Ariana Grande is at the top of her game.
Since arriving with her impressive debut Yours Truly in 2013, she’s grown to become one of pop’s most consistent and reliable artists. In just seven years she’s delivered five albums, with her sixth, positions, due to arrive this week.
In that time, she’s effortlessly skipped through genres from R&B to EDM, carrying each song with that impenetrable voice. Whistle notes, runs and “yuh” have become synonymous with the Grande listening experience, no matter what track she’s singing on.
She arrives at her sixth album in stellar form. Her last two records, Sweetener and thank u, next were groundbreaking, taking her from a hitmaker to a megastar. The type that shoots straight up the top of the charts no matter what she’s putting her name to. She’s currently the most streamed female artist of all time on Spotify with two songs ‘thank u, next’ and ‘7 Rings’ sitting at over a billion streams
It hasn’t been an easy run to the top for Grande — she’s endured her fair share of tragedy in a relatively short time and she’s continuously channelled that through her music. Grande songs flit between bursting positivity and crushing heartache.
With positions, likely to extend her hot streak, we decided it was time to put her back catalogue under the microscope, ranking everyone song from her Broadway debut 13 to ‘positions’.
On an administrative note: we’ve only included tracks that list Grande as a main artist. That means no collaborations where she’s listed as a feature. We’re keeping the spotlight firmly on Grande.
#112. ‘A Little More Homework’
One day Ariana Grande is going to win a Tony Award for a show-stopping Broadway performance. ‘A Little More Homework’ from the musical 13 will not be the recipient.
#111. ‘Brand New You’
Little Grande could still give us vocals but the takeaway from ‘Brand New You’, and ‘13’ at large, is just how much better her voice got.
#110. ‘Santa Baby’
The best ‘Santa Baby’ cover belongs to Kylie Minogue.
#109. ‘Cadillac Song’
‘Love Me Harder’ ist the only Grande single with B-sides on streaming services. ‘Cadillac Song’ is ‘Love Me Harder’ without the steam and, as it turns out, that’s just not all that engaging.
Grande has never been one to stick with a sonic formula but she tried and failed to replicate the success of ‘Problem’ with a song that sounds like a cheap cover.
#107. ‘Put Your Hearts Up’
Even Grande knew ‘Put Your Hearts Up’ wasn’t right for her debut. The 4 Non-Blondes-sampling song was her “somewhat going with the flow for now,” as she put it. She later admitted, “it’s just not my vibe.” Ours either, Ari.
#106. ‘They Don’t Know’
Trolls, the film franchise responsible for some of Justin Timberlake’s most woeful moments, tried to taint Grande too. Thankfully, she comes off relatively unscathed with the featherlight ‘They Don’t Know’.
#105. ‘Last Christmas’
Grande’s Christmas records are the least annoying distant family member on the day. Enjoyable at the time but unlikely to be thought of until the following year.
#104. ‘Zero To Hero’
Grande is going to tear up a whole musical Disney film one day. Until then, she stays teasing us with sweet moments like this straightforward cover of a ‘Hercules’ cover.
#103. ‘Almost Is Never Enough’
Back when Grande was assisting in launching the solo career of The Wanted’s Nathan Sykes we got this forgettable ballad. Grande’s voice is sublime — as per — but the song meanders to nowhere.
#102. ‘Bang Bang’
‘Bang Bang’ is one of the most overbearing pop songs of all time. Jessie J third-wheeled a usually unstoppable duo in Nicki Minaj and Grande. She doesn’t take her foot off the vocal accelerator once. So much so that by the time Grande arrives we’ve already had more than enough.
Only now do we realise that ‘Christmas & Chill’ was foreshadowing the woozy R&B stylings of thank u, next. The beat of ‘Intro’ could easily fit in as an interlude on that record.
#100. ‘Winter Things’
Grande’s Jason Mraz moment is sweet but we could go without ever hearing a ukulele in a song by her ever again.
#99. ‘You Don’t Know Me’
Grande’s sophomore album My Everything is the most melodically instantaneous record she’s made. That’s perhaps why this stilted bonus track fails to stick.
