Who is Ava Max? Though it’s been four years since she broke through with ‘Sweet But Psycho’, a surprise chart-topper with slightly problematic lyrics, the Albanian singer still seems to arouse suspicions. The most common accusations are that she’s “manufactured” and an “industry plant“, both of which are firmly rooted in misogyny and good, old-fashioned pop snobbery.
In reality, Max’s origin story is pretty familiar: she sang in local malls as a kid, moved to L.A. not once but twice to try and make it, then finally caught a break when she met Henry “Cirkut” Walter, a top producer who’s worked with everyone from The Weeknd to Katy Perry. Max is a grafter who’s built her career on undeniable pop bangers like 2020’s ‘Kings & Queens’, which has racked up nearly 725 million Spotify streams. But along the way, she hasn’t displayed a powerhouse personality to match her powerful voice.
This laser-focused second album, co-written by Max with Cirkut and other in-demand collaborators including MNEK and Ryan Tedder, probably won’t change perceptions of her. Max has said the concept is “basically heartbreak on the dancefloor”, which has been done to death 13 years after Robyn made it fashionable with ‘Dancing On My Own’. Artists as varied as Steps and Mabel got there first.
‘Diamonds & Dancefloors’ is also unashamedly derivative. ‘Ghost’ echoes the housey synth-pop of Years & Years, while ‘Hold Up, Wait A Minute’ steps into Dua Lipa‘s nu-disco territory. ‘Million Dollar Baby’ has sleek ’80s production indebted to The Weeknd, a Lady Gaga-style vocal hook, and a melody borrowed from LeAnn Rimes’ Y2K classic ‘Can’t Fight The Moonlight’. It should be a mess, but actually, it’s lethally effective.
Max’s plainspoken lyrics can be slick. “You always make it all about you, especially when you’ve had a few,” she sings on ‘Maybe You’re The Problem’, a Eurodance bop that deserved a lot better than its Number 83 chart peak in the UK. But they can also be so formulaic that you’ll almost wonder whether you’re listening to M3GAN, the singing AI doll from the hit film. ‘Get Outta My Heart’ features an almost comically rote chorus: “Get outta my head, get outta my car, get outta of my bed, get outta my heart.”
But at the same time, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that Max has fully understood the assignment. ‘Diamonds & Dancefloors’ lives up to its escapist title with a non-stop onslaught of sharp and shiny pop hooks: these are deliriously catchy bangers that slap harder the louder you play them. The question is: are you too proud to resist?
- Release date: January 27, 2023
- Record label: Atlantic