Music

Every Ariana Grande Song, Ranked: Critic’s Picks

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 grace 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 belted high notes.

Now 31 years old, Grande’s spent almost half her life 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. Positions reset our expectations of what an Ariana Grande album should be — definitively closing the chapter on the turbulent second act of her career.

Ariana spent the next three years largely out of the spotlight, preparing for and filming her dream role as Glinda in the upcoming Wicked film adaptations. With no intentions of recording a new album until after production ended, her presence in pop was sorely missed. But when the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike indefinitely delayed filming, Grande spontaneously decided to book studio time with producer Max Martin in New York City. Inspired by her recent divorce, a new relationship, and having fully processed the events of her late 20s, what emerged was her seventh album Eternal Sunshine. Led by her comeback single, the instant-classic pop-house track “Yes, And?,” Eternal Sunshine was equally vulnerable and playful, a moving showcase of the wisdom she’d earned through years of love and loss.

When this list was first published in 2018, upon the release of “No Tears Left to Cry,” it stood at an impressive 86 songs. Six years later, the song count has doubled. From wide-eyed ballads to pop spectacle to deeply personal songs of heartbreak, the definition of what an Ariana Grande song can be has drastically expanded — a shift comparable only to Taylor Swift among pop stars in recent memory. 

However, there’s no single quality that makes an Ariana song great. 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: seven 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 171 songs, only a handful of which are outright bad — now with a solid top 120, a strong top 100, and a near-flawless top 70.

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