Ava Max arrived on the pop music scene, with overnight success that was ready to save the world from a pandemic. Her debut album, Heaven & Hell, boasted some of 2020’s biggest hits — ‘Sweet But Psycho’ being the most popular, with others like ‘So Am I’, ‘Kings and Queens’, and ‘Torn’ also being successful. Without a doubt, Ava became one of the pop music scene’s new ‘it’ girls, and that level of success makes it all too easy to fall into a sophomore slump. Over two years later, that sophomore album has arrived, and Diamonds and Dancefloors sees Max return to the familiar formulas that found her success, while adding new flair on top of it all.
One thing that makes Ava Max and her music so popular is undoubtedly her willingness to pay homage to her inspirations. When she first arrived on the scene, her long, blonde hair that was cut bluntly short on one side drew Lady Gaga comparisons that she was happy to lean into, just as an early Gaga herself leaned into Madonna comparisons and used them to her benefit. On Diamonds & Dancefloors‘ opening track, ‘Million Dollar Baby’, Max finds inspiration in Coyote Ugly, complete with a ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ sample and a cameo from none other than LeAnn Rimes in the track’s video.
As Coyote Ugly finds itself in the 20+ year old film club, there’s a high probability that many of Ava Max’s younger fans have never seen the flick but are able to enjoy the song’s catchy sample and lyrics, while older fans are ready to get up on the table, shout ‘Hell No H2O‘ and unleash their inner ‘Million Dollar Baby’ that Ava sings about in the song’s lyrics. Bridging this generational gap is something Ava is able to do seamlessly, and it just goes to show that her music is not only catchy, but smart and calculated, too.
‘Million Dollar Baby’ boasts uplifting and confident lyrics that are sure to inspire even the most down on their luck person to strut it out and feel rejuvenated. Max explored similar lyrical concepts on Heaven & Hell, but it’s worth noting that ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and Diamonds & Dancefloors as a whole don’t feel like a rehashing of anything, but rather a sonic continuation.
Each of the songs feels a few degrees of separation from a track on her debut, linking the two albums in her discography and allowing her the freedom to feel comfortable in following a formula for success while still keeping things exciting and avoiding repetitiveness.
Max tackles a ladykiller on ‘Sleepwalker’, giving him a dose of his own medicine, “So call me Karma for the hearts that you broke, what goes around comes back to kick down your door!” The track is electrifying with its synths and driving, rocking stems. While ‘Sleepwalker’ still feels squarely pop in its core, it shows Max’s ability to branch out and experiment — something that will surely give her music the ability to last beyond any claims of being a one hit wonder.
‘Maybe You’re the Problem’, the album’s lead single, sees Max turning the typical break-up phrase “It’s not you, it’s me” on its head in agreement, letting her ex know maybe they were the problem after all. This is a triumphant and joyful break-up song, a refreshing pace to slow tempo songs about love lost. Max is all too happy to be starting anew, boasting: “With you, it’s always my fault…and you’re short fused just like a time bomb. And I think you should take a second just to look at your reflection. Baby, maybe you’re the problem.”
Speaking with Apple Music about the track, Max said: “‘Maybe You’re the Problem’ was written on a day that I got in a really bad argument with my ex-boyfriend. I went into the studio and started yelling, ‘Maybe you’re the problem,’ and that’s how the song was born,” adding that the track came quickly: “I couldn’t cancel the session. I was so upset that I had to go in. The lyrics and melodies came out of my mouth at the same time. It was written so quickly, within an hour.”
Following the realization that sometimes your ex is the problematic one, Max confronts the feelings of being haunted by old lovers on ‘Ghost,’ veering close to disco territory in the track, produced by Cirkut and written by Max, Cirkut and MNEK. ‘Ghost’ feels like the anti-thesis to ‘Freaking Me Out’, an earlier track about feeling scared by the feelings of falling in love. ‘Ghost’ deals with the leftovers of love dying.
Diamonds & Dancefloors doesn’t wallow in relationships gone by for too long, but it does explore the more negative emotions when relationships sour, and that theme continues with ‘Hold Up (Wait a Minute),’ where Max sings to a lover who is still hung up on an ex. “You say she’s just an ex, but exes don’t send those texts: ‘XO, baby, bye, bye, bye'” Max sings, before adding, “Bye, bye, I don’t need your lyin’!”
Were Diamonds & Dancefloors to be more focused on an interweaving narrative from track to track, ‘Hold Up (Wait a Minute)’ feels like it should have come before the breakup songs, but this is a minor complaint that probably won’t matter to the average listener. Small things like this, though, would only help to make the album more cohesive, adding to the album’s flow on multiple levels.
Things take a turn back to the empowering side of things with ‘Weapons’ as Max brushes off haters, letting them know they won’t drag her down. “Stop using your words as weapons/ They’rе never gonna shoot me down/ Stop, it’s time that you learned a lesson/ My love is gonna drown you out!”
‘Weapons’ feels like one of Diamonds & Dancefloors’ more generic and formulaic songs to its detriment. Just as ‘So Am I‘ on Heaven & Hell felt a bit ingenuine with its lyrical content (‘the pretty popstar says its okay to be different, because she is too!’), ‘Weapons’ veers into the same levels of nonsense; sure its message is uplifting and positive, but the average Twitter hater doesn’t really have any ammunition against her when she’s objectively successful in comparison.
