If one word describes Ariana Grande, it’s graceful. She seems to move through the music industry, fame, and life with the same ease with which she sings. Most vocal divas want you to feel their work, the sheer difficulty singing like they do. But Ariana just sounds effortless. She might have a four-octave vocal range, but she’s just as known for her restraint.
With a voice like hers, Ariana could have been a star in any decade — from the golden age Hollywood to the doo-wop era, ’70s disco to ’90s R&B, she’s sung it all. She’s found seemingly countless ways to deliver ballads and love songs, her bread and butter. But her outlook is thoroughly modern — many her biggest chart hits have been uptempo dance or hip-hop inflected tracks.
At just 24 years old, Grande’s already proven able to move deftly through the gamut 2010s pop trends. She’s been a muse to everyone from Max Martin to Zedd, Babyface, Cashmere Cat, even Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown. But Ariana’s an artist, songwriter and A&R too; she assembles her albums with near-impeccable taste.
Released in 2013, Yours Truly was one the most distinctive debut albums the decade, channeling ’50s doo-wop and ’90s R&B into a romantic sound all Ariana’s own. Her 2014 sophomore LP My Everything crossed her over into modern top 40 pop, as high-prile 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 musical styles — trap, reggae, deep house, musical theater — with a newfound level vocal confidence.
In 2018, Ariana Grande feels like more than a vocalist — she’s assumed the mantle role model and cultural icon, too. “No Tears Left to Cry”, the first single from Grande’s upcoming fourth album Sweetener, came as her first release since her 2017 concert at Manchester Arena tragically ended in a bombing attack that killed 23 and left hundreds more injured. Channeling the spirit classic disco with the song, Ariana looks to the past to live in the present, as she’s always done in her music. The expectations have never been higher, but there’s no better time than now to look back on her already-formidable catalogue.
This list includes every commercially available Ariana song — three studio albums, bonus tracks, features and musical theater numbers. But it excludes remixes, YouTube covers, SoundCloud exclusives, and some live tracks from One Love Manchester, which have since disappeared from iTunes and streaming services. That leaves us with a surprisingly robust 89 songs, only a handful which are outright bad — with a solid top 60, and a near-flawless top 30.
89. “U R What You Eat” (Salad Bar, Matisyahu, Travis Barker, Ariana Grande & The Veggies, Songs for a Healthier America, 2013)
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! children’s health initiative did not, unfortunately, produce listenable music. And no, I don’t know who “Salad Bar” and “The Veggies” are either.
88. “A Little More Homework” (Graham Phillips & Ariana Grande, 13: Original Broadway Cast Recording, 2008)
The 15-year-old Ariana Grande made her pressional 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 teenagers — and while it may have worked on the stage, it doesn’t quite translate on record. “A Little More Homework” is about, course, growing up, but it keeps coming back to its cliched homework metaphor. A barely recognizable Ariana shows up for a much-needed bridge.
87. “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 The Wanted fame, deliver a wet blanket 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.
86. “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 13.
One several bonus tracks on My Everything that feels like a Yours Truly leftover. The R&Bass sound “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.”
It feels fluffy and nostalgic like cotton candy, but by 2014, Ariana had already outgrown this outtake.
82. “Research” (Big Sean ft. Ariana Grande, Dark Sky Paradise deluxe edition bonus track, 2015)
One Big Sean’s pettiest, least-charming songs, where Ariana sings a hook so lightweight it barely registers. “Research” has none the chemistry the one-time pop power couple’s previous two collaborations.
81. “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.
80. “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” (Original Television Cast Hairspray Live!, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack the NBC Television Event, 2016)
A cute, ‘50s-styled pop song about growing up from NBC’s Hairspray Live! production.
79. “Zero to Hero” (We Love Disney, 2015)
Ariana covered this Hercules highlight for the We Love Disney tribute album. But for once, her voice isn’t big enough to handle it — her version doesn’t compare to the sassy original.
