14 best Ariana Grande songs (to add to your playlist stat!)

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 26: Ariana Grande performs at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 26: Ariana Grande performs at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy) /

When Ariana Grande embarked on a music career, fresh off her tenure as an actress in Nickelodeon’s Victorious and Sam & Cat, success was not assured. The history of popular music is littered with teenage stars trying their hands at music careers, lacking the talent and savviness to pull it off.

Yet in the seven years since Ariana Grande’s debut record, she has become one of the best and biggest pop stars in the world. Powered by a remarkable and versatile voice, and aided by many of the top producers working today, Grande has put together a very solid body of work since the release of her first record years ago.

There are certainly more hits to come, but for now, we’re looking back and selecting the best songs of her career so far, from the chart-topping singles to the lesser-known album cuts.

** Note: A previous version of this article was published under the byline of its original author Micah Wimmer.

14. “Into You” by Ariana Grande

Dangerous Woman is a bit of a transitional record for Grande as it finds her transitioning from the teen pop of her first two records to a more R&B inflected style with only moderate success. It lacks the surety of the records that precede and follow it, though the album’s second single, “Into You” shows the promise of what was to come.

It’s a bass heavy track, perennially pulsating, and while it is not as dynamic as many of her best songs, its limited range showcases a definite sense of purpose, making it the perfect soundtrack for developing a fiery crush on someone you met 15 minutes ago.

13. “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande is one of the best pure singers making pop music today, and on this track she really shows off her vocal power in one of the biggest hooks of her career.  It’s also a song that displays her abilities, not only from a technical standpoint, but as a conveyer of moods with her delivery showcasing a number of contradictory emotions in the same line.

While the lyrics are those of joy, finding herself in a state of mind she wants to be in all the time, there is an undercurrent of fear in her delivery. It is as if even in the midst of freedom from sadness, she is still worried about a time that it will reappear, when those tears may come back. But in the interim, “we vibin.’”

12. “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande

When Grande started her career as a singer, she was best known as the star of two teen comedies on Nickelodeon. Accordingly, there was a bit of eagerness to shed that child-friendly image and showcase a more adult style. It’s a gambit undertaken by many and is one that is not always successful as these former child and teen stars are often too brazen, making it feel like they are only aiming for shock value.

Grande is able to thread that needle on “Love Me Harder,” a duet with a pre-superstar the Weeknd (this is the first top forty single he ever appeared on). The song is more euphemistic than direct, yet their chemistry together and Grande’s pleading vocals make it clear that this song is about more than just wanting more devotion and commitment. For her, this gesture towards adulthood succeeded wonderfully.

11. “34+35” by Ariana Grande

Of course, if there was a time when Grande preferred to voice her desires in euphemisms, then that moment has long since passed. “34+35” is her most explicit song (in case you didn’t notice, the two numbers in the title add up to 69, which is, infamously, the sex number), yet it sounds too joyful to be truly dirty. The juxtaposition between the bright sounds and the sexual lyrics works wonderfully here; there are not many songs that can make sex sound like such fun.

10. “Ghostin” by Ariana Grande

While many of her best songs are predictably up-tempo pop songs that all sound destined for an infinite amount of radio play, Grande has also showcased a knack for singing ballads on occasion. None are quite as good as this track from Thank U, Next though. In it, she sings of lying next to a lover while pining for another, the pain it causes her and the inherent unfairness of the situation towards her partner.

While she tries to be resilient, closing the song out by singing of her belief that “we’ll get past this,” her vocals make that sound like nothing but a well-intentioned lie. It’s a heartbreaking song and she sells it with an aching delivery that may be the most emotional of her career thus far.

9. “Fake Smile” by Ariana Grande

The foundation of “Fake Smile” is a sample of a little-known, though tremendous, soul song by Wendy Rene called “After Laughter,” previously used to build up the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Tearz.” While “Tearz” is a great track in its own right, “Fake Smile,” to its benefit, stays truer both to the old song’s original instrumentation and emotions, transmuting Rene’s mournfulness into something new and poignant.

Listen to the wordless “ooohs” that punctuate several lines, and you can hear the desperation behind the fake smiles she sings of, the aching desire to feel a joy that can be performed but not experienced within. It’s well-trod territory made transcendent by a performance both spectacular and sensitive.

8. “Positions” by Ariana Grande

Part of what makes Grande such a compelling vocalist is the elasticity of her voice — the way she slides and maneuvers around harmonies so effortlessly — but another component of that is how slyly she can deliver these lyrics. “Positions” is obviously a song about sex disguised as one about more general romantic and personal flexibility, but like, only the most naive person alive is being fooled by surface appearances here.

