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 soaked in 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, recently released, let’s take a look at Grande’s impressive back-catalogue.
Ariana Grande Albums Ranked From Worst to Best
#6 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.
#5 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.
Grande’s sixth album returns to her R&B roots – with no Max Martin there are less pop anthems, and with short tracks, it moves very quickly. It mixes the lust of Dangerous Woman (some simple arithmetic will give you an idea of the subject matter of ’34 + 35′) and the introspection of Thank U, Next. The duet with The Weeknd on ‘off the table’ is gorgeous, while the pirouetting strings on ‘love language’ are vibrant.
#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
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.
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’.
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Are you a fan of Ariana Grande? Do you have a favourite album?
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What the heck is that in that video? Her voice I will admit is very good. I hear a good melody but it’s hard to get past the electronica…but I’m trying.
I think it’s her pet pig…. Thanks for listening – I think she’s always been a very good vocalist, and she’s lifted the other parts of her music-making (writing lyrics, making more interesting productions) so she’s one of the most interesting pop stars in the world right now.
I know the name, and likely more of the songs than I realize – that’s great to hear that her strongest work is when she’s in control of the writing.
She’s kind of grown into her popularity – she was instantly popular. Her first album was good, largely thanks to the songwriting efforts of Babyface, but she’s added her own voice.
I personally don’t think she has any worse albums. I just love them all. Bang Bang is such a damn good song 🙂
I don’t think she’s made a particularly bad album yet – although most artists tend to rub out of steam later in their career.
Her first album was huge for me during my freshman year of high school! I don’t listen to her much now, but I like hearing about how far she’s come since ‘Victorious.’ It was one of my favorite shows on Nickelodeon.
She’s one of my favourite vocalists – huge range and it sounds effortless.