The 10 Best Ariana Grande Songs of All Time

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The 10 Best Ariana Grande Songs of All Time
The 10 Best Ariana Grande Songs of All Time

When Ariana Grande first debuted back in 2013, she showed immediate promise. A theater kid with a Nickelodeon pedigree, she entered the music space fully formed on her first album, “Yours Truly,” a seamless blend of pop and R&B cemented together by her crisp, bell-ringing voice. Grande was different from other pop singers of the time. Her voice was pliable enough to reach melismatic heights, and she seemed to have an innate understanding of how to traipse genre lines while keeping one foot firmly rooted in pop.

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It’s something she’s explored as her music has progressed throughout the years. Across her six studio albums, the 30-year-old has mixed and matched styles and sounds by bringing them into her world. There are dabbles in EDM, trap, hip-hop, trop house, showtunes and house music, as evidenced by her Madonna-indebted latest single “Yes, And?,” a preview of her seventh album “Eternal Sunshine” releasing on March 8.

Versatility is nothing new for Grande, who has scaled the charts time and again with her chameleonic approach to writing songs. With a co-starring turn in the theatrical film “Wicked,” in theaters November 27, Grande continues to hit new heights as she gets deeper into her career. On the eve of “Eternal Sunshine,” Variety looks back on the 10 best songs from her discography, from singles and album cuts to bonus tracks.

10. Cadillac Song

“Cadillac Song” may have eluded casual Grande fans, as it was included as a bonus track on Target and international editions of “My Everything.” (It still isn’t even on streaming, and she’s never performed it on stage.) And yet, at the time of its release, it showed that Grande could broaden the palette beyond the bombast of singles like “Problem” and “Break Free.” Grande is a student not just of pop music, but also of R&B and classic soul, and intuitively knows when to pull back her vocals to channel the ambiance and texture of those genres. “Cadillac Song” presents as a gorgeous, twinkling nod to the sound of Motown’s heyday, coasting on a flipped sample of The Sylvers’ “How Love Hurts,” and you can almost picture her daydreaming behind the wheel about the warmth she once felt from a relationship long gone.

9. Be Alright

Grande is an artisan of interpreting genres and translating them into pop, which is why “Be Alright” doesn’t sound nearly as dated as some of the tropical house that inspired the song. In 2016, when the song was released as a single from her third album “Dangerous Woman,” trop house had a strong footing in the EDM space, softening the overblown big tent fare that had largely been dominating the genre. “Be Alright” is breezy, an overly positive assurance that no matter how bad things get, they’ll always end up in the right space. It’s a conceit that Grande often explores, and here it cleanly maps to the instrumental’s laidback aesthetic.

8. The Way

A foundational song in her career, “The Way” introduced Grande as a retro-pop enthusiast with a fundamental understanding of how to marry it to contemporary R&B. Her debut album, 2013’s “Yours Truly,” was crisp and clean, a celebration of the genres she was blending into one jubilant package. “The Way” captured that spirit in full. Wrapped around an interpolation of Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit of Love” (by way of Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player”), her first major single is a pure expression of jubilance, propped up by flirty come-ons in a his-and-hers tradeoff with rapper Mac Miller. The chemistry is palpable, and its expression of young love is as fun and free now as it was back then.

7. Be My Baby

It’s a shame that Grande hasn’t worked more extensively with Cashmere Cat. Throughout her career, she featured on a pair of outré electronic pop songs by the Norwegian producer—“Adore” and “Quit”—that only underwrote their unique chemistry. It’s something that extends to “Be My Baby,” co-produced with Benny Blanco and Lido, included as a mid-album cut on 2014’s “My Everything.” Grande plays with tempo and pace as her vocals skitter across the glitchy production, and by the time she scrapes the high note in the last chorus, it’s clear that there’s something more to their collaborative process than what one might expect.

6. Break Free

How to follow up a massive first single off your sophomore album with an even bigger-sounding second one? By trading in explosive pure pop for EDM-driven pop, of course. Grande took a dip in the electronic music trend that largely loomed over pop music in the mid-2010s, chasing “Problem” featuring Iggy Azalea with “Break Free,” helmed by producer du jour Zedd. “Break Free” is an aural assault in all the best ways: industrial verses that cut like a chainsaw, leading into a chorus as expansive as the Sahara tent at Coachella. Who cares if the lyrics don’t make sense? “Now that I’ve become who I really are” feels like an afterthought to the music at play.

5. 7 Rings

Some have previously sampled “The Sound of Music” to great effect (like Gwen Stefani’s absolutely bonkers, very excellent 2006 single “Wind It Up”). And on paper, transforming “My Favorite Things” into a trap-pop anthem wouldn’t work. But there’s a payoff—quite literally—to “7 Rings,” the second single off of 2019’s “Thank U, Next.” It’s unabashedly materialistic, yet reframes retail therapy as a source of empowerment: “My receipts, be lookin’ like phone numbers / If it ain’t money, then wrong number,” she sneers. It’s not about flaunting wealth; it’s about using it to reward yourself (and, in her case, her friends) for what you’ve endured.

4. Into You

When Grande loves, she loves hard. Few songs in her discography match the romantic vibrancy of “Into You”: “So baby come light me up, and maybe I’ll let you on it / A little bit dangerous, but baby, that’s how I want it,” she sings. Part of the magic of “Into You” is how the song itself is constructed. On the verses and pre-chorus, she plays subdued and coy while building tension—who’s going to make the first move?—before exploding into the chorus for maximalist payoff. “A little less conversation and a little more touch my body,” she wryly quips on one of her most clever lyrics. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and Grande brings us along for the thrilling ride.

3. Ghostin’

Easily Grande’s most emotionally revealing song to date, “Ghostin’” was, in her words, written about being in a relationship while having feelings for someone else. But it’s impossible to extricate her personal narrative from the song itself. At the time it was written, she was in a very public relationship with her then-fiancé Pete Davidson when her former boyfriend Mac Miller died of a drug overdose. “Ghostin’” plays as a trauma response to the heavy, mixed feelings that emerged from the wreckage. She’s soaked in tears, wading through “a rain parade from hell.” “Though I wish he were here instead / Don’t want that living in your head,” she sings through her grief, cushioning the devastation with a gentle tenderness in her voice.

2. No Tears Left to Cry

A recurring theme in Grande’s career (and personal life) is perseverance, be it through tragedy or heartache, by looking for a silver lining in the negative. That’s precisely what makes “No Tears Left to Cry” so optimistically joyous. She released the single less than a year after a terrorist bombing at her Manchester concert in 2017, and instead of wallowing in the darkness of the event, she used it as an opportunity to uplift and inspire those around her. “No Tears” is splotchy and bright, not overtly defiant like some of her previous work, and shows that healing can come in many forms, especially in pop music.

1. Thank U, Next

Grande didn’t always approach songwriting as a literal exercise. On her first three albums, she sang in broad platitudes by touching on themes of romance, sex and liberation in general terms. Something shifted with 2018’s “Sweetener,” perhaps due to her growing celebrity and the scrutiny that it brings. In opening up her music to explicitly personal experiences, she managed to add depth to her songs in ways we hadn’t seen before (see: “Pete Davidson,” a semi-interlude on “Sweetener” that lauds her then-fiancé). What better way to control the narrative of her breakup with Davidson, and give a wink-nod to all of her relationships that had been on public display, than to shrug it all off on one her best songs. “Thank U, Next” isn’t the pitying woe-is-me anthem she could have made; rather, she finds herself in the process of losing love, and discovers the strength that comes with finally loving who you are.

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