of singing like they do — but Ariana has always sounded effortless. She uses all of her four-octave vocal range, but she’s just as known for her precision and restraint as her high notes.
Now 27 years old, Grande’s spent almost a decade in the public eye. When she first took the leap from Nickelodeon to solo stardom, she seemed like a throwback star for the contemporary era. Her voice breathed new life into the old and familiar — from musical theater to doo-wop, ’70s disco to ’90s R&B — but many of her biggest chart hits were more uptempo dance or hip-hop inflected tracks. As she gradually matured into a pop tastemaker in her own right, she learned to deepen her soulful, romanticist sensibilities through distinctly modern, confessional songwriting. Her chart-topping hits, like “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings,” now set the standard for everything we expect from pop music in the 2020s: emotional connection, striking visual iconography, and total pop-cultural dominance.
Yours Truly, released in 2013, was one of the most distinctive debut albums of the 2010s, 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.
In the first half of her career, Ariana was perceived as an exceptional singer, but a somewhat reluctant celebrity. Through a tumultuous series of cultural and personal events in the years that followed, she took up the mantle of becoming not just a role model, but an avatar of resilience for our chaotic times.
“No Tears Left to Cry”, the first single from Grande’s fourth album Sweetener, came as her first release after her 2017 concert at Manchester Arena tragically ended in a bombing attack that killed 23 and left hundreds more injured. With the song, she channeled and reinvented the buoyant spirit of classic disco, looking to the past for a collective healing in the present. On Sweetener, she came full circle with a more mature, yet still unshakably optimistic take on her debut’s youthful R&B.
Less than six months later, in early 2019, she followed it up with Thank U, Next — a darker, more conflicted sequel that reflected on her whirlwind personal life, including the untimely death of her ex, rapper Mac Miller. To the surprise of many, Ariana had improbably become the most buzzed-about pop musician and celebrity of the late 2010s.
Her sixth album, 2020’s Positions, was less dramatic than the previous two. With no obvious celebrity narrative, Positions was simply an excellent pure R&B album, with Ariana singing gentle intricate ballads in her most comfortable environment. Ultimately, Positions reset our expectations of what an Ariana Grande album should be — definitively closing the chapter on the turbulent second act of her career. Her next move is uncertain — truly, anything is possible.
With this list, Billboard attempts to encapsulate both Grande’s rapid personal growth and artistic evolution since 2012, while giving equal consideration to each album and era. When all is said and done, there’s no better time than now to look back on her formidable catalogue.
This list includes every commercially available Ariana song: six studio albums, bonus tracks, credited features, soundtrack cuts, 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 now whopping 150 songs, only a handful of which are outright bad — now with a solid top 100, a strong top 70, and a near-flawless top 50.
150. “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, we don’t know who “Salad Bar” and “The Veggies” are either.
149. “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.
148. “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 U.K. boy band The Wanted, 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.
147. “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.
146. “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.”
145. “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.
144. “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.
143. “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.
142. “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.
141. “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.
140. “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 attitude of the original.
139. “Main Thing” (Positions deluxe edition bonus track, 2021)
The chorus of “Main Thing” goes, “You, oh you’re really different baby” — but the song does nothing to distinguish itself from Positions’ other short synth-R&B bonus tracks.
138. “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.
137. “Got Her Own” (with Victoria Monét, Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2019)
Ariana executive-produced this soundtrack to the Kristen Stewart-fronted Charlie’s Angels film reboot, which turned out to be a disappointment — especially for an era where blockbuster pop soundtracks tend to be a thing of the past. Supposedly a leftover from the Dangerous Woman sessions, “Got Her Own” was revived in 2019. The lyrics sound like a pastiche of several Destiny’s Child songs” — he might got money, but I bet she got her own/ You know she independent when she leave here all alone” — but the trap beat underneath is surprisingly more prominent than Grande and Monét’s sleepy vocals. When it fades out at just over the two-and-a-half minute mark, it sounds like all involved forgot to finish recording the song.
136. “You Don’t Own Me” (Kristen Chenoweth feat. Ariana Grande, For the Girls, 2019)
A cover of Lesley Gore’s 1963 ode to female empowerment, Chenoweth and Grande sound like they’re recording this in two different decades — Kristen with her mannered, theatrical voice, and Ariana with her under-enunciated modern delivery. Although their version builds to a decent climax, it feels more like a recital than a cover that adds anything new.