#98. ‘Lovin’ It’
The Rascals were the R&B duo responsible for carving out the key-driven beats of Grande’s debut Yours Truly. The aesthetic is so tight that it’s difficult to tell some songs from the next. ‘Lovin’ It’ is one of those that fades into the background if you’re not paying attention.
#97. ‘True Love’
Is it mandatory for Christmas songs to include sleigh bells?
#96. ‘Popular Song’
File ‘Popular Song’ next to ‘Put Your Hearts Up’ — two rare occasions of Grande veering into a pure pop sound that just isn’t her “vibe”, as she would say. This is Mika’s playground, not Grande’s.
#95. ‘Hands On Me’
My Everything rarely misses but ‘Hands On Me’ is a mess. Flooded with mismatched sounds that unnecessarily crowd Grande’s vocal.
#94. ‘Better Left Unsaid’
When Dua Lipa speaks of ‘Levitating’, she’s talking about the sound of Grande using her upper-register over strings. Truly the cause of ascension. It’s a shame ‘Better Left Unsaid’ inexplicably becomes a Pitbull-like song in the chorus.
#93. ‘Too Close’
The other ‘Love Me Harder’ B-side is an average song that benefits from Grande’s crystal clear vocals. At the hands of anyone else, ‘Too Close’ would fall flat.
#92. ‘Love Is Everything’
It’s all here on ‘Love Is Everything’. Sleigh bells. A marching band. Festive metaphors. It all just distracts from what’s actually a great melody.
#91. ‘Not Just On Christmas’
There’s a fairytale aesthetic to the softest parts of Grande’s voice that could see her become a Mariah Carey-level Christmas Queen. She just hasn’t found her ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ yet.
#90. ‘Nobody’ (Feat. Chaka Khan)
Chaka Khan called ‘Nobody’ a “cute song” that’s “not going to change the world.” It’s the best review of this Charlie’s Angels soundtrack cut.
#89. ‘I Don’t Care’
It’s true. I truly don’t care for this Dangerous Woman low point.
#88. ‘You’ll Never Know’
Grande takes on Mariah Carey and Jermaine Dupri’s early ‘00s sound and sounds scarily similar.
Few have been able to write Christmas originals that are tolerable year-round. The after-dark beats of ‘December’ might just pass outside of the season though.
#86. ‘Jason’s Song (Gave It Away)’
I’m not ready for it just yet but one day Grande is going to serve a showstopping musical album. This song, co-written with Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown, is a tantalising taste.
#85. ‘Snow In California’
The last time it snowed in California was 1962. It’s not impossible but it’s improbable that Grande’s Christmas wish will come true.
#84. ‘Bad To You’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj & Normani)
A Grande, Minaj, and Normani collab should be earth-shattering considering the combined power of the three. Unfortunately, ‘Bad To You’ limps along when it should be running.
#83. ‘Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart’
In 2014, Harry Styles wrote a song for Grande. If that happened now, with the pair at the peak of their powers, the internet would disintegrate. Grande flies vocally on this one but Styles’ songwriting was still being workshopped.
#82. ‘Don’t Call Me Angel’ (Feat. Miley Cyrus & Lana Del Rey)
Last year, Grande was so big that she could pull together her dream collaborations whether they made sense or not. All three of these vocalists are so mismatched that Del Rey has to basically create a different song to make her verse work. As far as Charlie’s Angels songs go it’s no ‘Feel Good Time’ by P!NK and it’s certainly no Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Woman Pt.1’.
The fact that good songs are appearing at this point in the list is a testament to the strength of Grande’s catalog. ‘Borderline’ is Sweetener’s low-point but it’s still a slinky, intoxicating moment with a magnetic Missy Elliott verse.
‘Daydreamin’’ truly feels like a dream. Grande sounds like she’s swaying on a cruise ship playing the piano bar and that is actually a compliment.
#79. ‘Only 1’
Back when Grande used to stuff her purest R&B moments into the bonus tracks of her albums we got ‘Only 1’. Nowadays, something like this would make the main event.
#78. ‘Why Try’
According to Grande, ‘Why Try’ is her most boring song. You really have to wonder what damage that high ponytail is causing to her brain.
