Ava Max turns back the clock more than two decades on “My Head & My Heart,” her exuberant, club-thumping ode to romantic conflict.
Sonically, the single ― a standout on Max’s 2020 debut album, “Heaven & Hell” ― delivers a throwback vibe, thanks to well-interpolated groove lifted from ATC’s 1999 Eurodance classic, “Around the World (La La La La La).”
Still, the pop singer has no interest in dwelling on nostalgia, as evidenced in the song’s video, in which she struts, shimmies and grinds her way through a strobe-filled nightclub before sharing an embrace with a handsome stranger.
“I’ve always wanted a video like this,” the 27-year-old said of the clip, unveiled Thursday ahead of her “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” appearance. “I wanted to set it in a club because the moment I finished [recording] the song, I wanted to be out at a club dancing.” Acknowledging the fact that nightlife remains distressingly out of reach amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, she also hopes to boost fans’ moods by offering a glimpse at the revelry that will hopefully return in a post-pandemic future.
“People need to dance, people need to feel happy ― even in quarantine,” she added.
The video for “My Head & My Heart” arrives nearly three years after “Sweet but Psycho,” Max’s debut single on Atlantic Records. As a danceable assertion of female empowerment, “Sweet but Psycho” echoed Lady Gaga and early Madonna. It also aligned Max with those predecessors as a forward-thinking artist willing to court controversy through her work.
“Sweet but Psycho” was a worldwide smash, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard’s Global 200 Chart with more than 1 billion streams and earning a permanent spot on spin class playlists around the world. Still, Max knew she risked being labeled a one-hit wonder if her subsequent tracks failed to deliver.
Such doubts were cast aside, however, with the release of “Heaven & Hell” in September 2020. The album garnered sterling reviews, with The Guardian calling it “turbo-charged 2010s pop joy,” and Billboard giving the 16-track set “extra points for the self-imposed no-ballads rule.”
“It’s sad not being able to see my fans and really connect with them in person,” Max said, when asked about the challenges of releasing a debut album in a pandemic. “I know I should be having fun on tour [and] having a different experience. But I love releasing new music, so that’s always what I’m going to to be most excited about.”
Max, whose real name is Amanda Coci, said her talents as a performer were evident at an early age. Born in Wisconsin to Albanian immigrant parents, she began studying dance and joining music competitions after her family relocated to Virginia when she was 8. At 14, she visited Los Angeles for the first time in hopes of landing a record contract, but returned to the East Coast shortly thereafter. Three years later, she relocated to the West Coast permanently.
“My dad always wanted me to finish school, which I did not,” she said. “But I’ve only known music since I was 6 years old. It’s all that’s been in my blood … so I told him, ‘Hey, this is the only option for me. There’s no Plan B.’ I was very headstrong, very stubborn.”
Not surprisingly, Max’s penchant for bangers and tightly choreographed videos have drawn inevitable comparisons to Britney Spears, whose oeuvre has been reassessed in the wake of “Framing Britney Spears, ” a New York Times-produced documentary.
Like many of her musical peers, Max cites the “…Baby One More Time” singer as an inspiration, and she came away from the film with nothing but empathy for her idol. Ultimately, she’s hopeful critics will lay off the comparisons and evaluate her music solely on its own merits.
“We don’t know the inner workings of her world as well as she does, [but] it’s sad to see that she got bombarded by so many people, told what to do all this time and hasn’t really had a say,” she said. “I definitely have similar stories where men would take advantage and talk a certain way towards me, but we definitely get compared more [as artists] than we would if we were male performers.”
Looking ahead, Max is hopeful she’ll get the chance to return to the concert stage in 2021, and said she’s already begun work on her next album. A musical collaboration with Bruno Mars, she said, is also high on her bucket list. As to what an eventual tour might look and sound like, she promises a “very female-driven performance” that doesn’t skimp on haute couture and high-energy dance numbers.
“It’s all about keeping you on your toes,” she said. “It’s a lot of color, a lot of fashion. And vulnerability, for sure.”
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