135. “Hands on Me” (feat. A$AP Ferg, My Everything, 2014)
The weakest official track on any of Ariana’s official album tracklists, “Hands on Me” is a dissonant, mostly unconvincing attempt at a sex jam. Not only do Ariana and A$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.
134. “Worst Behavior” (Positions deluxe edition bonus track, 2021)
Though it’s a pleasure to listen to in the moment, with an infectious synth-funk groove and a catchy spoken chorus, “Worst Behavior” doesn’t summon the effort to be memorable beyond its two minutes.
133. “Winter Things” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
“Winter Things” closes Christmas & Chill with a summery ukulele ditty, Ariana dreaming of a white Christmas.
132. “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.
131. “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!
130. “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.
129. “Bad to You” (with Normani & Nicki Minaj, Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2019)
On “Bad to You,” three typically fiery women lightly roast their uncommitted male partners: “Loving you and hating you is in, depending on the day/ Why are you only good to me when I’m bad to you?” The Max Martin and Ilya-produced song is as underwritten and forgettable as they come — not even Nicki’s guest verse can muster the energy to save it. Still, Ariana and Normani seem destined for a more meaningful collaboration, especially after Grande co-wrote Normani’s excellent solo debut single “Motivation” that same year.
128. “A Hand for Mrs. Claus” (Idina Menzel feat. Ariana Grande, Christmas: A Season of Love, 2019)
Written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the duo behind Frozen, this feels like just the right amount of silly, if not particularly memorable, family-friendly fun. It’s ultimately more Menzel’s song, but it’s still a treat whenever we get to hear Grande match the tempo of a live jazz band — even if the lyrics feel more suited to the Ariana of 2013 than 2019.
127. “Put Your Hearts Up” (non-album single, 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.
126. “Oh Santa!” (Mariah Carey feat. Ariana Grande & Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special: Apple TV+ Original Soundtrack, 2020)
It took the best part of a decade until Ariana finally got to collaborate with her idol Mariah Carey. We can only speculate about how much that moment meant to Grande… but by 2020, it was positively weird to see two artists of her and Jennifer Hudson’s stature playing backup vocalists to Mariah on a lesser rerecording of a 2010 single. Was a Christmas song the only neutral ground where these three A-list divas could meet? Or one day, will we get the Mariah/Ariana duet we truly deserve?
125. “Someone Like U (Interlude)” (Positions deluxe edition bonus track, 2021)
This tiny, lush interlude introduces the five new tracks on the Positions rerelease. It’s impressive how much melodic variation Ariana can inject into what’s essentially one line repeated for one minute: “I’ve been waiting for someone like you…”
124. “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?
123. “December” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
A Christmas & Chill track with a skittering, DJ Mustard-style R&Bass beat.
122. “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.
121. “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.
120. “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.
119. “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.
118. “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…”
117. “Nobody” (with Chaka Khan, Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2019)
To quote the legendary Chaka Khan herself: “It’s a cute song… It’s not going to change the world, okay?” The Motown-inspired production is admittedly well-crafted, especially the unexpected use of slide guitar — there’s just not much of a composition within it. Grande and Khan could have done much better, though it doesn’t seem like they’ll be collaborating again anytime soon.
116. “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.
115. “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.
114. “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.
113. “All My Love” (Major Lazer feat. Ariana Grande, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2014)
Ariana 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.
112. “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.
111. “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.
110. “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, even a little bit poignant, but the lyrics (“I can’t find the words to say what I mean”) merely scratch the surface of Ariana’s heartbreak.
109. “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.
108. “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.
107. “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.
106. “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”.
105. “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.
104. “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.
103. “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.
102. “Good as Hell (Remix)” (Lizzo feat. Ariana Grande, Cuz I Love You: Super Deluxe, 2019)
Promotional remixes are rarely as phoned-in as this one — especially for a Lizzo single that had already been out for three and a half years! Ariana adds a handful of lines that sit too low for her natural register, and a few nice high ad-libs — which add up to less than one verse of material in total. She doesn’t drag it down — the song’s good with or without her — but there’s still no real reason for this to exist.