#77. ‘Wit It This Christmas’
How is it that before ‘Side To Side’, Grande managed to make a Christmas song her dirtiest yet?
Tucked at the tail-end of positions, ‘obvious’ makes the least effective use of the string-laden trap beats. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it. It just doesn’t make a lasting impression.
#75. ‘Leave Me Lonely’ (Feat. Macy Gray)
It had been far too long since Macy Gray had been given the mainstream attention she deserved. Grande put her on Dangerous Woman and the juxtaposition of their two remarkably different voices is *chefs kiss*.
#74. ‘Boyfriend’ (With Social House)
At this point, anything Grande touches turns to chart gold. ‘Boyfriend’ came at the tail-end of her groundbreaking thank u, next era and while it’s completely overshadowed by that, it’s a nice leg-up for frequent Grande collaborators Social House.
#73. ‘MONOPOLY’ (Feat. Victoria Monet)
Grande and Monet are a potent songwriting combo. ‘MONOPOLY’ sounds like they could’ve written it in their sleep. Slick lines over a run-of-the-mill beat, bolstered by their undeniable chemistry.
#72. ‘Thinking Bout You’
Dangerous Woman had golden bonus tracks. ‘Thinking Bout You’ is the worst of them and it’s still great. A pulsating, climaxing pop song that could be the sad cousin of ‘Into You’.
Dangerous Woman is wall-to-wall pop hits which is perhaps why I only think about a breezy song like ‘Sometimes’…sometimes.
#70. ‘Stuck With U’
As far as quarantine projects, Justin Bieber and Grande’s first original collaboration is better than Gal Gadot and co’s ‘Imagine’ and not as good as Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now. A sweet but ultimately unremarkable song.
#69. ‘the light is coming’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
‘The Light Is Coming’ is the strangest song Grande has ever released in the lead-up to a project. It’s a dizzying, experimental Pharrell production that’s intriguing but doesn’t realise the potential of a Minaj and Grande combo.
#68. ‘Got Her Own’ (Feat. Victoria Monet)
Monet may not have the star power yet of Cyrus and Del Rey but ‘Got Her Own’ is a far more potent statement than its soundtrack peer ‘Don’t Call Me Angel’.
#67. ‘six thirty’
Light, fluffy and flavoursome, ‘six thirty’ is the cutest cut on positions. It’s a throwaway phone call, one full of loved-up nothings which makes the heart flutter at the time but fail to linger once the phone is down.
#66. ‘make up’
‘Make up’ is the most effortless cut on thank u, next. An uncomplicated jam that has a little fun and then slips away all in under two minutes and 30 seconds.
The intro of Grande albums have always been an opportunity for her to flex vocally. This My Everything opener is a short-but-sweet, vocal masterclass.
#64. ‘raindrops (an angel cried)’
From one intro to another. Sometimes I think I would do anything to hear Grande cover Hal Miller And The Rays’ ‘An Angel Cried’ in full but then I don’t know if my heart could take it.
Grande rarely gives us a straight-up pop moment but when she does we momentarily bask in the sunshine. ‘Piano’ is serotonin.
#62. ‘Bad Decision’
Another Dangerous Woman bonus track that punches much higher than it needs to. Lyrics that get down and dirty over a bold, blistering beat.
#61. ‘Tattooed Heart’
There are very few artists that could make me listen to doo-wop but you can hook Grande’s vocals in this straight to my veins. At just 20 years old she knew her voice better than most do in their entire lifetime.
#60. ‘Everyday’ (Feat. Future)
When you’re ready to crossover into mature pop music, you call Future. Just ask Taylor Swift. ‘Everyday’ isn’t a paint-by-numbers collab though. The pair bounce off each other effortlessly with Future making the most out of his one-word cameo in the chorus.
Grande giggles at the start of ‘nasty’ as if she’s already blushing by the prospect of what she’s about to sing. She pulls it together though keeping a straight-face while singing, “Like this pussy designed for ya.” ‘Nasty’ dims the lights but it leaves the real steam for songs like ‘34+35’.
#58. ‘Baby I’
Grande said ‘I’m going to give you nostalgia’ and then threw it back to the early ‘00s. We got Mariah Carey with a sprinkle of Mary J. Blige and a splash of early Alicia Keys.
