20. Just Like Magic (2020)
After the double whammy of Sweetener and Thank U, Next – albums that dealt with life-changing shocks – there’s something deservedly braggadocio about this Positions album track. After a brief rundown of her daily routine – meeting, meditation, studio to listen “to some shit I wrote” – it expands to pontificate on the benefits of a positive mental attitude. Blessings come tinged with pain, however: “Take my pen and write some love letters to heaven,” she sighs as the music drops briefly in remembrance.
19. Adore (with Cashmere Cat) (2015)
Relegated to a bonus track on Norwegian producer Cashmere Cat’s debut album, 9, the offbeat R&B of Adore pits Grande’s grandstanding vocals against a wall of sound that utilises backwards gurgles, metallic twangs and rib-rattling beats. By the song’s end the two are locked together, tumbling down as the song falls off a cliff edge.
18. Rain on Me (with Lady Gaga) (2020)
Post-lockdown 2020’s summer banger, the stoic Rain on Me is chiefly Gaga’s show. She faces the rain/pain head on and relishes showing it who’s boss with a snarl, while Grande seems to accept its appearance but doesn’t let it stop her. As the song drifts into its third act, it’s Grande who takes the line “I hear the thunder coming down won’t you rain on me?” on to a dancefloor stained with tears.
17. The Way (feat Mac Miller) (2013)
The lead single from Grande’s debut album, Yours Truly, the 00s R&B of The Way bounds around like an excitable puppy. Melodies tumbles, Mariah Carey-esque vocal runs rise and fall, while Grande sounds genuinely ecstatic as she and future boyfriend Miller exchange ad-libs. The sound of a star arriving fully formed.
16. Break Free (2014)
Co-produced by Max Martin alongside German EDM practitioner Zedd, Break Free finds Grande loosening that famed high ponytail and charging towards the party. A synthetic blur of jackhammer beats and vertigo-inducing drops, it comes with an inbuilt drunk-at-3am holler via the nonsensical “Now that I’ve become who I really are”.
15. Safety Net (feat Ty Dolla $ign) (2020)
Over a heartbeat pulse and a luxuriant melody, Grande muses on that feeling of fully giving yourself to someone else, and the fear that it brings. Pleading with her to let it all go is Ty Dolla $ign, whose raspy vocals ground Grande’s airy flutter. The best moment happens in the final third when Grande, finally happy to hand her heart over, pleads “never let me run away”.
14. In My Head (2019)
Rather than lay the blame at anyone else’s feet, Grande spends the majority of this plain-speaking breakup song admonishing herself for missing the signs. “My imagination’s too creative / they see demon, I see angel,” she sings, as subterranean beats clank like alarm bells in the background. “Thought you were somebody else, you …” she sighs at the end, the thought trailing off into the ether.
13. Be Alright (2016)
By her third album, Dangerous Woman, Grande was starting to expand her sonic palette, with this fan favourite elegantly dipping its toe in 90s deep house and vogue culture. Proof that uplifting self-empowerment anthems don’t have to be delivered at a snail’s pace, the sashaying Be Alright all but struts away from its problems.
12. Problem (feat Iggy Azalea) (2014)
Opening Wannabe-style with the sound of laughter, Problem is a similarly decisive superstar moment. Built around a delirious horn riff, it switches the pop playbook by cramming all the hooks into the verses and the gloriously ascending pre-chorus, before an uncredited Big Sean whispers “I got one less problem without you” in the empty space where the chorus should be.
11. Positions (2020)
While it was her fifth single to enter at the US No 1 spot, Positions eschews the bold pop punch of some of Grande’s other lead singles. This is laid-back, string-drenched R&B with a spring in its step. Reflecting on a new relationship, Positions opens with plucked strings, the sound of crickets and Grande’s giddy “Heaven sent you to me”. The layered harmonies drape the song like silk sheets on a king-size bed.