As her star rose during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that Diamonds & Dancefloors and its titular track deal with pandemic-inspired feelings. The album’s title track confronts the feelings of longing to be out on the dancefloor and enjoying life, not stuck in the house away from society. For this track being the album’s title track, it’s a bit of an aside thematically to the rest of the songs, but still an enjoyable listen. And if you take the album at its most simplest face value, Diamonds & Dancefloors aptly sets the tone for an enjoyable, glittery album full of club tracks.
Ava Max sets her sights on a lover who can only make love at night in the dark. The lyrical content feels like Lady Gaga’s ‘Dance in the Dark’, with it being a sonic adventure into a land more akin to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Beautiful Sinner’ than The Fame Monster.
Speaking with Apple Music about the track’s inspiration, Max revealed ‘In The Dark’ was written after an idea from her 19-year-old nice encouraging her to write a song about hookup culture and how some guys just want to ‘bang and leave,’ and this explanation is pretty easy to believe; ‘In The Dark’ feels like an afterthought song you’d write to make a young family member happy.
Max’s niece’s influence continued on the next track, ‘Turn Off The Lights,’ a disco-electro-pop song with no real message behind it. It’s proof that not all songs need to have some deeply inspiring or uplifting lyrics, and sometimes all you really need is an enjoyable beat to make the track work. ‘Turn Off the Lights’ is mindless and pure pop, but it’s also pure fun.
My gripe with Diamonds & Dancefloors track ordering continues here, with Max admitting even her young niece thought ‘Turn Off The Lights’ should have came before ‘In The Dark.’ If Diamonds & Dancefloors were a book, as an author, Max would meander around sometimes and lose the story, even if each track manages to be an enjoyable chapter in the bigger picture.
A lovelorn Ava sings on ‘One of Us’ about a love that doesn’t feel equal. “One of us would die for love / One of us would give it up/ One of us would risk it all/ One of us won’t even call.” Lyrically, this is one of the stronger tracks on the album despite its use of repetition throughout. From a storytelling perspective, Max is effective painting a picture using broader strokes, allowing ‘One Of Us’ to be just detailed enough to be relatable to everyone.
Just as she sampled from Coyote Ugly‘s soundtrack earlier on Diamonds & Dancefloors, Max agains samples from an iconic film from the early 2000s: Kill Bill, utilizing ‘Twisted Nerve’ by Bernard Herrmann on ‘Get Outta My Heart’ and juxtaposing it with disco influences. Diamonds & Dancefloors is fully tilted into its disco influences now, fully appealing to the dancefloor aspect of its name. ‘Get Outta My Heart’ feels like a dance remix of a ballad, pairing longing vocals with an infectious beat, making for three groovy minutes of music. Props to Max for sneaking in another film reference on this track too — singing ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’
Diamonds & Dancefloors begins to wind down with ‘Cold as Ice’, a song about putting up barriers and never getting too attached to a lover. It’s a darker turn from the rest of the album, with only some glittery chords on the post-chorus making it feel like it belongs on this album. Max’s vocals on the chorus, though, are strong and powerful — a signature in her more defining songs — and ‘Cold as Ice’ stands out thanks to these vocals.
For ‘Last Night on Earth,’ Max turns again to cinema in the form of end-of-the-world movies, penning a track about what she wants to be doing as the world ends. While much of Diamonds & Dancefloors has dealt with relationships and love, none of the tracks have felt inherently sexual in nature until ‘Last Night on Earth,’ where Max croons: “Takе me to the edgе real slow, oh/ I want a front-row seat for the show, oh yeah/ Before it all goes down/ So hold me close,” asking to be made love to like the world is ending over a pulsing beat.
‘Last Night on Earth’ is a refreshing change of pace, giving Max some space to breathe and explore a more sexual side, whereas most of her other music has so far been pretty removed from lust, focusing instead on love. That’s not to say ‘Last Night on Earth’ is graphic or explicit — far from it — but it’s nice to see some exploration into different territory going on here.
The album draws to a close with the aptly titled ‘Dancing’s Done’, another sexually charged song over a dark beat. “I wanna give into your dark temptation/ I wanna touch you like nobody does, oh/ People like you and me were born to run/ So where we going when the dancing’s done?” With this song, Max wraps up the album with a bow, hopefully giving a teasing prelude for her next work that will continue to explore new themes and be unafraid to head in a sensual direction with them.
Despite having some thematically continuity issues, Diamonds & Dancefloors shows a growth in Ava Max’s music from Heaven & Hell and spares her from the dreaded sophomore slump. An album that’s part Top-40 Pop (Diamonds) and part gay disco rave (Dancefloors), Diamonds & Dancefloors is enjoyable from start to finish, showcasing Max’s love of cinema and her desire to experiment with her sound and explore new themes. While most of the record is about love lost and breakups, Diamonds & Dancefloors is not without its uplifting and inspiring tracks, too; this is an album that deals with losing love in a positive manner, forgoing sappy ballads and sad songs and choosing instead to be empowered at all the opportunities that follow a bad breakup.
Diamonds & Dancefloors is available for purchase and streaming now.