#57. ‘west side’
‘West side’ is the shortest and most understated moment on positions but its washy beat provides room for Grande’s vocal to steam. It’s a song that becomes richer with each listen, particularly the elongated bridge. A stunning and elegant moment on an album that more often than not trades the subtle for the explicit.
#56. ‘How I Look On You’
‘How I Look On You’ is the only song on the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack that would’ve been good enough to make thank u, next. A pointed diss at a certain SNL-featuring ex that’s sonically and lyrically a companion to ‘in my head’.
#55. ‘Let Me Love You’
‘Let Me Love You’ proved that Grande could do moody, after dark R&B without delivering obvious pop hooks. It’s distorting and haunted, housing one of Lil Wayne’s best pop features.
Grande has spent a long time proving herself as a writer, producer and curator. ‘Successful’ is a well-earned victory lap. A tongue-in-cheek flex over a quirky, disjointed Pharrell beat.
#53. ‘pete davidson’
Naming a song after a partner is like getting a tattoo honouring them. Grande did both and while she covered up the tattoo, it’s difficult to delete ‘pete davidson’ from existence. Luckily, it’s a bop.
#52. ‘Break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’
Thank u, next was the most personal album Grande’s made and yet its third single felt like she was playing a veiled character. Still, it’s hard to deny that Max Martin and Ilya production complete with an interpolation of *NSYNC’s ‘It Makes Me Ill’.
#51. ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’
There are few artists that would have the strength to go back and perform in a city weeks after a terrorist attack that killed 22 of your fans. The passion that pours out of Grande during this heartbreaking-yet-hopeful cover is overwhelming.
#50. ‘shut up’
Sweeping, orchestral intros are a staple of Grande albums but while most of them are waltzing daydreams, shut up is a reality check. She takes control on shut up, singing, “Guess it fuckin’ just clicked one night/All those demons helped me see shit differently.” She’ll let you know if she’s not okay and she doesn’t need anyone else to speak up for her.
Martin and Grande have a history of crafting pop perfection. ‘Everytime’ proves they can make more than earth-shattering bangers. This is a subtle, weightless moment that provides the space for Grande’s vocals to fly.
#48. ‘Be My Baby’
Grande was the first major popstar to bring Cashmere Cat’s production into the mainstream. Since then he’s produced for Kanye, Halsey and Camila Cabello but ‘Be My Baby’ was groundbreaking for him. It sounds like a Mariah Carey record born in the depths of an underground club and it’s spectacular.
#47. ‘off the table’ (Feat. The Weeknd)
Grande’s past two albums in particular have been caught in a whirlwind of trauma and anxiety. Positions is the record where she finds some solace and understands there is light at the end. No other song paints that transition better than ‘off the table’, a moody duet with The Weeknd.
Grande sings, “Never thought you’d be so damn hard to replace,” but it’s The Weeknd who delivers the specifics sining, “I’ll wait for you/Even though it feels like I’ll always be number two/To someone you can’t hold anymore.” It’s a rare nod to Miller on an album that mostly deals in the present.
‘Greedy’ is one of those songs that just sounds expensive. A shimmering, decadent moment that could stop any party in its tracks.
If ‘imagine’ didn’t exist ‘Moonlight’ would easily be the best Grande album opener. It’s a sprinkle of stardust that feels like it was delivered in a daydream.
#44. ‘My Everything’
Grande stopped giving us piano ballads after ‘My Everything’ but she had no reason to do so because this is supreme. A backdrop of just harmonies and piano puts a spotlight on Grande’s voice and it takes the moment to soar.
‘Problem’ may have dated since its release but at the time it felt like Grande’s true arrival. It was a bold, blaring pop songs that declares, “I’m a superstar”. Unfortunately, she may have had one less problem without Iggy Azalea being involved.
#42. ‘Santa Tell Me’
‘Santa Tell Me’ is a Christmas smash and if we weren’t so busy pushing Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ up the charts every year we’d be focusing our energy on this. Let’s give Carey another decade and then we’ll turn this into a number one record.