101. “Test Drive” (Positions deluxe edition bonus track, 2021)
“Test Drive” commits a cardinal sin: It opens with a Bruce Hornsby-style ’80s synth-piano instrumental that we can’t wait to hear Ariana sing over… but the piano never returns! Instead, the song morphs into a sparkly, upbeat house track about a car metaphor: “Baby, I’m sold on you, so I don’t ever gotta/ Test drive nothin’!” With a final bridge and chorus, it might be worthy of the album proper.
100. “West Side” (Positions, 2020)
This cute little two-minute track opens with one of Positions’ definitive lyrics: “I don’t wanna think too much/ I just wanna feel.” Over hip-hop drums and mysterious synth chords, Ariana calls out to a lover: “There’s more love if you follow emotions/ Meet me on the west side for me.” She doesn’t bother with a bridge or third chorus, but “West Side” works completely as an interlude — it is, after all, a prelude to a rendezvous.
99. “Nasty” (Positions, 2020)
“Nasty” opens with Ariana’s heavenly whistle tones, but never again reaches for those heights. It’s one of her more sexually explicit songs, but in every other way — lush melodies, floaty trap production — it just blends into Positions’ tracklist.
98. “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.
97. “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.
96. “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”.
95. “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?
94. “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.
93. “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (K Bye for Now: SWT Live, 2019)
Originally written by the iconic American songwriter Cole Porter in 1938, and perhaps best remembered for Marilyn Monroe’s version in the 1960 film Let’s Make Love, Ariana covered this song as a brief interlude for the Sweetener World Tour. Ariana clearly knows the material and the broader jazz-musical era well, but she chooses to remove all subtlety from Porter’s cheeky lyrical innuendo. She’s not just singing with audible auto-tune over a big-band arrangement in the middle of a pop arena show, she’s over-emphasizing every syllable — especially “daddy,” drawing out the very modern connotations of the word. It’s the closest she’s ever come to playing herself as a drag queen — intentionally provocative and hilarious.
92. “Monopoly” (with Victoria Monét, Thank U, Next Japanese edition bonus track, 2019)
Grande and Monét have been close friends since the latter co-wrote on Yours Truly, but this minor palate-cleanser single, released after Thank U, Next, is their first official vocal duet. A feather-light R&B cut, “Monopoly” seems like it was written, recorded, and filmed in an hour — but that’s the point! It’s most memorable for its quirky verse melody that jumps up almost, but not quite an octave: “where have you been?” It’s the sound of the two reminiscing on their friendship — and on the closing rap, the fun they had working together on the Thank U, Next sessions: “I’m so thankful working with my best friend, she the cheat code!”
91. “Don’t Call Me Angel” (with Miley Cyrus & Lana Del Rey, Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2019)
It’s still hard to hear “Don’t Call Me Angel” removed from the enormous hype of its release, which combined three household-name stars with a Max Martin/Ilya production, and a glossy video from director Hannah Lux Davis. It’s by far the biggest song on the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, but it’s also a total mess. Ariana’s in her natural element — sweet, but a little threatening. But the production’s too smooth and synthetic for present-day Miley, who also gets the clunkiest lyrics: “You know I/ I don’t like, that, boy!” Meanwhile, Lana’s narcotic, half-time bridge suits her well, but feels like it was beamed in from the Born to Die sessions seven years prior.
The worst part is, the three barely interact within their vocals or the video — Miley and Lana don’t even sound like they’re on the same song. That utter disregard for cohesion does give “Don’t Call Me Angel” an awkward, campy appeal — even if, much like the Charlie’s Angels reboot itself, it ultimately feels like a confused, corporate attempt at pop-feminist branding. “Independent Women” Part III, it was not.
90. “How I Look on You” (Charlie’s Angels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2019)
The opening guitar riff here genuinely sounds like a Black Sabbath tribute, until it segues into a dark trap beat, then an unexpected major-key lift in the chorus. This song doesn’t reach true emo-rap, Juice WRLD-territory, but it’s unique to hear Ariana, Max Martin, and Ilya collaborating on such an ominous-sounding production. It’s a shame it lacks a true bridge or final chorus to elevate it — but still, “How I Look on You” is the one hidden gem from the otherwise middling Charlie’s Angels soundtrack.