Anyway, listen to the way her voice just effortlessly floats around every syllable, and the way it blends with the music so perfectly — those plucked strings and synths creating the perfect accompaniment. It is an unbelievably sweet and delectable confection that makes it clear that after over a half decade of chart success, she is not even close to losing her proverbial fastball.

7. “POV” by Ariana Grande

The closing track on her latest record finds Grande overcome and almost mystified by the love a partner feels for her, wanting to find a way to find it for herself. This song is both so sad and so hopeful, knowing that love for one’s self is a worthy and potentially attainable goal while also knowing that developing and actualizing it is one of the most difficult battles one can wage.

But for the moment, in the interim before that happens, there is still the joy in knowing how deeply one is loved by another. It may not be a cure, but it can be a worthy substitute at times and the greatness of this song is achieved by balancing those two opposing feelings so well, capturing them both simultaneously.

6. “Problem” by Ariana Grande

“Problem” has to overcome a lot to approach the greatness it achieves. There’s a lackluster verse by Iggy Azalea, an occasionally intrusive horn part, and a chorus that is less of a sung hook than just a repeated line delivered in a strange whisper by Big Sean. Yet none of those elements matter when listening to Grande sing here. The power she displays on the verses and pre-chorus is just astounding as a golden age-style hip hop beat backs her, intermittently punctuated by strong chords.

It’s just so fun and loose, and the fact that the tone of the music and her voice bely the inability to learn and move on that is apparent in the lyrics just does not matter. “Problem” is not a perfect song, but it has some perfect moments, becoming her first of many top five singles in the process.

5. “Pete Davidson” by Ariana Grande

Like the relationship with the man this song pays homage to, “Pete Davidson” is quite brief. It clocks in at just over a minute and yet despite its brevity, it wonderfully captures the joy and effervescence of new love, the affection in her voice conveying so much. It can be sort of a blink and you miss it track, appearing right before Sweetener’s grand finale, but “Pete Davidson” is a minor masterpiece in its own, small way.

4. “Bad Idea” by Ariana Grande

Pretty much every Ariana Grande song is well-crafted. She has a bevy of world-class producers at her disposal and has shown an intuitive knack for knowing how to utilize them well. But some songs just have that one element that still makes it stand out from the rest. Here, on “Bad Idea,” it is an insistently picked guitar that lends the song a hint of ominous, but enticing danger on the horizon.

The song is both sexy and discomforting at once, a track that seduces the listener in spite of themselves. Whatever the bad idea is that she sings about, Grande sells it, making poor decision-making sound like the most appealing thing in the world.

3. “Needy” by Ariana Grande

“Needy” is one of the more haunting songs in Grande’s discography. It is built around repetitive chords played on some sort of keyboard that sounds like it was repurposed from the soundtrack of a b-horror film, as she sings of her tendency to be, well, needy. “Needy” kind of deconstructs the more independent persona evident elsewhere on Thank U, Next— most notable on the title track — but even when talking about needing a lot from another, there’s a certain strength in that.

The song shows Ariana working in a different sonic direction than is her standard and she excels. This is likely the closest she will ever come to making a moody, indie pop record, but it also indicates that on the off chance she does decide to pursue that direction, she’ll absolutely crush it.

2. “Get Well Soon” by Ariana Grande

“Get Well Soon” is perhaps the most seductive song that Grande has ever written despite it not really being about seduction at all. Her voice is lilting and the instrumentation is relatively pared back, really letting her performance shine over the staggered piano chords and insistent percussion.

The melodies throughout are surprising, yet she handles every nuance of the track’s demands with ease, making it one of her more relaxed performances which is a major part of just what makes it so inviting. It may not be her most famous song, but it’s certainly among her most beautiful.

1. “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande

“Thank U, Next” was released less than three months after the release of her previous record, Sweetener, but with her well-publicized break-up with Pete Davidson, she clearly felt a need to make a statement.

It’s not a typical break-up song, more about gratitude, resilience, and lessons learned than the absence of another and the pain and heartbreak that often fills that vacuum. It’s a song that does a lot of tricky things simultaneously: it expresses gratitude for her exes while also sounding grateful that she is no longer with any of them, somehow walking a tightrope between being dismissive and wallowing in nostalgia.

It’s generous and sweet without becoming saccharine — even the reveal that she is devoted to spending more time with herself somehow works, corny as it is. And it just sounds great too. Thank U, Next is a murkier album than the bright Sweetener and this was the introduction of that transition, showing more influence from alternative R&B acts than the pop divas she had emulated in the past. Grande had recorded a number of good songs before this, but with two years worth of hindsight, it feels like this may have been the moment she truly came into her own.

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