Everything Grande was doing during the thank u, next era felt so unrestrained and lucid. ‘bloodline’ benefits from that careless attitude. She doesn’t have time for your clingy behaviour and you better not be there by the time she wakes.
#40. ‘ blazed’ (Feat. Pharrell)
There are plenty of stan wars about whether Pharrell’s production was a good match for Grande but it’s hard to deny the sonic playground he built for her here. The earthy, rich beat forces Grande to dig into the most soulful pockets of her voice and it’s thrilling. Packed full of feeling, it set the tone for Sweetener.
#39. love language
‘love language’ is a dizzying, spell-binding song that captures the headiness of a new relationship. The strings whip themselves into a spiral as Grande taps into a soft vocal pocket that carries the song. She sounds like she’s broadcasting from the clouds and it’s beautiful.
#38. ‘Break Your Heart Right Back’ (Feat. Childish Gambino)
‘Break Your Heart Right Back’ is the only My Everything album deep cut Grande revived for tour last year and you can tell why. Bolstered by that glorious Diana Ross sample, it’s a sunny, rejuvenating song.
#37. ‘my hair’
Intimacy is key on positions but few songs capture Grande letting her walls down for someone better than ‘my hair’. Grande’s hair has been a signature of hers throughout her career and she’s famously denied any touching. Here though, she’s inviting her lover to, “run your hands through my hair.”
It may sound trivial on the surface but this is Grande, at large, embracing vulnerability.
Ever since this dropped the only life mantra we live by is, “get it, get it, get it, get it / Hit it, hit it, hit it, hit it / Flip it, flip it, flip it.” Everything has been great since.
#35. ‘Right There’ (Feat. Big Sean)
Tapping back into that ‘90s R&B pocket, ‘Right There’ was a slept on hit from her debut Yours Truly. As nostalgic as it is, the trap-inspired production imagined where the sound of pop would head years later.
#34. ‘motive’ (Feat. Doja Cat)
Positions needed a blood-pumper to cut through the mid-tempos and ‘motive’ is that. It’s a rollicking, instantaneous song that’s unapologetically direct. “What’s your motive,” she questions as the beat creates a mood of immediacy. Meanwhile Doja Cat, juxtaposes Grande’s velvety tones with a steady, hearty delivery.
#33. ‘7 rings’
‘7 rings’ is Grande’s most-streamed song, narrowly edging out ‘thank u, next’. Songwriting and production regulars Victoria Monet, Tayla Parx, and Tommy Brown all worked on this one and it sounds like a celebration.
It’s their chemistry that truly shines through, providing Grande with a comfortable environment to become braggadocious. ‘7 Rings’ is a victory lap and it seems the whole world decided to take it with her.
#32. ‘Best Mistake’
Grande and Big Sean’s second collaboration is the sour aftermath of ‘Right There’. It’s a tip-toeing, moody song that has Grande gliding across the beat effortlessly. Rather than Sean being tacked on at the end of the song, ‘Best Mistake’ is a true duet.
If you’re going to make an album about having lots of sex, you better make people blush. Nothing does that more so than creating a chorus that straight-up declares, “Fuck me ‘til daylight”.
What makes ‘34+35’ so endearing though is its light heartedness. She laughs about eating healthy “except for this wine”, and then closes out the song by answering the equation the title sets up. “Math class,” she sings through giggles.
#30. ‘fake smile’
2018 was rough for Grande. She lived all of it out in the public eye and then put all her feelings into thank u, next.
“If I’m being honest I done been through way too much,” she sings on ‘fake smile’ as if she’s throwing her hands in the air and asking, “what do you want from me?” She doesn’t want the answer though. She’s done putting up a front and she lets us know on this soulful, bareboned cut.
#29. ‘Knew Better / Forever Boy’
Another Dangerous Woman bonus track high up the list which suggests to us that she’s sitting on a vault of unreleased gold from that period. ‘Knew Better / Forever Boy’ is split into two. The elongated intro tells a lover to step up or ship out but then the mood changes. A pulsating beat runs in and we’re swept into a dance song. This time, she’s moved on and she’s proclaiming, “be forever mine, all the time”. Thank u, next.
