From the Nineties rap samples dotting her albums to her spot-on impressions of Britney Spears and Celine Dion on Saturday Night Live, Ariana Grande has shown herself to be a dedicated student of music. Even while she was still acting on Nickelodeon as a teenager, she shared her musical inclinations with fans by covering favorites on YouTube. Whether expertly mimicking her pop diva influences or displaying her versatility, Ariana Grande has continued to show off her voice with the occasional cover. Here are a few of the best.
Anyone who’s watched American Idol knows that tackling material by pop’s most revered vocalists, particularly Whitney Houston, has been a minefield for many ambitious young singers. But one of Houston’s most dynamic songs, “I Have Nothing,” has become a staple of Grande’s live performances — and she bravely sang it in front of President Obama at the White House. Grande has an impressive handle on the Bodyguard soundtrack standout’s challenging build from subtle verses to a belted chorus.
Miley Cyrus transitioned from teen TV stardom to the pop charts years before Grande, and the vocalists have shown each other mutual admiration. Last year, Cyrus invited Grande to one of her Backyard Sessions, where she often covers songs in a relaxed atmosphere, and the duo reclined on an inflatable couch to sing Crowded House's classic 1986 single "Don't Dream It's Over." Grande hits the signature high notes of the Antipodean ballad's chorus while Cyrus covers the "hey now, hey now" refrain. They chat about their animal pajamas during the instrumental bridge, causing Grande to miss her cue for the third verse, but recover nicely to finish off the song.
Ariana Grande has a soft spot for Christmas music, dropping EPs of seasonal covers and originals at the end of both 2013 and 2015. The Christmas Kisses EP kicks off with one of modern pop music's most iconic holiday songs, Wham!'s "Last Christmas." Though Grande's velvety voice perfectly suits one of George Michael's most sentimental melodies, the secret weapon of the cover is another veteran pop star, Babyface, who co-produced a clubby update of the song's backing track.
Ariana Grande and Big Sean didn't officially become a couple until 2014. But in 2013, Grande proved that she was a fan when L.A. radio host Big Boy put her on the spot to rap his single "Guap." She stepped up to the task, nailing Sean's hyperactive flow and wacky adlibs.
Ariana Grande was working on the second season of Victorious in 2011 when she uploaded an a cappella cover of one of the year's biggest pop hits to YouTube. Nailing the pained catharsis of "Rolling in the Deep" at a time when nobody was expecting such a huge voice to come out of the teen actress was one of the first hints that Ariana Grande would soon be joining Adele in the upper reaches of the Hot 100 on a regular basis.