89. “Stuck with U” (with Justin Bieber, non-album single, 2020)
Released in May 2020, the anxious early period of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Stuck with U” is a simple ballad about the silver lining of being housebound with your loved ones. It was a soundtrack for the moment, but also for every prom and wedding that had been postponed for the future. There’s not much to the song’s lyrics or melody, but Justin and Ariana harmonize well, building to a climactic final chorus. Yet they’re not able to summon the chemistry you’d expect — they were forced to record their parts separately, and it shows. We’re still holding out for a more substantial collaboration between Scooter Braun’s two most famous clients, but it was enough for the song to debut atop the Hot 100, staying there for one week.
88. “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.
87. “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.
86. “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.
85. “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.
84. “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.
83. “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.
82. “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 Weeknd — 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.
81. “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.
80. “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.
79. “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?
78. “Love Language” (Positions, 2020)
“Love Language” sounds like it came straight out of Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope, with its distinct combination of disco strings, scrappy ’90s-styled house drums, and a whispery, barely-there chorus. Ariana praises her partner for knowing exactly how to express his love for her, and promises she’ll reciprocate: “Teach me how to love you/ I’m unlearning what ain’t right.” Yet for a song with such a specific mood and subject matter, it’s disappointing that it stays in the same gear throughout.
Really, it might’ve needed to be a duet with someone who could respond to Ariana’s energy, regardless of gender — maybe Doja Cat should have featured here instead of on “Motive.” Instead, “Love Language” fades out too early, then gets a playful “Bad Guy”-style trap outro for all of 20 seconds. Though a nice surprise, it feels unrelated to the composition that came before — as if it could’ve just as easily closed out any other song on the album.
77. “Jason’s Song (Gave It Away)” (Dangerous Woman 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.
76. “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.
75. “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.
74. “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.
73. “Bloodline” (Thank U, Next, 2019)
Ariana gets sassier with each new album, and this was the 2019 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.”
72. “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.
71. “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.”
70. “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.
69. “Obvious” (Positions, 2020)
It can be hard to sing about contentment in a relationship without sounding too mawkish — just ask Justin Bieber or Chance the Rapper — but “Obvious” is one of Ariana’s better efforts at doing so. As she sings about settling into a new love, she shows us how far she’s coming since the heady days of Thank U, Next: “The way you feel, somethin’ ’bout it’s healing/ I’m praying we don’t fuck this up.” Short but sweet — and the classic R&B-style melodic jumps in the chorus are worth the price of admission alone.
68. “Six Thirty” (Positions, 2020)
At this point about halfway through Positions, the album starts to feel a bit familiar. Every song is well-executed, but many lack the immediacy of Ariana’s more pop-oriented work. “Six Thirty” is a typical, triplet flow-driven trap-n-B cut that uses the titular clock position as a metaphor for commitment: “Are you down?…/ Down like six thirty?” Still, there are short glimpses of magic — the pre-chorus where her voice climbs upward, and especially her relaxed delivery over baroque strings in the bridge: “Am I enough to keep your love?/ When I’m old and stuff, will you still have a crush?”
67. “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?
66. “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…”
65. “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 brought the song firmly into 2013.
64. “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.”
63. “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.
62. “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.”
61. “Piano” (Yours Truly, 2013)
A love song dedicated to a musical instrument. If “Piano” seemed naïvely innocent in 2013, it feels a touch more 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.
60. “Just Like Magic” (Positions, 2020)
In the life of a superstar, even the ordinary moments feel special. So goes “Just Like Magic,” an ode to manifesting positivity — “I get everything I want because I attract it” — that briefly alludes to some real-life tension in the second verses: “Losing friends left and right, but I just send ’em love and light.” As a sequel to “Successful” that more openly celebrates wealth, “Just Like Magic” could easily feel gauche — but the song’s sparkling synths and vocal harmonies immerse you completely in Ariana’s headspace.
59. “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.
58. “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.
57. “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.