#28. ‘in my head’
Beginning with a grainy voice message from her friend Doug Middlebrook, this is Grande’s epiphany that her relationship wasn’t what she thought. “Boy, I invented you/Gucci tennis shoes running from your issues,” she sings in a rare diss aimed at a certain ex. That’s got to have felt damn good to sing.
#27. ‘The Way’
“What we gotta do right here is go back,” a voice declares before ‘90s keys dance in. Following a false start with ‘Put Your Hearts Up’, this is Grande’s true arrival.
‘The Way’ puts all her talents in full sight with her voice finally running free over a nostalgic R&B beat. Listening now, there’s also something overwhelmingly heartwarming about hearing Grande and Mac Miller as kids, swapping love-struck lines.
#26. ‘better off’
Sweetener is a glorious sugar high but ‘better off’ is the comedown. She’s emotionally detached herself from the relationship but the physical attraction pulls her back in. Over celestial strings she concludes, “I’m better off not being around ya.” One of her most intimate and understated tracks.
Before Grande even released thank u, next, she shared a 45-second snippet of ‘needy’ and it lit the internet up. It ushered in a new era of direct lyrical honesty — one where she shared exactly how she feels in real-time. Over a beat that sounds like it’s sampled from a musical box she casually sings, “I’ll admit I’m a ‘lil messed up.” Aren’t we all.
Together, Pharrell and Grande took us to the clouds on Sweetener. ‘R.E.M’’s hook was originally intended for Beyonce but Grande transformed it into something even more weightless. Her breathy vocals over Pharrell’s glassy production is the closest we’ll come to soundtracking a perfect dream.
#23. ‘Side To Side’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
Grande was intent on telling us she was grown on Dangerous Woman and ‘Side To Side’ is the most obvious example of that. On Twitter, she acknowledged a Lena Dunham tweet that noted the song was, “about getting railed so hard you can’t walk”. Who better to deliver that message than one of the great musical partnerships of our time — Grande and Minaj. They both shine over a steamy reggae beat.
Jack just explained that the song Side to Side is about getting railed so hard you can't walk. SO MANY EMOTIONZ.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) August 30, 2016
#22. ‘just like magic’
“Take my pen and write some love letters to heaven,” Grande sings in the featherlight bridge of ‘just like magic’. Surely she’s talking about writing this exact song. Her vocal performance on this one takes us into the sky as she manifests only good things. It’s a refreshingly positive take that generates good energy only in the hope that it will circle back.
#21. ‘goodnight n go’
Tipping her hat to one of her musical idols Imogen Heap, Grande reimagined her song and achieved the difficult task of making it uniquely her own. ‘goodnight n go’ houses some of Grande’s most stunning vocal work. When she taps into her upper register as the synths warp around her, the heavens open.
#20. ‘Honeymoon Avenue’
This is the best song off Yours Truly. The one that demonstrated the true potential of her voice, both the highs and the lows. This heavenly album opener trips through all Grande’s favourite musical things from luscious strings to anxious trap beats.
It’s too early to tell whether this will be switching up ‘positions’ on this list in the future but for now, it sits here. ‘Positions’ is the least immediate lead-single she’s ever released but it slowly grips hold of you. Grande finally sounds at ease, like she’s addressed all the heavy topics and is ready to have some fun. Specifically, in the bedroom.
#18. ‘bad idea’
‘Bad idea’ is impulsive, reckless, and sweaty. She’s in self-destruction mode and she’s out looking for anything to numb the mind. She achieves that just after the three-minute mark when grandiose strings are replaced by a slow-motion trap beat that pulls the song apart, revealing a murky dark side.
#17. Safety Net (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
With each failed relationship, there’s a new level of trust needed to enter a new one. On ‘safety net’, Grande has been blindsided.
“I came to peace with my path/Now you got me off track,” she sings as a new relationship stampedes into something serious. Grande and Ty Dolla $ign, with two outrageously good vocal performances, capture the moment when you take that leap. It’s tussles between anxiety and excitement as they both contemplate whether to commit.
#16. ‘Dangerous Woman’
“Jus wanna sing. All i ever cared ab,” Grande declared on Instagram last year. That passion is never more apparent than on a song like ‘Dangerous Woman’. Her most ambitious ballad, it’s a vocal masterclass that allows her to really open her lungs.