78. “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 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 her old Nickelodeon comedic chops.
77. “Hands on Me” (feat. A$AP Ferg, My Everything, 2014)
The weakest ficial track on any Ariana’s albums, “Hands on Me” is a dissonant, mostly unconvincing attempt at a sex jam. Not only do Ariana and A$AP Ferg have no chemistry, neither their voices belong on Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins’ beat — she sounds too airy, and he too goy to take seriously. Maybe Destiny’s Child could have pulled it f in 1999, but not Ariana Grande in 2014.
76. “Winter Things” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
“Winter Things” closes Christmas & Chill with a summery ukulele ditty, Ariana dreaming a white Christmas.
75. “Just a Little Bit Your Heart” (My Everything, 2014)
Co-written by Harry Styles, this piano ballad grinds My Everything’s string pop bangers to a halt. The song’s pretty, but the lyrics (“I can’t find the words to say what I mean”) merely scratch the surface Ariana’s heartbreak.
74. “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 perfectly adequate children’s soundtrack song Ariana could record in her sleep.
73. “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-f!
72. “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.
71. “Put Your Hearts Up” (non-album track, 2011)
Ariana’s long-forgotten debut single isn’t a bad song, but it was totally wrong for her. With a chorus that quoted “What’s Up”, 4 Non Blondes’ 90s alt-rock power ballad, “Put Your Hearts Up” was a motivational anthem that immediately typecast her as a bubblegum-pop tween starlet. Ariana stopped promoting the song, and later called called it “inauthentic and fake… the worst moment my life.” The Ariana Grande we know has always had good taste in songs, in part because the failure “Put Your Hearts Up” motivated her to do better.
70. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” (Original Television Cast Hairspray Live!, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack 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?
69. “December” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
A Christmas & Chill track with a skittering, DJ Mustard-style R&Bass beat.
68. “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.
67. “True Love” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
Ariana rewrites “The Twelve Days Christmas” as a twinkling R&B jam that’s, mercifully, just half the length the original.
A funky, drum-heavy Dangerous Woman track in the Rich Harrison-like vein “Crazy in Love” and “1 Thing,” though it can’t compete with either those modern classics.
65. “Without Love” (Original Television Cast Hairspray Live!, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack 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.
64. “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 “Problem” — only wackier, and inferior in every way. Instead 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.
63. “Wit It This Christmas” (Christmas & Chill, 2015)
Christmas & Chill’s best song cheekily asks, “Are you down for some these milk and cookies?” Surprisingly, Ariana’s never explored this sound further — jazzy chords, strings and hip-hop beats, almost a neo-soul vibe.
62. “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 their relationship. It’s elegantly written and sung, though Sykes can’t match Ariana’s vocal fireworks.
61. Santa Baby” (feat. Liz Gillies, Christmas Kisses, 2013)
There are notoriously few good versions “Santa Baby”, but at least Ariana’s is laugh-out-loud funny — she almost sounds like she’s making fun the song itself. Liz Gillies, a longtime friend, plays the husky alto to Grande’s breathy soprano.
60. “All My Love” (Major Lazer feat. Ariana Grande, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2014)
Ariana’s contributes a solid EDM-pop song to the Lorde-curated Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack, but Major Lazer’s harsh drop doesn’t quite match Grande’s sugary vocals.
59. “E Più Ti Penso” (Andrea Bocelli with Ariana Grande, Cinema, 2015)
Ariana duets with classical tenor Andrea Bocelli in Italian, on this cover an Ennio Morricone composition from the 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America. Today’s pop stars rarely attempt this kind classical crossover, but Bocelli’s tenor gels perfectly with Grande’s soprano. Syrupy, but heartfelt.
58. “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 Grande’s to come.
57. “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.
56. “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.
55. “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.
54. “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 Mariah’s high register — though the song itself doesn’t reach the heights “All I Want for Christmas Is You”.