56. “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 most unexpected — and convincing — in recent memory. The lyrics are a bit too “What Makes You Beautiful,” but the vibe’s lovely, and the ex-couple had obvious musical chemistry that had yet to be explored.
55. “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.
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)
“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 Bloom. 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.
50. “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.
49. “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.
48. “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.
47. “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.)
46. “Shut Up” (Positions, 2020)
Ariana invites you into her sixth album with a new take on an old sound: chamber music with just a touch of vulgarity. The song’s blend of orchestral strings is exquisite, as is the way she drags each “shut up” in the choruses into eight melismatic syllables. Her message couldn’t be clearer: Let her be herself. “All them demons helped me see shit differently/ So don’t be sad for me,” she sings, indicating that she’s learned from her experiences, but the drama’s very much in the past. “Shut Up” sets the scene for an album that’s lush, escapist, but introspective only in small doses — ultimately lacking in the big revelations, cultural moments, or Max Martin collaborations of Sweetener or Thank U, Next. Some fans and critics found Positions subdued, perhaps disappointing — but was Ariana really holding back? Or was she really showing us her truest, most comfortable self?
45. “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 has less of 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.
44. “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.
43. “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.
42. “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.
41. “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.
40. “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”.
39. “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.
38. “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.
37. “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.
36. “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?”
35. “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.
34. “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.”
33. “Boyfriend” (Ariana Grande with Social House, Everything Changed…, 2019)
“I’m a motherf–kin’ trainwreck,” opens “Boyfriend” — which sees Ariana at the peak of her post-personal troubles, no-f–ks-given persona. A groovy R&B bop that’s both coy and explicit, “Boyfriend” chronicles the point in a relationship where you’re too casual to be committed, yet too attached to want to see anyone else. Both members of Social House, the duo who co-wrote and produced “7 Rings” and “Thank U, Next,” provide perfectly laid-back baritone counterpoints to her high, flirtatious harmonies and vocoded chorus. In retrospect, this mid-2019 single feels like the end of Ariana’s imperial phase, where she could effortlessly dominate pop culture with hit after hit. “Boyfriend” is just short of being a major single in her catalogue, but it does have a distinctly Ariana ebullience that no one else could reproduce.
32. “Rule the World” (2 Chainz feat. Ariana Grande, Rap or Go to the League, 2019)
After a brief feud over the similarities between Grande’s “7 Rings” and 2 Chainz’ 2011 song “Spend It,” the two publicly made peace by collaborating on this single. Built around a silky-smooth sample of Amerie’s “Why Don’t We Fall in Love,” “Rule the World” is a luxurious, yet understated ode to romantic loyalty, with a mystique that’s unusual for either artist. Although it’s 2 Chainz’ song, he’s more mellow than usual; Ariana is the undeniable star. It’s hard to imagine anyone who could better deliver the song’s hook. In the first half of the chorus, she repeats a set of lines with tiny, catchy lyrical and vocal variations: “Prayin’ he make it home like I’m used to it/ Prayin’ he make it home, I got used to it.” But it’s the high, wispy dreaminess of the title line where Ariana pulls you in and makes you believe: “I realized we can rule the world!”
31. “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.
30. “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.
29. “Positions” (Positions, 2020)
Much of Ariana’s appeal is in the specificity of her delivery, and “Positions” is a unique blend of her wispy vocals with a hip-hop beat, acoustic guitar, pizzicato strings… and a sample of crickets chirping? The song’s hooky appeal is obvious, but its emotional tenor is oddly hard to define. It’s neither ballad nor banger, not clearly major or minor-key, and though it has the feel of a midtempo song, it’s surprisingly upbeat. It feels like the soundtrack to a very comfortable celebration — like a toast at a home wedding with a few dozen guests. And yet, it builds to a subtly thrilling final chorus, stacking adlibs and harmonies with that signature Ariana virtuosity.
Still, though she sings, “This some shit that I usually don’t do,” “Positions” is Ariana’s only lead single so far that’s not a daring reinvention. It played better as track 12 on the album rather than as an intro. Along with the music video, which depicts Ariana as a high-femme president in the White House, the album’s tracklist reframes its themes — largely about pleasure and sexual liberation — as one woman’s triumph over the obstacles in her life. “Positions” became her fifth single to debut atop the Hot 100 — breaking her own record for the artist with the most No. 1 debuts. There’s no question that Ariana Grande’s still one of the definitive pop stars of this era. But as well as the song did, it has the distinct vibe of an end-credits montage, as if it was closing a chapter rather than beginning a new era.