There are few artists that could take on ‘Dangerous Woman’ and win quite like Grande does.
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#15. ‘Break Free’
‘Break Free’ could be the biggest anomaly in Grande’s discography. Her brief detour into EDM was a triumphant one, however, as she effortlessly translated Zedd and Martin’s pop mastery into her own. They throw grammar to the wind in favour of a sonically perfect pop song and it’s worth it. A megahit that takes off into the stratosphere and never really comes down.
#14. ‘Touch It’
Last year, Grande branded ‘Touch It’ one of her most “boring songs”. It’s a blasphemous claim and one that proves even popstars say dumb things. She’s wrong. ‘Touch It’ is a masterpiece. It’s an unbreakable pop song full of ascending vocals and classic lines like, “How do I make the phone ring?”
#13. ‘Be Alright’
For someone who has been through it all, Grande has a knack for crafting momentary pockets of optimism. ‘Be Alright’ is criminally underrated when it comes to discussing her discography, perhaps because it sounds so effortless. It’s a perky, carefree song that reminds us “we’re gonna be alright.” Sometimes that’s all you need to hear.
‘Breathin’ teaches a similar lesson to ‘Be Alright’ although it’s more complex. On ‘breathin’, Grande addresses mental health as she battles her runaway mind by reminding herself, “just keep breathing.” The verses are anxious and suffocating but the chorus offers a release that feels like a deep breath.
Grande has addressed so many heavy topics on previous albums that positions feels like a well-deserved breather. One where she can have fun and disappear into bedroom escapades.
The closer, however, is a raw admission that she’s still working on herself. She’s accepting love while analysing what her partner sees in her that she can’t always see herself. In a rare admission that she can move on from the past, Grande sings, “All my baggage fadin’ safely.” It’s an insight into the mechanics that got her to the safe place that she plays in throughout the whole record.
Vocally, this is a career high. At points, her voice cracks and scratches as she does away with the pretty and embraces raw feeling. Every crevice and peak of this song is so dictated by unfiltered emotion, it’s hard not to be swept away with her.
#10. ‘God is a woman’
From calling out sexist interviewers to condemning industry double standards, Grande has spent her career fighting for equality in music. ‘God is a woman’ extends that energy into a powerful, unapologetic celebration of femininity.
According to Grande the song is about, “sexual female empowerment & how women are literally everything & the universe is inside of us”. If you don’t believe that by the earth-shattering chorus then you should check your pulse.
sexual female empowerment & how women are literally everything & the universe is inside of us tbh
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) June 25, 2018
#9. ‘One Last Time’
When ‘One Last Time’ dropped there was already something uniquely heart-rendering about it. The desperation in the way Grande sings, “one last time, I need to be the one that takes you home,” taps at the heart like few choruses can.
‘One Last Time’ became an emotional force, however, when fans found new meaning in it following the Manchester Arena attack. Grande fighting through tears to perform it in Manchester just weeks after the attack is heart-wrenching and one of the best examples of how uniting music can be in the wake of tragedy.
From one heart-wrenching moment to another, ‘ghostin’ is the song Grande didn’t want on thank u, next. She begged manager Scooter Braun to take it off the record but he convinced her to keep it. It’s easy to see why.
The most emotionally unrestrained song on the album sees Grande dealing with the death of her ex Miller while lying next to a new partner. Pop music rarely allows the space for artists to explore niche emotional responses but ‘ghostin’ captures this one so poignantly.
“I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again, over him,” she sings while forcing herself to believe, “we’ll get through this.” As her voice whisps away, you can almost tell she’s not convinced of her own words.
Grande, like everyone, is multifaceted. It’s why she can declare herself to be ‘needy’ and then follow it up with a song that declares, “Imma need space.”
‘NASA’ is thank u, next’s first liberation. Tapping into that classic, weightless pocket of her voice, she defies gravity while handing us a plethora of space metaphors. Written with Monet, Parx, and Brown, she once again sounds in her comfort zone, free to catch any thought that momentarily passes through her mind.