53. 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 this one. Ariana wouldn’t be long for the Nickelodeon machine, but their team could write a hell a teen pop banger.
52. “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.
51. “My Favorite Part” (Mac Miller feat. Ariana Grande, The Divine Feminine, 2016)
Mac Miller’s transformation from slacker rapper to neo-soul crooner is one the strangest in recent memory. The lyrics are a bit too “What Makes You Beautiful,” but the vibe’s lovely, and the real-life couple have obvious musical chemistry.
“Only 1” is one Ariana’s best bonus tracks. Over a boom-bap beat reminiscent Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push,” Ariana gently matures past Yours Truly’s tales infatuation: “I ain’t saying that I’m not deserving you/ But I was dreaming bigger than I ever knew”.
49. “Lovin’ It” (Yours Truly, 2013)
“Lovin’ It” is a goy but charming album cut driven by a jazzy piano vamp. How many different ways can Ariana sing “loving you” in the chorus?
48. “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, fering the most luxurious experiences. Nothing but the best for two queens — though musically, “Bed” is easily the slightest their now five collaborations.
47. “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.
46. “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 f into her dreams. “Daydreamin’“ is an ode to a young crush, but the song closes on a tale lifelong love, with a clip her grandparents telling the story how they met.
45. “Heatstroke” (Calvin Harris ft. Young Thug, Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, 2017)
On last year’s Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, Calvin Harris pulled a DJ Khaled, hiring an all-star cast vocalists to vamp over his disco-funk tracks. Between Young Thug and Pharrell’s tradefs, Ariana unfurls a soothing bridge, like a gentle breeze on a summer’s day.
44. “What Do You Mean? (Remix)” (Justin Bieber & Ariana Grande, Purpose iTunes preorder bonus track, 2015)
Bieber’s original was one the best pop songs 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.
43. 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.
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 other people’s preconceptions her.
40. “Jason’s Song (Gave It Away)” (Target exclusive bonus track, 2016)
Named for the song’s co-writer Jason Robert Brown, “Jason’s Song” reunites the 13 composer and Ariana on this critique modern celebrity culture, with a sense humor: “You focused your frustration on a small detail/ Blew it out scale, like my ponytail.” Grande and Brown have performed together several times, including the definitive rendition “Jason’s Song” on The Tonight Show — featuring The Roots, and a ferocious jazz piano solo by Brown.
39. “My Everything” (My Everything, 2014)
“My Everything” brings the album full circle, using the intro’s chords and arrangement to tell a tale 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 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.
38. “Intro” (My Everything, 2014)
A gorgeous, “Pure Imagination”-inspired hymn, “Intro” cheekily leads into “Problem” — a song that’s anything but sweet. A little the old Yours Truly magic, before something totally new.
Ariana ten 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.
36. “Let Me Love You” (feat. Lil Wayne, Dangerous Woman, 2016)
A desperate, lonely tale 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.”
35. “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)” (Ariana Grande & Jennifer Hudson, Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack the NBC Television Event, 2016)
NBC’s Hairspray Live! concludes with a hell an encore; a celebration civil rights, and a reminder that progress is never finished. But it’s also an excuse to stage a sing-f between two pop’s biggest voices, and boy, do they deliver.
34. “The Light Is Coming” (ft. Nicki Minaj, Sweetener, 2018)
The first taste several Pharrell cowrites on Ariana's fourth LP Sweetener, Williams’ minimalist touch is instantly recognizable. “The Light Is Coming” feels like a continuation 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 fbeat 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.
33. “Thinking Bout You” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Each Ariana’s albums closes with a song about a former love: “Better Left Unsaid,” “My Everything.” But “Thinkin Bout You” ends Dangerous Woman without a sense 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?