28. “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 sequel “Knew Better Part Two,” a SoundCloud outtake. But the contrast between “Knew Better” and “Forever Boy” is essential — Ariana gives you both sides of her in one song, with no contradictions.
27. “POV” (Positions, 2020)
Unlike Sweetener and Thank U Next, Positions was not a grand journey of self-discovery — it was simply about learning to be comfortable in your own skin, no matter what. “POV,” the album’s finale, flips the script. Instead of singing to her partner, Ariana thanks them for the unconditional love they’ve given to her. The chorus goes, “I wanna love me/ The way that you love me/ Ooh, for all of my pretty and all of my ugly too/ I’d love to see me from your point of view.” It’s one of the key lyrics in Grande’s discography — and one of the most relatable too, spawning countless TikTok lip syncs — that sheds light on her entire journey so far. She spent her first three albums building up her self-confidence, and the next two resilient in the face of inner and outer turmoil. Now, she’s come to terms with just being herself.
Hence why Positions’ sound is so consistent throughout. This is clearly Ariana’s most natural environment — stacked, floating vocal harmonies over delicate R&B productions — not Max Martin pop bangers. She largely worked with the same team throughout (producers Tommy Brown and Mr. Franks), mostly recording and producing her own vocals at her home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ariana’s comfort zone is a beautiful place to be, but it makes every step outside of it all the more enticing. She finally unleashes a cathartic belt in the last chorus — “I wanna love me!” — then the album quickly fades out, as if she’s left the studio and switched off the lights. Wherever Ariana Grande chooses to go next, she’ll have a blank slate.
26. “Off the Table” (with The Weeknd, Positions, 2020)
Where “Love Me Harder” saw Ariana and The Weeknd declaring their love, “Off the Table” wonders if it’s possible at all. Six years later, they’ve developed a more mature, unforced chemistry, over a more intimate track. Ariana sings, “Will I ever love somebody like the way I did you?…/ If I can’t have you, is love completely off the table?” The responses he gives aren’t entirely reassuring, but they’re honest: “I can love you harder than I did before/ Was in a dark place back then/ I was toxic, then I was toxic to someone else.” Even Ariana can’t fully tame Abel Tesfaye’s darkness.
The song’s breathtaking, weightless strings never really build to a climax — which gives the track an air of unreality. Positions can feel like a beautiful portrait of emotional stasis — it makes you want more. “Off the Table” might be the best pure vocal duet in either Ariana or Abel’s discography, even as the song’s a touch too subdued to rank in the top 25.
25. “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.
24. “Safety Net” (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Positions, 2020)
The pairing of Ariana and Ty Dolla $ign, R&B’s favorite ethereal baritone hook singer, is so perfect that it’s hard to believe it’s never happened before. Longtime Ariana producers Tommy Brown and The Rascals create the kind of cold, reverb-drenched beat that’s become Ty’s signature, anchored by a low synth bass that conjures the feeling of looking out over an abyss. In the pre-chorus, Ariana sings, “I’ve never been this scared before/ Feelings I just can’t ignore/ Don’t know if I should fight or fly/ But I don’t mind.” Will she risk it all, and take the leap? Most of Positions evokes the mood of her settling into a comfortable relationship, but “Safety Net” is its most emotionally ambiguous song. It’s a feeling her work has rarely explored before: fear.
23. “34+35” (Positions, 2020)
Trust Ariana to pair her cutest set of melodies with her dirtiest subject matter. On “34+35,” she deploys every vocal and rhythmic trick in her playbook — triplet flow, floating backing vocals — twirling over the beat like a ballerina across a dance floor. Her singing may be virtuosic, but there’s no such subtlety to the lyrics: “If I put it quite plainly/ Just gimme them babies!” A pop song this funny and whimsical is a rare treat — if only she didn’t spell out the titular equation right at the end…
The remix version of the single sees both Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion rapping at the top of their games, though their energy arguably overpowers the delicate instrumental. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the remix feels less like a posse cut redo than a different song altogether.
