Every Ariana Grande Album, Ranked: Critic’s Picks (2024)

From Yours Truly to Thank U, Next, here's where each Ariana Grande studio album ranks in her discography.

Since her Billboard Hot 100 debut with the Mac Miller-assisted “The Way” back in 2013, Ariana Grande has evolved into a generational pop titan. Her awe-inspiring vocal prowess and fearlessness to move through the myriad subsects of pop, R&B, dance, hip-hop and musical theatre have resulted in a discography that is as creatively fulfilling as it is culturally and commercially impactful.

From her days — she didn’t say she couldn’t sing, after all! — it was glaringly obvious that Grande’s voice would carry her to unimaginable career heights. After a few false starts (“Put Your Hearts Up,” anyone?) she eventually found her footing with Yours Truly, the R&B-laced debut LP that announced her as pop’s next superstar. From the jaunty “Popular Song” to her work with key producers and songwriters such as Victoria Monét, Tommy Brown, Leon Thomas III and Babyface, Yours Truly laid the groundwork that Grande’s entire catalog stands upon.

From there, she embarked on five consecutive albums of Top 40 domination. 2014‘s My Everything boasted four Hot 100 top 10 hits, 2016’s Dangerous Woman housed genre-bending collaborations with everyone from Macy Gray to Future, 2018’s Sweetener found Grande expanding her horizons by tapping Pharrell Williams, 2019’s Thank U, Next spawned a pair of career-defining No. 1 hits in its title track and “7 Rings,” and 2020’s Positions reignited her R&B influences and launched two monster hits in its chart-topping title track and “34+35” (No. 2). According to Luminate, Grande has shifted 19.4 million album units in the U.S. and earned over 23.6 billion streams across lead artist credits, as of Aug. 25, 2023, the ten-year anniversary of Yours Truly.

At the top of 2024, Grande made her grand return to the pop music scene with “yes, and?” A house-tastic kiss-off to her detractors, the Max Martin-helmed track serves as the lead single from Eternal Sunshine — Grande’s seventh studio album and first in three years. By the tail end of January (chart dated Jan. 27), “Yes, And?” launched atop the Hot 100 — her eighth chart-topper and sixth to debut at the pole position — and received a Mariah Carey-featuring remix five week slater.

As the two-time Grammy winner prepares to unleash Eternal Sunshine and enter her Wicked era, now is the time to take a trip down memory lane. From latex bunny ears to that low, blonde ponytail, here’s our ranking of every Ariana Grande studio album.

  • My Everything (2014)

    My Everything is arguably the most interesting Ariana Grande album. After all, it’s not often that the record that solidifies a pop star as a near-insurmountable commercial force is also the star’s most incoherent and poorly sequenced offering.

    Boasting four Hot 100 top 10 hits — “Problem” (No. 2, with Iggy Azalea), “Bang Bang” (No. 3, with Jessie J & Nicki Minaj), “Break Free” (No. 4, with Zedd) and “Love Me Harder” (No. 7, with The Weeknd) — and an additional enduring smash in “One Last Time” (No. 13), My Everything’s prerogative was clear: transform Ariana Grande into the world’s most dominant pop star. And, clearly, it worked.

    Grande’s sophom*ore album built on the pop-R&B fusion of her debut with a greater emphasis on meeting 2014 mainstream pop where it was at. She snagged a hit from the tail-end of the EDM craze with the floor-ready “Break Free,” jumped on the trend of horn-loops-as-hooks with the squawking “Problem,” and enlisted multiple guest stars on the precipice of truly reaching the zeitgeist of pop culture, including Childish Gambino (“Break Your Heart Right Back”) and The Weeknd.

    Where the record fails both Grande and its listeners, however, is the jumbled track ordering. The overwrought balladry of “Best Mistake” (with Big Sean) coming directly after the synthy blasts of “Break Free” is a prime example of sonic whiplash, as is the placement of the A$AP Ferg-assisted “Hands on Me” (one of Grande’s earliest attempts at a sex bop) directly after the yearning, Harry Styles-penned “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart.” To her credit, despite the plethora of guest stars (nine in total!), Grande never gets lost in the sea of supporting characters on My Everything.

    My Everything might be an enjoyable collection of pop records, but it’s the Ariana Grande album with the least vision. Even moments of dynamite like “Be My Baby” (with Cashmere Cat) can’t save the record from simply sounding like a hodgepodge of attempts at smash hits, for better and for worse.

