Sonically, pop music is more fractured than ever these days. Some artists stick to pure, radio-ready pop, some have been veering into rock, while others opt for a more R&B-leaning sound. On her new album Diamonds & Dancefloors, Ava Max decided what the world needed now is another collection of massive electronic dance-pop anthems — and the gays are about to be so thrilled she did.
Throughout the hour I spent on a call with Max for this cover story, I think I told her how much the gays are going to love her new album at least three times. I wasn’t sure if that was something she was aiming for or really even cared about, and I began to worry I was being weird. But when I asked her, “What is your relationship to the LGBTQ community,” she made it clear that she does care by responding, “Everything.”
Diamonds & Dancefloors is in the same vein as Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia or Lady Gaga’s Chromatica in terms of sound, influences, and consistency. While the songs all differ slightly, it’s a cohesive piece of work, and it’s what people on the internet like to refer to as a “no skips” record.
The bass may be thumping and the beats are certainly huge, but don’t be confused — Diamonds & Dancefloors is a sad album. Yes, the point is to dance to it, but should anyone listen to the lyrics, they’ll understand just how dark and depressing this gathering of songs truly is.
After going through not one, but two nasty breakups, the time came for Max to follow up her platinum-certified debut album Heaven & Hell, which spun off successful singles like “Sweet But Psycho,” “Kings & Queens,” and “My Head & My Heart,” and pressure to keep the hits coming was high.
Max found inspiration in her pain for the first time, as she says she “never wrote about my personal relationships” before. Her previous hits have all been about empowerment and having fun, and while those themes have returned in fine form on Diamonds & Dancefloors, the project dives much deeper into what people experience as well.
“All these songs started as ballads and then I turned them into dance records,” says the singer, admitting that much of this new LP began in sadness before finding its way to happiness.
Max was able to heal following her breakups by writing and recording Diamonds & Dancefloors, the 70 songs she’s finished for this era (although fans will only get to hear a fraction of them, at least for now), and by performing for crowds around the world. Now, she wants this album to cheer people up and get them moving. And for those who are experiencing hardship, sadness, or perhaps even heartbreak of their own, the album may very well be the piece of art that lifts them up in the way they need.
METRO WEEKLY: I am very much enjoying listening to your album, which is top to bottom bangers.
AVA MAX: Oh my God, you’re so sweet. Thank you so much. I’m so excited.
MW: How does it feel knowing you’ve completed another album and that everyone’s about to hear it?
MAX: I can’t believe it’s finally coming out. You wait for so long and then… I feel like it’s been such a work in progress.
MW: I know the release date was moved. So how long has it been finished?
MAX: It was done before October, but the reason why we switched the release date is because I am a perfectionist. I started tweaking more and more. I’m a little crazy when it comes to my music. I just want to make sure it’s like everything I hear in my head. When it was about to release, I thought, wait a second. It’s way too soon. I definitely have more to do. I’m going to give it a few more months.
MW: So, what is Diamonds & Dancefloors?
MAX: Diamonds & Dancefloors is really just my personal life in a nutshell. I never wrote about my personal relationships in the past, and all these songs started as ballads, and then I turned them into dance records. “Diamonds” represents, for me personally, the lyrical part of the relationship and how I felt and how sad I was during the heartbreak. “Dancefloors” represents letting go and really letting it all out on the dance floor and kind of releasing all of the emotions you felt during the heartbreak. It’s an exciting way to look at heartbreak. Like you’re coming out stronger from it. I made these songs dance records for a reason.
MW: What is the process of sitting down and writing a ballad and then finding a way to make it work with these high-energy dance beats?
MAX: I write emotional records sometimes, and I thought, why not just make it a dance record? With the production, we just speed it up, and we create some fun music around it. And that’s really all there is to it.
MW: I imagine that’s a tough line to toe.
MAX: I make so much music now that it’s kind of like second nature. It feels like I can go into the studio right now and do the same thing again. I’ve made hundreds of songs like this. I can close my eyes and write a song now. It’s just something that’s in me. But it takes practice, like everything. Like sports or dance, writing songs is the same. The more you do it, the easier it gets to express your emotions and your feelings and really let out what you want to portray in the song.
MW: This is your second album, and both of them are titled “Something & Something.” Is this like a running theme of duality with you?
MAX: I did not plan on that. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to go away from that because I got rid of the “Max Cut” [her signature haircut] as well. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go away from that!”