22. “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.
21. “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.
20. “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…”
19. “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 with the same intricacy as Ariana’s vocal melodies. 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.)
18. “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.
17. “My Hair” (Positions, 2020)
Ariana’s rarely seen in public with her natural, curly hair. On “My Hair,” she lets down her guard — and finally accepts the warm embrace of neo-soul on one of her solo tracks. She’s never sounded so relaxed, or reassuring: “But don’t you be scared/ To run your hands through my hair/ Baby, ’cause that’s why it’s there!” Ariana spends much of Positions detailing physical sensations and experiences, but “My Hair” feels even more intimate because the lyrics aren’t strictly motivated by sex or desire. To care for a lover’s hair is an act of deep trust — it’s unconditional. The song ebbs and flows over a single jazz chord progression, but actually gets smaller with its emotional climax. By the time she deploys her whistle register, a feat of extraordinary control, it’s even more moving for how delicate she makes it feel.
Where Sweetener was about the act of willing yourself to heal, and Thank U, Next about rolling with the punches, Positions is about embracing pleasure — and yes, ultimately the healing that can come from it. It may not be a huge pop album that provides the grand catharsis we’ve gotten used to from Ariana, but “My Hair” is this era at its best. More than any other song, it shows what Ariana can do without the pressures of fame on her music, and without that iconic, restrictive high ponytail — when she’s free to be completely herself.
16. “Love Me Harder” (Ariana Grande & The Weeknd, My Everything, 2014)
The fourth single from My Everything, “Love Me Harder” is 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. These days, it still sounds immaculate — a perfect Swedish pop confection — but it shines even brighter because neither artist has attempted anything quite like it since.
15. “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. Why was Ariana reviving ’90s R&B long before it was cool? Why were the verses too high to sing along to? Why did it feature Mac Miller, of all rappers? “The Way” How did it sample 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 end up every bit as good as either of them?
After “Put Your Hearts Up,” Ariana’s original 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.
14. “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.
13. “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.
12. “Imagine” (Thank U, Next, 2018)
Ariana describes “Imagine,” the opening track of Thank U, Next, 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.
11. “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.
10. “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.
9. “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.
8. “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.
7. “Rain on Me” (Lady Gaga with Ariana Grande, Chromatica, 2020)
Lady Gaga’s comeback album Chromatica was a balm throughout 2020, the soundtrack to all the club nights we couldn’t have — and this was its centerpiece. “Rain on Me” is a huge dance-pop anthem, yet it’s atypical for both artists — gentler than most of Gaga’s brash early hits, and brighter than any of Ariana’s more melancholy dabblings in house music. It’s rare that any duet between two divas feels so equal — or selfless. Gaga’s bright alto anchors the song, but Ariana’s second verse pulls the track inward, giving it a tenderness that makes each united chorus feel all the more vital. Together, they’re stronger. In the face of their pain, they channeled their bravery into one of the most triumphant, life-affirming singles of either artist’s career.
“Rain on Me” came exactly when we needed it, debuting atop the Hot 100 in June. Though it held strong for just one week, it was a refreshing return to big pop after years where moodier fare dominated the top spot. Not for nothing, Billboard’s staff named it the best song of 2020.
6. “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.
5. “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” signaled 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.
4. “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.
3. “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 glistening 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. In a classic pop metaphor, she literally removes and swaps between faces, signalling the different versions of her yet to come. Released almost a year after the Manchester attacks, “No Tears” marked the end of her public grieving process, and her opening back up to the possibility of experiencing joy through music. (Though she couldn’t have imagined the trials she was still yet to endure throughout 2018 and 2019.)
In hindsight, “No Tears Left to Cry” marks the definitive point where Ariana’s artistry shifted for good. Before “No Tears,” she was a relatively impersonal pop star who delivered love songs with an extraordinary voice. Ever since, she’s been a fearless artist and public figure, her music a vessel for all of life’s triumphs and heartbreaks.
2. “Thank U, Next” (Thank U, Next, 2018)
In the age of the hot take, “Thank U, Next” was 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. On first listen, the song was certainly 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 still feels like 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” forever 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.