  • Yours Truly (2013)

    The album that started it all. There are so many throughlines in Grande’s career and sonic profile that find their source in Yours Truly. Her affinity for grand, whimsical album openers starts with the sweeping “Honeymoon Avenue,” her seamless bridging of ’90s hip-hop and R&B influences finds its roots in “You’ll Never Know” and “Baby I,” and her starring turn as Glinda the Good Witch in the upcoming two-part Wicked movie musical can be traced back to her MIKA-assisted “Popular Song.”

    Just like her instantly memorable 2013 American Music Awards performance, Yours Truly does everything a debut LP should. The record displays Ariana’s artistic ethos: a vocalist informed by the traditions of Broadway and Black R&B and soul singers who uses her expansive range to explore existing as a hopeless romantic, eternally searching for the truth about love in all of its iterations. With a tracklist that features three of her now-ex-lovers (Big Sean, Mac Miller and Nathan Sykes), and doo-wop-indebted odes to the rush of romance like “Tattooed Heart,” Ariana’s heart has been the driving force of her artist project since Yours Truly.

    Upon release, critics lauded Yours Truly for how mature it sounded for a Nickelodeon star’s debut LP — and that characterization still holds up. Ten years later, that sample of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” on “Lovin’ It” still sparkles… and that’s one of the more easily recognizable samples! Take “Right There,” for example, which samples The Jeff Lorber Fusion’s “Rain Dance” by way of Lil Kim’s “Crush On You.” That level of crate-digging is how Ariana ends up incorporating elements of songs by Wendy Rene and The Four Seasons on later albums.

    Nonetheless, that throughline of maturity isn’t foolproof, with tracks like “Better Left Unsaid” and “Piano” standing as stark — though not entirely unenjoyable — reminders that Yours Truly was indeed a late-2013 pop debut. Take from that what you will.

  • Dangerous Woman (2016)

    For some fans, Dangerous Woman is the holy grail of Ariana Grande albums and a certified pop classic. For others, the album simply exists.

    The story of Dangerous Woman — originally titled Moonlight — really begins with “Focus,” a brassy, “Problem”-indebted track that initially served as the set’s lead single. Despite debuting in the Hot 100’s top 10 (No. 7), the track’s tepid critical reception and lack of longevity forced Grande to change directions. As a result, she unleashed “Dangerous Woman,” a career highlight that found her wailing over a soulful mélange of pop, rock and R&B, and which ended up titling the pop superstar’s third album.

    Trading cat ears for Playboy-esque latex bunny ears, Dangerous Woman was a concerted effort to up the maturity level of Grande’s image and lyrical content. She teamed up with Nicki Minaj to sing about the power of a good lay on the frisky “Side to Side,” tapped Lil Wayne for a whispery slow jam titled “Let Me Love You” and delivered a standout self-pleasure anthem with “Thinking Bout You.” From the pulsating synths of “Into You” to the house flirtations of “Be Alright,” Dangerous Woman proved that — when she wants to — Grande can play the pop game better than pretty much anyone else.

    As such, the album is undoubtedly a solid pop confection, but it’s also tiringly long. The most comprehensive edition of Dangerous Woman is a staggering 17 tracks — and that doesn’t even include “Focus,” which only appears on the Japanese editions of the album. What could have been a sharp, concise commentary on Grande coming into her sexuality in the public eye (after years of infantilization, largely because of her size) instead became a sprawling heap of pop tunes that, while mostly satisfying, still starts to lack focus and drift into incoherence midway through the record.

  • Thank U, Next (2019)

    Thank U, Next is probably the most special Ariana Grande record, for the simple fact that she was able to enjoy record-breaking success with an album that found her at her most emotionally vulnerable. Having been in the public eye for the majority of her career, Grande’s life has always been tabloid fodder — but for a long time, aside from tracks like “You Don’t Know Me” and “Jason’s Song,” she didn’t get too autobiographically specific in her music.

    Following the devastating arena bombing at the Manchester stop of her Dangerous Woman Tour and the subsequent Grammy-winning Sweetener album, Grande was finally ready to take an unflinching look inward on Thank U, Next. A companion piece to Sweetener, Next finds Grande tucking in to the glittery trap-inflected R&B she first experimented with on 2015’s Christmas & Chill EP. If her first three albums were dedicated to clear-cut emotions, Next is Grande’s grand rumination on how grief sends everything into a tailspin. The Wendy Rene-sampling “Fake Smile” is a slick commentary on how exhausting performative emotion is, “Ghostin” finds Grande parsing through the struggle of showing up for your current partner while grieving a former lover and “Needy” is a brutal look at how a person’s desire to be wanted can completely transform their approach to life and relationships.