32. “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 her songs go big. Even Big Sean’s verse is unusually restrained. She confesses her feelings for an on-and-f paramour: “Can we please make up our minds/ And stop acting like we’re blind?” She answers her own question: “There’s no pot gold in the rainbows we chase/ But we hold on…”
31. “Tattooed Heart” (Yours Truly, 2013)
“I wanna say we’re going steady/ Like it’s 1954”, sings Ariana on “Tattooed Heart”, the best pure doo-wop cut on Yours Truly. Her vocal gifts are timeless, but the hip-hop hi-hats bring the song firmly into 2013.
30. “You’ll Never Know” (Yours Truly, 2013)
One 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 that will change my mind, boy.”
“We’ve already seen all the parties/ We can just dance to this,” goes the fourth advance track from Troye Sivan’s sophomore album. A wistful dance-pop track inspired by Janet Jackson’s “All Nite (Don’t Stop),” “Dance to This” chronicles an intimate night at home in the early stages 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 stly with Ariana’s final ad-libbed chorus, then fades into the night, leaving the rest to your imagination.
28. “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.
27. “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 the few that attempts an original interpretation, rewriting the verses for her own voice — an audacious choice that succeeds completely.
26. “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.
25. “Piano” (Yours Truly, 2013)
A love song dedicated to a musical instrument. If “Piano” seemed naïvely innocent in 2013, it feels timely now. “I could sing about how love is a losing battle…/ But I’d rather make a song they can play on the radio/ That makes you wanna grab your lover’s hand”, sings Ariana. She’s written many breakup songs since, but the message “Piano” still rings true: cynicism is easy. Choose optimism.
24. “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 fers 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.
23. “Get on Your Knees” (Nicki Minaj feat. Ariana Grande, The Pinkprint, 2014)
A highlight from the moody first half 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.
22. “Bad Decisions” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Dangerous Woman is about letting go shame and embracing pleasure — nowhere more than on “Bad Decisions,” a joyous celebration 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 the chorus, where she drags the word “bad” out to 15 glorious syllables
“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 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.)
20. “Bang Bang” (Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj, My Everything deluxe edition bonus track, 2014)
“Bang Bang” is the sound 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 vocal confidence. “Bang Bang” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, Grande’s second biggest single to date.
19. “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 regret — and hopefully, healing through catharsis.
18. “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 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.
The biggest surprise on Dangerous Woman, “Everyday” is Ariana’s hardest banger — and one 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 f 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 various ages and orientations make out in public, as Ariana and Future cheekily serenade and cheer them on.
16. “Love Me Harder” (Ariana Grande & The Weeknd, My Everything, 2014)
A sparkling synthwave-R&B track that teeters on the edge 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 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.
An ambitious two-part suite, “Knew Better” opens as a kiss-f to an ungrateful lover — “If you knew better/ Boy, you would do better”. But the song soon grinds to a halt, as a synth bass riff leads into a confession: “Never been with a boy more than six months…/ But you showed me what it means to be happy ever after”. “Forever Boy” is a gorgeous, tropical house-inflected song, where Ariana puts her ego aside for true love. The transition proved controversial — some fans prefer the pettier “Knew Better Part Two“. But the contrast between “Knew Better” and “Forever Boy” is essential — Ariana gives you both sides her in one song, with no contradictions.
14. “No Tears Left to Cry” (Sweetener, 2018)
“No Tears Left to Cry” begins as a hymn. “Ain’t got no tears left to cry/ So I’m picking it up”, sings Ariana, as her soothing, wordless harmonies float around her. The song accelerates into a disco track, echoing “I Will Survive”, but it’s not exactly an anthem. It’s contemplative, internal, a song for headphones as much as dancefloors.
In one her best videos to date, the world is topsy-turvy — but Ariana remains at the center, unaffected by gravity. She swaps faces, signalling the different versions her yet to come. Almost a year after the Manchester attacks, “No Tears” marks the end the healing process, and a tentative opening back up to joy. It remains to be seen how her fourth album will play out, but for now, “No Tears” is exactly the new beginning we need.