But then I wrote “Diamonds & Dancefloors,” the title track. It was one of the first songs we wrote for the album. When I heard it after we made it, I was like, “Why is this the album title in my head right now?” Diamonds & Dancefloors. It just is! I just had this gut feeling. After that we created the rest of the songs, so [the title track] led to everything else.
MW: I hear so much growth and so much maturity on Diamonds & Dancefloors. This feels like a real album. Sonically and lyrically, it all fits together. Talk to me about the process of creating this solid body of work.
MAX: Each song is pop, yes, but they have different influences. For instance, “Million Dollar Baby” has a little bit of a Michael Jackson energy. The vibe and the production on “Ghost” is ’90s house/pop. “Sleepwalker” I say is kind of like the sister to “Million Dollar Baby.” And then “One of Us” and “Weapons” feel to me a little bit more like “Kings and Queens” [from her first album]. It feels a little bit more like an in-your-face empowerment record. And then “In the Dark” is completely different — something I’ve never done before. But they’re all in the same realm of pop music, but I didn’t want every single song to be exactly the same. And that’s one thing I was really adamant about. So for instance, “Maybe You’re, the Problem” is pop, but it also has influences of pop rock. I got really excited to dabble in different things.
MW: The name says it, but this album was made for dance floors. I mean, it’s made for radio and all that, but this is a club album. What made you want to send people to the dance floor?
MAX: Because I feel like we need it. We need to dance, we need to let loose, we need to have a good time and forget about our heartbreak. I wrote these records at a very emotional time. I thought I wasn’t gonna make it through. I went through two really bad breakups. A lot of people think it was one, but it was two really, really bad breakups. And it kind of just spiraled and really hit me. I had never gone through a breakup like that. And you know, it’s funny. Now I understand lyrics better. I see color differently. I live my life differently. I came out stronger. Heartbreak… Yes, it’s sad, but you can also turn it into a positive. And that’s what I did with these songs.
MW: Your first album was obviously successful, as it launched you to this place in your career. Were you nervous to attempt to follow that up?
MAX: Of course. I mean, I was really proud of that body of work in Heaven & Hell. I was really excited that people connected to it, related to it, felt empowered by the music, like “Kings & Queens” and “Who’s Laughing Now.” I definitely wanted to keep those empowering messages. So that’s what I did. Each song, once again, they’re a little different, yes, but they’re empowering. They’re meant to make you feel better. After you listen to these songs, you’re like, “I can take over the world! I can do anything I want! I can do everything I set my mind to!” That’s what I really wanted the listener to feel, like they did with Heaven & Hell. A song like “So Am I” is so powerful. The DMs I remember getting when that song came out made me think like, “Oh my God, music not only heals, but it can change the world.” People can get out of such a dark place with just one song. It’s crazy.
MW: So you actually do read your DMs?
MAX: I do. I read all of them. I go in, especially at night right before bed. I spend like an hour reading everything. I love it. I love it so much. I can filter out the negatives. If someone’s saying anything bad, I actually feel bad for those people. They need love.
MW: I wish I had that same superpower.
MAX: I have my bad days, of course. Like when I’m sad about something on the internet. But most days I kind of just forget about it.
MW: In making this album, can you talk a bit about what inspired you musically?
MAX: I grew up listening to R&B and obviously pop music. So for instance, “Ghost” has a little R&B/’90s house that I’m so excited I did because my heart and soul is in that music. And I’ve never dabbled in that. And sonically, definitely what I listened to in the ’90s and early ’00s, it’s definitely in there. Especially “Million Dollar Baby.” It’s different from the first album. So yeah, more of what I would listen to in my childhood.
MW: Let’s talk a bit about the decision to pivot even deeper into electronic dance-pop. There was certainly some of that on your first album, but this is even — harder is the word I’d use.
MAX: Well, Cirkut is the executive producer. He’s basically everything. Without Cirkut, there’d be no Ava Max, you know what I mean? He was there for me when no one believed in me. He believed in me more than anyone. He took my voice and the production and took it all to a whole different level. And especially with “Diamonds & Dancefloors,” he’s just…he’s a genius. So with production, he’s always like, “What do you think of this?” And I’m just like, “You can do no wrong.” I always say that to him. We played around a lot. We spent a lot of days and nights in the studio playing around with all the electronic sounds. He has so many cool synths in his studio.
MW: I always enjoy when artists aren’t afraid to push pop in whatever direction they want. And you’re right, Cirkut is a genius.
MAX: He is. I always tell him he’s the Einstein of music.
MW: I read somewhere that you called this album your “most personal.” Was it difficult to open up in that way?