    The true triumph of Thank U, Next, however, is its balance of heavy emotional lows with era-defining pop bangers like “7 Rings,” “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” and its title track — which, of course, concurrently ranked at Nos. 1-3 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated Feb. 23, 2020, making Grande the first solo artist in history to achieve such a feat. A haughty anthem of braggadocio like “7 Rings” only sounds so good because an introspective number like “In My Head” shows just how messy life can get for Grande outside of “breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles.”

    Really, Next’s only setback is that its overarching sound is so firmly planted in that late-2010s wave of trap&B (more specifically, Tommy Brown’s take on that style), that it can sound a bit dated when revisited a half-decade later.

  • Positions (2020)

    Upon release, a number of fans derided Positions because its sound was the furthest Grande had strayed from straightforward pop at that point. They were wrong then, and they’re even more incorrect now.

    With Positions — which does still feature a Hot 100-topping title track and No. 2-peaking smash in the raunchy “34+35” (with Doja Cat & Megan Thee Stallion) — Grande used the involuntary intimacy of COVID-19 lockdown to work on herself and, in turn, work on her relationship with the concept of love and how she approaches new romantic relationships. Where Next is, in many ways, a break-up album, Positions finds Ariana toying with the possibilities of new romance. “Six Thirty” is the perfect soundtrack to the transition from the talking stage to dating, “Off the Table” is a heartfelt acknowledgement of the work it takes to foster and upkeep a healthy relationship, and the Doja Cat-assisted “Motive” expertly captures the innate playfulness of that period when sparks first start seriously flying.

    On the other hand, Positions is also a reflection of Grande’s self-growth. After all, she can’t fit herself into new, different positions that best serve her new relationship if she’s unwilling to get uncomfortable and try new positions in her own life. The India.Arie-nodding “My Hair” is a full-circle moment for a performer whose entire career has been, in part, shaped by and defined by her hair, and album closer “POV” is a stunning declaration of Grande’s intent to love herself the same way she expects her partner to love her.

    With its standard edition clocking in at just over 40 minutes and 14 tracks, Positions doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it also doesn’t feel too brief. Musically, Ariana is arguably at her most singular on this record: The string-laden melodrama of Yours Truly courses through Positions, as does a smart balance of the show-stopping vocal performances of her first three albums and the extended stays in her lush, understated lower register that characterize a healthy amount of her later sets. A remarkably consistent listen from top to bottom, Positions already has a solid argument for the title of most misunderstood mainstream pop album of the 2020s.

  • Sweetener (2018)

    Ariana Grande is at her best when she’s at her most sonically adventurous. Sweetener — a Billboard 200-topping amalgamation of zany Pharrell Williams productions and sleek Max Martin-crafted pop anthems — is the superstar’s strongest album to date. It’s the perfect integration of Ariana the Artist™, Ariana the Popstar™ and Ariana the Person™ — and it both was exactly what she needed post-Manchester, and still holds up incredibly well six years later.

    Beginning with “Raindrops,” a brief a cappella cover of The Four Seasons’ “An Angel Cried” (written by Charles Calello, a close friend of Grande’s grandfather), Sweetener immediately announces itself as an incredibly intimate affair. By the second track, however, Sweetener does what every great pop album should — takes a hard left, which pays off handsomely by the time “Get Well Soon,” the album’s devastating closer, rolls around.

    “Blazed,” the album’s second track, is the introduction of the LP’s Pharrell side; Skittering, percussive beats reign supreme as Grande toys with a vocal delivery somewhere between Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani. It’s new territory for her — as are the record’s dalliances with U.K. garage (“No Tears Left to Cry”) and the power of the cowbell (“Borderline”) — but she handles each foray with remarkable ease.

    Whether she’s detailing her anxiety (“Breathin”) or her divine sexual prowess (“God Is A Woman”), Ariana’s voice floats across Sweetener. Her levity is her resilience. How else does someone process such a harrowing series of traumatic events and still come out with a penchant for positivity? With Sweetener’s dual lead producers, Grande finally achieves a balance of appeasing the demands that come with being on the of the world’s leading pop stars and pursuing new sounds that are as initially jarring as they are cathartic. Take, the Nicki Minaj-featuring “The Light Is Coming,” for example; the track’s stuttering, new wave-indebted production and bizarre spoken sample are almost overwhelming, but Grande’s chanted mantra of “the light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole” is the battle cry of an artist who heals herself and others by wading through the vast expanse of music and trying on whatever feels right.

    Easily the record most infused with her verve and personality, and the album with her clearest artistic vision (and cleanest execution of said vision), Sweetener currently stands as Ariana Grande’s best album — and everyone could use a little bit of it in their lives.

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Every Ariana Grande Album, Ranked: Critic’s Picks (2024)


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