The best song from every Ariana Grande album
The immortal prophecy of one Onika Maraj has been fulfilled. Given Ariana Grande's blockbuster 2020, peaking with the record-breaking release of Positions, it’s safe to say young Ariana does in fact run pop. In order to give proper due to the high ponytail, the staff of EW cast their votes for the best song off each Grande album. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, we also added the pop star's two Christmas EPs. It was a close call for every single one of her projects, but find out below which of her songs are our everything, and which gems we may have said “Thank U, Next” to.
Yours Truly: “The Way (ft. Mac Miller)”
Time and circumstance have only amplified the love fans have for the first single off Grande’s 2013 debut album. The former Nickelodeon star immediately set herself apart from her peers, opting for a throwback to ’90s Pop-R&B as counter-programming to the EDM sound that ruled the charts. Even though the track predates her romantic relationship with the late rapper Mac Miller, their chemistry is palpable. The harmonies, the tinge of humor, the whistle notes all help the song feel timeless, again drawing a through-line to the divas that came before her, but also foreshadowing the principal sound of Positions.
Christmas Kisses: “Last Christmas”
It’s one thing to nail a cover of Wham’s holiday hit, and it’s another thing to give it a complete overhaul. Yes, Ariana Grande provides that same airy quality to the chorus that George Michael did, but the refrain at the end of her verses gives the tune more depth. Grande’s version has an amount of scorn to it absent from most covers of the song, but the addition of a fresh beat-drop also makes the song a little easier for today’s audience to dance to.
My Everything: “Break Free (ft. Zedd)”
One of Grande’s purest pop songs, this second single from her 2014 sophomore album is an early favorite from what’s been a fruitful songwriting partnership with megaproducer Max Martin. The music video parodying Star Trek is apt because the singer takes this soaring melody all the way to outer space. Do the lyrics make a ton of sense? Not really, but that signature song math Martin employs will have even the most steadfast grammar cop gleefully singing along to the line “now that I’ve become who I really are.” It should also be noted that this song cemented Zedd as a hitmaker in his own right, proving he knew how to produce an EDM track that highlights pop vocals instead of drowning them out with glitchy computer sounds.
Christmas & Chill: “Wit It This Christmas”
Anyone who thinks Positions, or even “Side to Side,” is the first time Grande has been horny on main has clearly never heard her 2015 EP of bedroom bops tailored to the holiday season. This cut in particular is a favorite just off the pre-chorus, in which she seductively sings, “Are you down for some of these milk and cookies? Down for loving, you'll be my drummer boy / And I'm the only drum that you gonna play.” The EP, as this song demonstrates, is special to Grande’s fans because it marks a shift where her close collaborators and friends Tommy Brown (TBHits) and Victoria Monét take a more of a lead on making music with her.
Dangerous Woman: “Dangerous Woman”
The appeal of this song — the first title track to appear on this list — is best exhibited in how Grande first released it. Rather than do the whole big-budget music video (that would happen later), the singer opted to first release a clip of her in a latex outfit singing the song a cappella. The track sent a clear statement that Grande had moved on from her child-star days, and it gave her a chorus big enough to play to the back of the arena.
Sweetener: “No Tears Left to Cry”
How does one come back from the unique, devastating experience of a terrorist attack happening at one of your concerts? Grande gave herself and her fans a year to heal, and began a new era for herself on this experimental, empowering note. There’s a mix of many elements meant to literally uplift listeners, elevating it from just a comeback single to a true resilient anthem.
Thank U, Next: “Thank U, Next”
It’s hard not to applaud Grande’s most vulnerable song, and it’s no surprise it became her first No. 1 hit. In the wake of Miller’s death and the dissolution of her engagement to Pete Davidson, the singer provided fans with a melodic mantra to get through similar trauma. The single transcends the idea of a breakup song, and we’re as grateful for the self-proclaimed smash as Grande is for her ex.
While things with Positions are still early, we’ve fallen in love with the closing track about Grande wanting to see herself the way her partner sees her. The moving ballad is a bit of a departure from the bawdy vibe of the album, but again sees her finding a way to put into words a feeling that her fans share, but may not be able to articulate.