MAX: I was nervous to put it out, yeah. I didn’t want to throw any of my exes under the bus. That’s another thing. I would get text messages when “Maybe You’re the Problem” came out, like, “Oh, this is about me!” Then someone else would say, “This is about me.” I’m just like, no. I can’t answer this. It felt so uncomfortable. I’m trying to pour my heart out and I’m getting all this backlash personally. It sucked. But that’s how I felt in the moment, and I wanted to be honest with my fans. There’s no way I could not be honest. I’m too much of an open book.
MW: Are there songs out there that you wrote and thought, this is too easy to identify, or this is too much, I don’t want to hurt those people, I’m going to hold it back?
MAX: You know, I don’t think so, but maybe they think that. “One of Us” is going to be really emotional to sing for me personally. I start tearing up just thinking about that song, because those lyrics are so emotional. I don’t know how Adele does it every night. This one particular record, I’m dreading to perform it because it’s going to kill me.
MW: When you’re in the process of making an album and selecting tracks, how do you resign yourself to that fate? Like, I’m going to have to sing this for years and it’s going to hurt every time?
MAX: I didn’t even realize that until now! I made the record and actually it got worse over time. Now when I listen to “One of Us,” I start tearing up, and I have to turn it off. It’s too much. It takes me back to that horrible place. Not horrible, but that place where I was hurting so bad. I mean, the lyrics, “One of us would die for love / One of us would give it up,” is that not the saddest thing?
MW: So some of these songs are out there and these people have contacted you. Are those awkward conversations? Are they healing at all?
MAX: There’s a lot of messages and then ghosting. Messages and ghosting. It’s a lot of in and out. But I think at the end of the day, I’m moving forward with my life. I’m dating again. I’m…it’s fine.
MW: I hope the next album is hard dance, but all about the euphoria of love.
MAX: I hope. He’s a nice guy. And that’s about it. I just wanna be happy, you know? I don’t want any toxic relationships anymore.
MW: Pop music is a really weird space in the music industry because unlike any other genre, it is so focused on measurable success.
MAX: Oh, yeah. Charts.
MW: You’ve experienced chart success before, but is that something that you watch or something you care about?
MAX: When the song is doing really well, it’s inevitable that you’ll notice it. Obviously you’re gonna notice it. It gets exciting when it’s like top five then, oh, my God, number three, number two, number one! But I don’t watch it diligently. For instance, a song’s out now. I see people posting on Twitter, the numbers and where it’s at. I kind of just scroll by. It’s not like something I’m looking for, if that makes sense.
MW: I’ve talked to many pop singers, and some will openly say, “I want to make the music I want to make, but I’m very aware that I also want to reach a large audience.” That factors into the creation process.
MAX: Of course. But at the end of the day, you never know what’s going to go. I really believe that. For instance, there’s been a song that I didn’t think was going to go and it went…. Then there was a song, that I’m not going to name, that I thought was going to go and didn’t. So I don’t really even think about that. I’m just like, “I hope they like it. I’m done. This is yours. I’m moving on to my next project now. If you love it, you love it. If you don’t, whatever.” I just don’t want to overthink the charting and all that stuff.
MW: You’ve enjoyed some great success, but how does it feel when you write the song and you promote it and you film the video and it just doesn’t take in the way that you expected it to? Does that sting?
MAX: There are a lot of different factors when a song doesn’t go, so you can’t really blame one thing. It depends on how it’s marketed, who it’s reaching, where people are finding the record. So it needs to be a perfect storm. When a record comes out, everything needs to be perfect. I think it was perfect with “Sweet But Psycho,” obviously, because it went. It was discovered everywhere in a matter of weeks. I remember seeing it go number one on the third week here, there, somewhere else, and it was only three weeks out. And I was a new artist at the time! No one knew me, so they were just going solely based on how much they loved “Sweet But Psycho” when they heard it. That was a perfect storm.
“The Motto” [with Tiësto] as well. I didn’t know what was going to happen on that record. It was completely different from anything I’d ever done. I wasn’t expecting too much. And then “The Motto” flew up the charts. It’s very crazy. You never know really what’s going to go.
MW: I was looking through the producers and writers on this album, and there is not one person that is not a tried-and-true hitmaker. You gathered together quite the group here.
MAX: A lot of them are my friends. Madison Love is a friend. Leland is a friend. Sarah Hudson is a friend. There’s so many of my friends that I work with all the time. We make so many records and sometimes we don’t necessarily get those records on the album. I’ve written so many songs with all of them, but at the end of the day, I can only have 14 songs on my album So it’s hard sometimes, but we’re always making music. I’m going to be in the studio next week! I’m working on the deluxe! It’s amazing to be able to have fun while you’re doing what you love.
