Remember the 2018 electropop hit Sweet But Psycho? Annoyingly infectious (and lyrically problematic!) but it dominated pop radio, and you were bombarded with it in shops like Urban Outfitters, tacky clubs and eventually our minds? It was inescapable. Even though the overplayed tune gave the best of us all a moderate headache, we can’t deny the single (along with her 2020 debut LP Heaven & Hell) propelled Albania’s Ava Max into the top echelons of pop stardom. But why, you ask? Maybe through delivering tunes reminiscent of mid-2000s dance-pop (think Fergie, Gwen Stefani) or copying sonic formulas from artists with actual originality. In other words, it’s hard to work out what’s good and bad here.
Shifting from Max’s debut electro/synth-pop fare, her second LP Diamonds & Dancefloors is a dance-pop club album, which centres around the grounding theme of heartbreak. Drawing from her europop and nu-disco influences (namely, Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa) Max never quite captures anything particularly unique here, instead producing an abundance of average, lyrically uninspired songs, that even with octave shifts and different beat structures, feel mesmerizingly similar…and way too safe.
There are some catchy tunes, it’s just you feel you’ve heard them many times before. Opening track Million Dollar Baby, for example, is upbeat ’80s schlock, the type of which you’d expect to hear whilst reclining on a deckchair at a Turkish beach resort. There’s nothing remotely original about it, although it’s a comfortable listen if you like 80s production and a plethora of rehashed songs. One of Uscomes perilously close to skirting Lady Gaga’s Shallow, whilst Get Outta My Head contains samples from the soundtrack of the movie Twister Nerve (1968). Meanwhile, title track Diamonds & Dancefloors sounds like a poor man’s Cascada hit – hi-energy Eurovision kitsch. Fine if you like that kind of stuff, but difficult to figure out how Ava Max contributes to the grand scheme of things. One obvious standout though is Maybe You’re The Problem, an 80s electro-pop banger reminiscent of The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights (both tunes sample synth loops from Aha’s Take On Me). The infectious chorus carries the empowering message ‘You should take your little finger and just point it in the mirror. Baby, maybe you’re the problem.’ Ouch, girl power!
But it leaves listeners with a lingering problem: to date, Ava Max has failed to put a personal stamp on her music, leading many to think she’s just an industry plant. Next time she’s really going to need to show us she has something distinctive to offer, otherwise she’ll go on sounding like everyone else. Yawn.
Writer and professional flautist Grace Twomey (MMus) performs regularly at gigs in South London where she’s based. All her areas of expertise include classical, pop, indie, latin and folk music.