Ariana Grande knows how to make an entrance. After the 20-year-old R&B/pop star unveiled her new single, “Problem,” with a performance at the Disney Music Awards on April 27, the song sprinted to a No. 3 debut on the Billboard Hot 100 dated May 17, thanks in part to one of the biggest sales starts ever.
The Iggy Azalea-featuring cut, which hit digital retailers on April 28, sold 438,000 downloads in the week ending May 4, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That’s the fourth-biggest start for a song by a female artist, behind Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (623,000), Katy Perry’s “Roar” (557,000) and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way (448,000).
“Problem” — which precedes Grande’s second studio album, due in August or September — is making an immediate impression, but one important person wasn’t a fan initially: Grande herself. “I didn’t even want ‘Problem’ on the album. I fell out of love with it,” she says. “Then we had a meeting with my label and Scooter [Braun] and my management, and we were all listening to music, and when ‘Problem’ came on, I was like, ‘What the hell is wrong with me? Holy shit!’ “
The song, which Grande performed again at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on May 1, got off to a hot start at radio as well, earning 1,898 spins at top 40 in its first week of release.
“It’s one of those one-listen records that our audience has been reacting to like crazy,” says Sharon Dastur, programmer at WHTZ (Z100) New York, which has played the record 21 times through May 6. “It has so many layers – Iggy’s rap, the beat dropping out, that saxophone, Ariana’s voice. It’s the biggest buzz song out right now.”
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“Problem,” which Grande says “represents the feeling of being terrified to reapproach a relationship that has gone sour,” features her soulful high notes and a drum-heavy beat produced by Max Martin, Shellback and Ilya. Grande also worked with Zedd, Rodney Jerkins, Benny Blanco, Harmony Samuels and Ryan Tedder on her new album, which aims to showcase a more expansive sound than her R&B-centered debut, “Yours Truly.” Highlighted by the top 10 hit “The Way,” the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in September.
But Grande didn’t rest on those laurels for long. “As soon as ‘Yours Truly’ debuted at No. 1, I celebrated for an hour, then I was like, ‘Let’s get back to work,’ ” she says. “I’m a perfectionist, so I never thought I’d be able to say this, but I love this album five times as much as ‘Yours Truly.’ They’re different, but I love this one so much more.”