13. “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 rap, young Ariana run pop”.
12. “Baby I” (Yours Truly, 2013)
Co-written and produced by R&B legend Babyface, Yours Truly’s second single was no ordinary ‘90s throwback — the track steps and stutters as much as Ariana’s vocal range. Many likened Grande’s early songs to Mariah Carey; fair, but she earned those comparisons. Who else was recording pop songs as virtuosic as “Baby I” in 2013, with key changes and whistle-register vocals? (Even better is the song’s sublime Frankie Knuckles remix, one the Chicago house legend’s last before his death, which transforms Ariana into the timeless disco diva her dreams.)
11. “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 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.”
10. “Santa Tell Me” (Non-album single, 2014)
Great Christmas music is about feeling the highs and lows 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 2016, it was YouTube’s sixth-most viewed Christmas video all time, with now over 146 million views.
Like “Last Christmas”, “Santa Tell Me” is about missing an ex-lover, but Ariana prays to Santa for guidance instead. The bridge fers 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 year, “Santa Tell Me” is a perfect pop song in its own right.
9. “The Way” (feat. Mac Miller, Yours Truly, 2013)
It can’t be overstated: “The Way” was an odd choice for the first single from a Nickelodeon star’s debut album. What’s with the ’90s R&B? Why are the verses too high to sing along to? Why does it feature Mac Miller, all rappers? It samples the piano riff from two classic songs — Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit Love”, Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” — and somehow is every bit as good as either them?
After “Put Your Hearts Up”, Ariana’s ficial 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 Ariana’s best songs, “The Way” is transcendent because she sings with so light a touch. Underestimate her at your own risk.
8. “Dangerous Woman” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
The title track 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 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.
7. “Be Alright” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
“Be Alright” opened every show on Ariana’s Dangerous Woman tour with a striking set 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 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 the song’s nods to ball culture and Madonna’s “Vogue,” but because Ariana fully understood — and embodied — the healing power 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.
6. “Moonlight” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
“Moonlight” marks the culmination 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 the world. As gentle as it is overpowering, Ariana’s voice is unlike anything else in modern pop.
5. “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 fbeat 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 negative space. Then Big Sean’s whispers, a saxophone riff, and the fiercest Iggy Azalea verse all time.
“Problem” might have seemed jarring on first listen, but now you can’t imagine it any other way. It’s still Ariana’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
4. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (One Love Manchester, 2017)
After three hours music, Ariana Grande walks to the front 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 “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” she barely holds back tears — though soon, much the crowd is weeping.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has long been associated with nostalgia. It’s frequently played at funerals, and three its most famous performers — Judy Garland, Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, 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 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.
3. “Honeymoon Avenue” (Yours Truly, 2013)
Ariana’s debut album opens with a wildly ambitious track only she could pull f. “Honeymoon Avenue” weaves together doo-wop vocals, Hollywood strings and R&B beats for a song worthy a Disney fairytale. But there’s as much joy as heartbreak, as Ariana dreams about going back to fix a broken, one–a-kind relationship. “They say only fools fall in love/ Well, they must’ve been talking about us”, sings Ariana — some might call those lyrics naive, but but Ariana made you believe every word she sang.
“Honeymoon Avenue” signalled that Yours Truly was no ordinary pop debut. At just 20, Grande was already a fully mature vocalist, and an artist who knew exactly what she wanted from her music. Later fans owe it to themselves to give Yours Truly a listen — “Honeymoon Avenue”, in particular, is as stunning now as the day it was released.
2. “Break Free” (feat. Zedd, My Everything, 2014)
After the runaway success “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 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 joy, her most jaw-dropping vocal moment in a career full them.
1. “Into You” (Dangerous Woman, 2016)
Every sentence starts with an intake 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 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 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 yourself. And then it’s about letting go, feeling everything; opening yourself up to the level joy you can only experience with another person. Ariana Grande is one 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.