MW: What have you learned from some of these producers and songwriters?
MAX: Oh, my God. How passionate they are about what they do. And also they’re just so talented and each has their own thing. Someone might be strong lyrically, someone might be strong melodically, or production-wise. They all have their amazing, unique things.
MW: How many songs did you write for this album?
MAX: A lot. 70 maybe.
MW: Is that like 70 songs on paper, or are there 70 finished songs somewhere?
MAX: Written and recorded.
MAX: Yeah, like they’re recorded on a hard drive. Some of them are — we were experimenting a lot. One song is just straight R&B. Some songs are just rock. And then when you put the album together, you’re like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Yes.” You have to go through them all and think, “What makes sense?” Because I was going through different emotions every day. I was also messing around sonically, and you just can’t put everything out.
MW: It seems that since the beginning of your career, you have not followed the traditional album cycle. You are constantly putting music out. Is that exhausting? Energizing?
MAX: I tried multiple things. Last year I released just a few records, and we worked those records. And I didn’t like that strategy. I feel like this strategy is better — just putting out more music because I don’t wanna keep it on my hard drive. I don’t wanna keep them. I want you guys to have them. If I could put a song out every two weeks, I would. And I will! I’m not afraid to put out music. I just wanna give you pop music, and that’s what I’m going to do.
MW: How do you differentiate between a single you’re going to work versus you just saying, “It’s been a month, I want to put something out?”
MAX: Well, now I’ve gotten to the place where I can put out whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m very blessed in that situation. I have a great team. But right now we’re also seeing what the fans like. What do the fans want? What do the fans gravitate toward? And that’s what we’re going to shoot the music video for next.
MW: Do you have a sense of what the fans are saying about this era?
MAX: They’re really digging “Cold As Ice” on TikTok. That has the most views. And “Hold Up (Wait a Minute).” So one of those might get a really big music video next. Who knows? Wink, wink.
MW: When you released these visualizers and teasers, I noticed all the gays I follow online were like, “Oh, this album is just going to be great.” I think that was such a smart idea.
MAX: They’re loving the teasers. It’s kind of like a reveal, you know? When I put out “Maybe You’re The Problem,” I was still going through the breakup last year. One of them. So I was not in a good place. I was kind of lost. Last year for me was like a big growing year. I feel like last year I learned a lot. This year I’m like, okay, it’s go time now. Now I feel like I have my head on straight. Like I can think again. I’m not blinded by love. We get blinded by love and then forget who we are. Last year was one of the toughest years of my life, but now I feel like I’m finally coming up for air. I’m like, “Okay, I’m back!” But back to who? To Ava Max really is.
MW: When I go through those experiences, I’m done. I’m in bed. I’m not working. But you still found a way to perform and write these songs and make an album. How do you do that?
MAX: A week after I broke up with my ex, I had to perform at Pride London in June. I was crying on stage, especially [during] my song “Alone.” The song is basically like, “I don’t want to do this alone.” I’m just bawling. And I just lost my shit. But then I turned to the audience, and I was like, “Okay, get yourself together.” But it does help to be with the fans. I have to say, I did fall to the floor after that performance and didn’t want anyone to talk to me. But I think being with the fans definitely helped me remember why I do what I do and why I didn’t cancel, and why that’s the most important thing in my life. Whoever I date next, it doesn’t matter who it is, I’m never going to let anyone try to take me away from what I truly love. I think that was the biggest lesson of last year: Don’t let anyone take away what’s inside of you.
MW: You just mentioned you did Pride London and I don’t know if you realized it, but you made the perfect album that the gays are going to love. What is your relationship to the LGBTQ community?
MAX: Everything. I remember when “So Am I” came out and the DMs started overflowing. I remember one DM said, “I finally came out to my parents because of you.” And I… I literally feel like crying right now. I’m like, “Why did what I wrote help you do that?” Like, I remember reading it and I was just like, “Wow, I can’t stop doing this. Ever.” Like, this is one person, but there were so many DMs with all of these coming out stories and about how it helped them. This is why. This is why I do what I do.
The gay community is the best community. The best. They’re why I’m here. They’re so sweet. Everyone’s so sweet.
MW: I love how much hearing from people — their experience of listening to your music–how much it affects you.
