A little over a year after Ava Max’s breakthrough single “Sweet But Psycho” peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of 2019 — she’s coasting up the chart again with her new hit, “Kings & Queens.” The track’s success comes at the perfect time, as the pop singer/songwriter’s debut album, Heaven & Hell, will be released on Sept. 18.
What’s it been like for Max to see “Kings & Queens” climb up the charts? (The track also rises 24-22 on the Pop Songs airplay chart dated Sept. 19.)
“I feel so grateful to even be releasing music and people are listening! Especially during a pandemic!” Max tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below).
“I know that a lot of people are struggling right now. Music, for me, is medicine. And I just couldn’t hold it back anymore and I’m just very happy people are responding to it. Again, I’m just grateful for people that can relate to this song.”
While “Kings & Queens” is Max’s second Hot 100 hit, she’s been swiftly racking up massive streaming numbers of the past few years. Collectively, her songs have garnered 1.17 billion on-demand streams in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. “Sweet” unsurprisingly accounts for 692 million of that sum, but she’s also racked up big totals for “Kings” (94 million), “So Am I” (158 million), “Not Your Barbie Girl” (73 million) and “Salt” (50 million). All of those tunes, save for “Barbie,” are included on the 15-track Heaven & Hell album.
Below are some highlights from Max’s chat with the Pop Shop Podcast, including how she is “living proof that it can take over 15 years to make it any industry,” what she thinks a tour in support of Heaven & Hell might look like (“it’s gonna be wild”) and why there aren’t any ballads on the new album.
Can you talk us through how “Kings & Queens” came together?
The song actually came together in a lot of different ways. It came in parts. Like, Madison Love and I, we — I mean, if you wanna get technical — (wrote) the verse and the pre-chorus, and wrote that part. And then the chorus we kind of got from (co-producer and co-writer) RedOne, but it was completely different than what we have now. So it wasn’t called “Kings & Queens.” It was nothing to do with anything you hear right now. It was just the melody. (sings “da da da da da.”) And we were like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ But then we kind of just made it our own and (co-writer) Leland, Madison Love and I, and (co-writer/co-producer) Cirkut, we got in the studio and we kind of just made it what it is now — “Kings & Queens.”
We saw that you have Desmond Child listed among the songwriters and that threw us for a loop for a second but then we realized about the (interpolation of the Child-written song “If You Were a Woman [and I Was a Man]”). How did that add into the song and melody?
You know, Cirkut and RedOne got in the studio and they did their magic. And after we all heard it, we just loved it. I mean, it was just more so a production thing.
“Kings & Queens” has this empowerment vibe to it — it’s very fierce. You talked about how the song morphed over time. Was that kind of always your goal to have a song where it was kind of fitting into the “I’m a fierce woman” theme going on?
I think for me, as you can see, it’s a theme throughout my songs… I think you can tell that I definitely have been told “no” a lot of times. And I’ve gotten to the point where I look back now, and I’m like, “look who’s laughing now?” Like, for instance, the new song I just released (titled “Who’s Laughing Now”). And it really means a lot to me as well. These anthems, I think can help someone else whose going through something I went through. And also, I’m living proof that it can take over 15 years to make it any industry, and for me, it was the music industry. But, you can make it in the end. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And I know that, you know, there has been moments in my past that have been dark, and I never thought I would make it through. And now, you know, I look back and I just am so happy I kept going and didn’t pick a different career.
Your new album (Heaven & Hell) has been in the works for a while, so how does it feel that (it’s almost out)?
It feels surreal… now it’s starting to feel real. It wasn’t feeling real up until now. (Editor’s note: This interview was recorded in August.) Like, OK, here we go, it’s coming out. And there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s coming out. (Laughs.) People are gonna hear it, and people are gonna judge it, and people are gonna love it, hate it. You know, I tend to be very polarizing, and I’m aware of that. And I’m OK with that. And I’m excited to see what songs are people’s favorites.
Are you feeling that type of anxiety of like, “what are people going to think about this song?”
You know… there are a couple songs on the album that people are not going to expect from me. They’re a little bit cooler, vibier sounds. Like, not so like upbeat and dance. There’s two that are a little bit softer and I feel like people are definitely going to be like, “oh, OK, not every song is like super upbeat.” But there’s no ballads. It’s like a mid-tempo. The only mid-tempo. (Laughs.)
That’s interesting. Why did you go anti-ballad on this album?
‘Cause I’m all or nothing. It’s like, I really feel like that. I really am. And I couldn’t just have one ballad. If I’m gonna have an album with a ballad, I need at least four solid ballads. And we just didn’t want to take out the dance and anthems that were already on there. So I think maybe I’ll have an album full of ballads one day, we’ll see. (Laughs.)
The last time you were on the podcast, a year or so ago, you talked about the hopes of getting a tour together. Do you still have a vision in your mind of taking the music on the road next year, post-COVID? Have you already thought about what a tour could look like?
I have. It’s gonna be very, very theatrical. And it’s gonna be wild. Wild is the word. Like, it’s gonna be really wild ’cause I’m a visionary — I really see things before I finish a song. I know exactly what I want the video to be like, what the colors I want in the video (to be). It’s very strange. I’ve been that way my entire life — how I kind of see it in my head playing out. So, I’m really excited to do a tour. We had one planned for the U.S., actually, in September and October (2020). But we couldn’t announce it, so we cancelled it, because, you know. So I was excited about that, but you know, a thing called the pandemic hit. (Laughs.) … I just know that I’m excited to get back on the road and I just can’t wait to have my first official world tour for Heaven & Hell.
Elsewhere in the new episode of the Pop Shop Podcast, hosts Jason and Keith discuss the launch of Billboard’s two new charts – the Billboard Global 200 and the Billboard Global 200 Excluding U.S. Plus, there’s a chart stat of the week about Queen landing its first, and so far only, No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with 1980’s The Game.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and senior director, music, Jason Lipshutz every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)