Ariana Grande pivoted to a music career after four seasons on Nickelodeon teen comedy Victorious. She released her debut, Yours Truly, in 2013 at the age of 20. It showcased a beautiful voice with a four-octave range, warm tones, and a distinctive slur. Grande’s vocal abilities are impressive given her 5 foot frame. Comparisons to Mariah Carey inevitably followed, especially as Grande’s debut is indebted to 1990s R&B.
While Grande belongs to the same diva lineage as Carey and Whitney Houston, I prefer her music as she doesn’t devote much time to torch songs. There’s the occasional slow-burning vocal showcase like ‘God Is A Woman’ or ‘Dangerous Woman’, but her vocal acrobatics are often used in upbeat pop/R&B hybrids.
Grande’s become more interesting as she’s assumed more artistic control over her career. She’s endured personal tragedy – notably an attack on Manchester Arena immediately after a 2017 concert by Islam extremists that left 23 dead, but also the overdose of former partner Mac Miller. These events have taken her lyrics to unusual places for a pop star, singing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder instead of puppy love. Her productions have also become rawer and more idiosyncratic. Grande now has the artistic clout to release two albums six months apart, and to make an entire music video using footage of her pet pig.
With a sixth album, Positions, due soon, let’s take a look at Grande’s back-catalogue.
Ariana Grande Albums Ranked From Worst to Best
#5 – My Everything
Grande’s second album represents her awkward artistic adolescence – forsaking the charm of her debut, but lacking the personality of her later efforts. There are strong singles like the EDM of ‘Break Free’ and the Iggy Azalea collaboration on ‘Problem’, but the album tracks are often bland. The cover shot of Grande kneeling on a stool later sparked a viral challenge of Twitter, where contestants would try to recreate her pose.
#4 – Yours Truly
Ariana Grande’s debut is charming, mining territory like 1990s R&B and 1950s doo-wop as showcases for her voice. 1990s star Babyface wrote much of the material, including throwback pieces like ‘Tattooed Heart’ and the string-laden ‘Honeymoon Avenue’. ‘Baby I’ and ‘Lovin’ It’ are sophisticated 1990s-flavoured R&B, while ‘Piano’ is a charming singalong.
#3 – Dangerous Woman
Grande’s third effort is her only studio album so far not to top the US chart – surprising when it’s full of pop bangers like ‘Into You’ and ‘Greedy’. In reality its failure to top the charts is probably due to an infamous 2015 incident where Grande was filmed in a shop licking donuts and exclaiming “I hate America!” Dangerous Woman is Grande’s lustiest album, almost to the point of caricature on ‘Side to Side’. It’s worth hearing the deluxe edition, for the wealth of strong outtakes like ‘Step On Up’ and ‘Jason’s Song (Gave It Away)’.
#2 – Thank U, Next
Ariana Grande defied industry expectations by releasing Thank U, Next less than six months after Sweetener. It was a therapeutic exercise for Grande, her way of dealing with the death of former partner Mac Miller and her subsequent breakup with fiance Pete Davidson. It’s Grande’s most personal album, especially on the devastating ‘Ghostin”, where she discusses her feelings about Miller over wheezy synths. It’s spoiled a little by the singles ‘7 Rings’ and ‘Break Up With Your Boyfriend, I’m Bored’, both disposable compared to the emotional depth elsewhere on the record.
#1 – Sweetener
Ariana Grande takes control of the writing process on her fourth album, discussing her battles with anxiety and trauma. Sweetener is the least cohesive of all Grande’s albums – the big-budget productions from Ilya and Max Martin are markedly different from Pharrell Williams’ simple arrangements. Sweetener, however, is full of gems – the duet with Pharrell Williams on ‘Blazed’ is charming, while the closing ‘Get Well Soon’ is elegiac and graceful. There’s a phenomenal three song run in the middle of Sweetener; the slinky R&B of ‘Everytime’ is followed by the magnificent ‘Breathin”, with its vocal acrobatics and stinging guitar solo, while the album’s centre-piece is resilience anthem ‘No Tears Left To Cry’.
Are you a fan of Ariana Grande? Do you have a favourite album?