MAX: It does. And it makes me keep going when, like I said, I didn’t want to perform. I wanted to be in my bed crying that week, but being at Pride in London was the best. Performing for me is healing for me. I know some people might say differently. They need to go away and come back. For me, it’s not like that. I heal when I’m performing.
MW: I am impressed by many things about you, but one is your energy. You are always performing, always releasing music. You’re nonstop.
MAX: I’m going to perform even more because I did not perform as much as I even wanted to last year. This year is going to be even better. I want to be everywhere. I want to be performing everywhere with everyone. So hopefully I can announce my headline tour soon.
MW: Practically, how do you do it? How do you put out all this work? I genuinely feel lazy.
MAX: No, no, no, no, you are not. I have my lazy days. I definitely do. It’s called me time on the schedule. I have Ava time on the schedule because I need it. Before a show, I need 20 minutes of Ava time. I can be glam, everything’s chaotic, and then right before the show, I need to be by myself for a second to gather my thoughts and remember my name. To remember what I’m even singing. Ava time is built into the schedule. Ava days are built into the schedule. I definitely have my lazy days, you best believe.
MW: That is comforting to hear, actually.
MAX: It’s not completely chaotic all the time.
MW: Just sometimes. Most of the time.
MAX: I’m the type of person who likes the chaos. People are like, “Where do you live? I say L.A., but like in my head, I live in the sky. I’m always traveling. I see a little house in the sky and that’s where I live. I’m here for like a week. I’m in hotels more. Thank God for room service.
MW: You hinted that you get to announce your headlining tour, so that’s coming?
MAX: Finally! It’s gonna be four months of straight touring. I’m excited. And then I want to tour again. Take a month off and then tour again. Four more months. I want to go in. Since I made this album, I just want to sing these songs. Except for “One of Us” is going to kill me.
MW: For those who don’t know, what can they expect at an Ava Max show?
MAX: Lots of energy, a little bit of chaos, and a sprinkle of tears.
I don’t remember which show I did, I think for Halloween in New York, I brought everyone on stage with me. It was the craziest thing because my dancers didn’t know I was going to do that. So they were like, “What’s happening?” And I was like, “It’s okay!” And everybody literally came on stage and started dancing. I wanna do that again.
MW: I’m sure venue security loved that.
MAX: They definitely did not. But I loved it, and the fans loved it!
MW: I loved “The Motto,” and want more collaborations between you and DJs and other singers. Are there people that you would love to collaborate with?
MAX: I have a feature that I just did with a really big artist that I can’t name, but he is very, very talented. And we made this amazing song. I can’t say anything else, but it’s a pop song, and I’m really, really excited. Hopefully that comes out in the next couple of months too.
MW: Do you have a favorite song on this album?
MAX: This is a hard one, because they’re all legitimately so different to me, and I love them so much. If I had to pick, I really love “Sleepwalker.” I don’t know why I love it so much, but every time I hear it, I want to play it over and over and over again. I feel like that about all the songs, but with “Sleepwalker,” there’s… Oh no, this is why. There’s a crazy electronic synth part. It feels kind of like “Kings & Queens,” but more on crack. I cannot wait to perform that song.
MW: I’ve been telling friends that the album is great, but I think people won’t fully grasp how excellent it is until it’s played through huge speakers in a dark club.
MAX: Let’s go clubbing!
MW: Here’s a promotional idea — you walk into a West Hollywood gay bar and tell them your album is out. They would play it.
MAX: I’m down. Let’s literally go next week.
MW: Obviously you’re listening to this album a lot, but what else is happening musically now that you’re loving?
MAX: SZA’s killing it. She’s doing great. She’s incredibly talented. I love her. A lot of new artists randomly pop up on TikTok and they’re blowing up. I’m like, “You go girl,” or, “You go guy,” or whoever it is. I feel like I’m a proud mom on TikTok. I’m like, “Who made this?” And then I go check it out. TikTok is legit paving the way for everything. In the morning, I’m on TikTok. I’m guilty.
MW: What’s something great you’ve discovered?
MAX: “Middle of the Night” by Elley Duhé. She released it a while back. That melody is… I wish I’d written that. It’s such a great record. She’s a great artist.
MW: By the way, I’ll meet her some day and I’ll be like, “I have a recording of Ava Max singing your song.”
MAX: Yes! Tell her she’s hot as fuck, too.
MW: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the people who will read this about the album?
MAX: I hope this gets you out of a dark place as well.
Ava Max’s Diamonds & Dancefloors is out now. Visit www.avamax.com.
Follow Ava Max on Twitter at @avamax and on Instagram at @avamax.
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