If you listen to top 40 radio, you’ve probably already vibed to MAX‘s sunny new single “Love Me Less,” featuring fellow singer/songwriter Quinn XCII, over the summer, as the song just reached its No. 22 peak on Billboard‘s Pop Songs airplay chart this week. What you might not have realized while bumping to the bouncy beat is that there’s a pretty serious story behind the “vulnerable bop,” as MAX has dubbed it.
“My last song, ‘Lights Down Low,’ I wrote for my wife and I proposed to her with it, and this is sort of the evolution of that, where I had this ex and she was not so happy about our breakup and she threatened to get my British wife deported — which I knew she didn’t really mean, but it was also really intense,” MAX tells Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the full episode below). “It was the first time we really had a moment where I was like, ‘I don’t think we’re going to recover from this,’ because [my wife] was so upset about it. … We got in the studio, and this ‘Love Me Less’ idea came about. The right people love you more and not less for your baggage.”
Quinn says getting that personal on a pop song is par for the course in the life of a songwriter. “As an artist, the best stuff comes from the worst parts of your life and the things you don’t wanna talk about,” he tells the Pop Shop. “I think it’s our responsibility to say this stuff because there’s probably thousands of people who are going through it — maybe not deportation, but have a crazy ex. … Max nailed that.”
“If you date Taylor Swift, you’re gonna have a song about you,” MAX chimes in with a laugh. “Get ready for it. It’s gonna pop up on the radio.”
So how did the pair team up for the track? Turns out, they had a few colleagues in common, including “Love Me Less” co-writers Imad Roy El-Amine and Roget Chahayed. “Quinn also works with them all the time, and they showed him the song and he texted me pretty much right away like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you’re looking for a feature for this, but I’d love to try something,'” MAX recalls, with Quinn adding: “All of our friends out in LA, we have a little clique circle we walk around with, and they’re all musicians and they’re all amazing and we all just kind of share music and ideas and everyone is down to collaborate with one another, and this was no different.”
The pair teamed up with another frequent collaborator, director Drew Kirsch, for the song’s colorful, quirky music video (watch below). “Drew just did the Taylor Swift video,” Quinn says of Swift’s star-studded “You Need to Calm Down,” also directed by Kirsch. “He’s so sick. It’s cool to see friends really succeed, but also it’s easier to get stuff done because everyone already has this bond and you’re not working with a stranger.”
While the song’s success is undeniable, Quinn is still trying to put his finger on exactly why “Love Me Less” is connecting with fans the way it is. “There’s a deeper subject matter to the song, but I just think the energy and stuff is a refreshing pop song for 2019, and I think that’s why it’s resonating with people,” he says. “I heard it on the radio today in the car just coming here, and so it’s crazy. I think it’s the sleeper song right now. It kind of sneaks up on you. … There’s like a secret sauce to it that I can’t crack yet.”
Of course, both MAX and Quinn XCII have their own individual projects they’re working on aside from “Love Me Less,” with MAX wrapping a follow-up album to 2016’s Hell’s Kitchen Angel and embarking on a string of Intimate AF Tour dates. “There’s a full album on the way,” he promises. “I just wanted to do really tiny, intimate shows to start off this whole cycle now that we have the first song from the album out. And once we do the album, we’re going big, baby.”
As for Quinn, he just released the new song “Stacy” (“It’s called ‘Stacy,’ not ‘Stacy’s Mom,’ just to clarify that,” he quips), which is the first track from his planned second 2019 album, following February’s From Michigan With Love. “This whole album, without giving too many spoilers, the vibe of it is very nostalgic in my opinion, and I wanted to make a record about my experience in high school and what high schoolers go through and stuff,” Quinn says. “I wanted to make a song that you feel like you’ve already heard — and I know that sounds weird but just something that just feels familiar.
“It feels good to have more music out — especially in the summertime, especially off the heels of ‘Love Me Less’ — so I’m hoping there’s some momentum behind it.”
Also on the podcast, we’ve got chart news about Chris Brown, Lizzo and Whitney Houston. We also discuss Ariana Grande getting emotional during her concert over the weekend and Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, John Mayer and more pop stars partaking in the Bottle Cap Challenge.
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.)