After finding success around the world with the August-released song “Sweet but Psycho” — which hit No. 1 in more than a dozen countries, including four weeks atop the Official U.K. Singles Chart — the U.S. is finally paying attention to Ava Max, with her breakout single reaching the Billboard Hot 100 top 20 and sitting at its No. 6 peak on the Pop Songs airplay chart. But even with that global recognition, she still can’t wrap her head around the song’s climb up the Billboard charts.
“I’ve been working at this for a while now, so seeing the success of ‘Sweet but Psycho’ is kind of mind-blowing, but it’s exciting,” she tells Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the full interview below).
And “Sweet” is just the start for Max, who has already followed up the hit with the release of “So Am I,” an empowering song about finding your fellow misfits in the world and appreciating others’ differences. “The track is about just embracing where you come from and loving yourself and all of your flaws, because your flaws make you perfect at the end of the day,” she says. “And it took me a long time to really reflect on that and see that, because growing up obviously in school, it’s hard.”
The next step for Max is releasing her debut album, which she says she wants to put out this year. The project will include “Sweet but Psycho” and “So Am I,” as well as a heavily teased new song called “Salt.” “There are some other tracks on there that are like wild cards, and there are a few that I’m being vulnerable in,” Max describes of the album. “But you will hear the anthemic pop songs that you have heard, like ‘Not Your Barbie Girl.’ … Female empowerment is very strong in my life and that’s how I am. I’m a very outspoken person and it shows in my music, especially my lyrics and in the album.”
That female empowerment surely comes in part from her mother — a classically trained singer — and the big-voiced divas her mom played around the house when Max was growing up. “She would sing a lot of Celine Dion and I would sing Celine Dion with her,” Max says of how her early love of singing was fostered. “So that’s how I got into the big vocalists like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, then got into more R&B, the Fugees, and then into pop in the 2000s. That was crazy. Gwen Stefani and all that. I feel like pop and R&B are just my core.”
While she hasn’t yet lined up a headlining tour, Max has a handful of radio shows over the next few months, and she can’t wait to finally perform some new music for her fans. “I just want them to experience the songs in a way they haven’t experienced listening to it,” she says. “Each song is going to definitely give them a different visual onstage.”
When asked about her favorite concerts she’s attended, Max doesn’t hesitate to name Queen Bey as her all-time favorite performer. “When I saw Beyoncé, she did a two-hour show singing and dancing — it was like my mouth just wouldn’t close,” she says. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m drooling,’ like, it’s so good. Oh my God. No one’s better. I’m sorry.
“She’s incredible,” she adds. “And that hair whip — when she whips her hair, like, that’s a thing. Like, she sings and dances and then her hair is — I’m like, how? And did you ever see that meme where she like flips her hair and then her braid goes on her shoulder? It looks like it’s some type of like creature on her shoulder, and you’re like, wait, she did that just by herself. Like she didn’t plan that, she just did it. So yes, she’s definitely a dream.”
Also on the show, Keith & Katie talk about the tragic fatal shooting of 33-year-old rapper Nipsey Hussle, NAV nabbing his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Bad Habits, and Billie Eilish heading for the top of the albums chart next week with her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
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 deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson 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.)