10. Breathin’ (2018)
Sweetener’s third single utilises a supple Drakeian mid-tempo pulse to explore Grande’s battles with anxiety. “Feel my blood running, swear the sky’s falling,” she sings on the pre-chorus, before remembering the best advice is to just take a moment. The song’s plain instruction – “Just keep breathin’ and breathin’”- is sung on a loop until it starts to sink in.
9. POV (2020)
Built around watery textures, there’s something instantly dreamlike about the heart-swelling POV, as if it’s soundtracking that moment when you blink yourself awake next to a loved one. Unhurried and elegantly paced, it features a rapt, full-throated Grande pleading, “I want to love me the way you love me”. The perfect emotional end to the Positions album’s sweaty odes to bedroom Olympics.
8. Thank U, Next (2018)
Eschewing a media narrative that demands “the tea” from celebrities when it comes to exes, the graceful Thank U, Next – the moment Grande’s superstar-status was properly cemented – acknowledges the past, learns from it and moves on. While the title instantly became a meme – a very modern signifier of cultural dominance – it also already feels like a timeless addition to the pop canon.
7. Love Me Harder (feat the Weeknd) (2014)
Not only did this undulating ode to good sex introduce the Weeknd to a pop crossover audience, it also kickstarted a fruitful creative friendship that also yielded this year’s Save Your Tears remix. On this Max Martin-produced behemoth it’s Grande that steals the show, her silk-soft backing vocals cradling the Weeknd’s graphic lyricism.
6. One Last Time (2014)
Originally released in 2014, the wistful One Last Time – about trying desperately to cling to something that’s about to exist only in memories – became a fan-anointed anthem after the terrorist attack at Grande’s Manchester concert in 2017. Full of longing and rapidly unspooling emotion, its chorus perfectly articulates a desperate desire for one more moment together.
5. Ghostin’ (2019)
This featherlight ballad lays bare the emotional fallout after ex-boyfriend Mac Miller’s death, specifically its effects on Grande’s relationship with then fiance Pete Davidson. “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again, over him,” she sings softly as backwards synths and Disney strings weave around her. By the song’s coda, a multitracked choir of Grandes gently wraps the distraught listener in a warm embrace.
4. Piano (2013)
Weirdly denied single status, the joyous Piano is a toothy, full-beam smile in musical form. Swaddled in syrupy strings and a candy-coated beat, it manages to feel retro without dipping into pastiche, with Grande approaching the cute lyrical conceit – should she write a sad piano ballad or something more radio-friendly? – with youthful gusto.
3. Imagine (2018)
The unabashed love song gets a tragic twist on this teaser single from Thank U, Next. Grande paints a blissful picture of relationship goals attained, before the music drops and grief takes hold. “Why can’t you imagine a world like that?” Grande pleads with a heart-sinking thud in this minimal ode to Miller who had died two months earlier.
2. No Tears Left to Cry (2018)
Released a year after the Manchester Arena attack, the lead single from Sweetener opens like a sombre ballad. But it’s a fake, the song quickly clicking into its UK garage-inspired groove. From there it sets its sights skywards, Grande’s vocals unmoored as melodies tumble and hooks reveal themselves at every turn. “Oh I just want you to come with me,” she sings pleadingly at one point, happy to lead others to a place of hard-won strength.
1. Into You (2016)
“I’m so into you I can barely breathe,” coos Grande at the start of Into You, an immaculately constructed pop stomper that feels as if it’s constantly teetering on the brink of desperation. It focuses on that moment just before flirtation coalesces into something hotter and heavier, with the song’s throbbing production, all synth womps and whiplash beats, mirroring the increasingly thirsting lyrics (“A little less conversation and a little more touch my body,” goes the chorus). At the centre of it all is Grande, who lowers her register on the tentative first verse, before gliding up through the gears as the enquiring pre-chorus (“Is this going to happen?”) crashes into the stadium-sized chorus, Grande’s voice now at full-pelt delirium.