#6. ‘get well soon’
Throughout Grande’s career, she’s gently offered reassuring messages of positivity. On ‘get well soon’, however, it sounds like she’s using it to heal herself. After years of dealing with crippling anxiety, Pharrell convinced her to put her thoughts to song, even if not fully formed, as a type of therapy.
The result is a minimal, spacious track that talks Grande down from her most damaging thoughts. She offers an inner-monologue as she attempts to bring peace to her busy mind singing, “Girl what’s wrong with you, come back down.”
“Is there anybody else whose mind does this,” she later questions seeking solace in company. While reminding herself that there are always people around when you feel alone, she unites her fanbase in reassuring them that they’re part of a community.
Music can help you deal with reality but it can also be an escape to euphoria. While Grande combatted the hard stuff on thank u, next, she escapes on the dreamy album opener. According to Grande ‘imagine’ is about, “a simple, beautiful love that is now (and forever) unattainable.”
Thought to have been written about Miller, it daydreams an impossible world, basking in the simplicity of it. The climax — her extraordinary whistles tones — takes us into the clouds, even if we’re dropped back down to earth straight after.
a simple, beautiful love that is now (and forever) unattainable
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) November 14, 2018
#4. ‘Love Me Harder’
Few artists can harness sexual tension as well as Grande and The Weeknd. Vocally, they can make you sweat, putting their foot on the accelerator and pulling back just before the peak. ‘Love Me Harder’ provides the optimum backdrop for them to do that.
The beat is thick and tense as Grande grabs ahold of the keys. “What do I do if I can’t figure it out,” The Weekend sings. “You got to try, try try again,” Grande replies. For once, The Weeknd is on the back foot and it’s captivating to hear Grande make him beg.
#3. ‘thank u, next’
By the end of 2018, Grande was gossip page gold. Her high-profile relationship with Davidson was the sort of whirlwind TMZ dreams of. When it crumbled it felt like Grande had lost control of her own narrative. ‘Thank u, next’, however, snatched it right back. Instead of swapping disses through the press, Grande surprised with a new song just months after the release of sweetener.
That song allowed her to close the chapter herself, not with sprite but with gratitude. ‘thank u, next’ offers a unique take on failed relationships. She acknowledges that each one of her partners has played a part in making her exactly who she is while celebrating the place she’s arrived at.
“I’ve learned from the pain, I turned out amazing,” she sings triumphantly. She moves on with grace but best of all she moves on with the power in her hands.
#2. ‘Into You’
Pop songs are meant to be immediate. The best ones should instantly render a response, good or bad. “I’m so into you I can barely breathe,” is the most magnetic first line in pop music. That may sound like a hyperbolic claim but it’s only appropriate for a song that deals solely in hyperbole.
‘Into You’ is a masterful pop song, one that maximises all of the genre’s characteristics from a dramatic chorus to a soaring middle-eight. ‘Into You’ pulls you in through its own obsessive take on lust.
It so successfully dictates the gravitational force of early attraction that by the time it finishes, you could attribute the lyrics to your own feelings for the song.
#1. ‘no tears left to cry’
Throughout her career, Grande has always bounced between imagination and reality. We’ve basked in the giddy heights and commiserate the crushing lows. ‘no tears left to cry’ combines the two, creating a moment on earth so perfect that it may as well be in heaven.
Following the Manchester Attacks, Grande had dealt with years of anxiety. After the release of this song, she dealt with even more. For just a moment though, she’s able to shut out any negativity and breathe in optimism. Her vocals are light and feathery as she welcomes us into a serene atmosphere, “a state of mind / I wanna be in like all the time,” as she puts it.
To this day, ‘no tears left to cry’ remains a sonic outsider in the pop world. It stands as a moment of its own, simply because none of her contemporaries have even attempted to mimic the genre-crossing sound crafted, almost scientifically, by Martin and Ilya. They saved their most avant-garde work for an artist who could reach the heavenly highs that this song demands.
It floats, it caresses and it warps, expressing a mindset that’s difficult to capture. That quick flash when your world appears to be perfect. ‘no tears left to cry’ manages to extend that fleeting moment into three and a half minutes of naive bliss.
Sam Murphy is a music writer and Co-Editor of The Interns. Follow him on Twitter.