Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Ava Max – Freaking Me Out

It’s Rising Pop Star Wednesday! Can you predict our full day’s lineup?


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Leah Isobel: Consider that the art of being a popstar lies in establishing a public perception, sound, and aesthetic, and then slowly bending those things over time to allow your humanity to creep in. Consider that these things often sound and feel extremely artificial at the beginning. Then consider that, even by the standards of popstar introductions, Ava Max’s project feels so fake it’s almost like parody; every element, every vocal inflection, is amped up to the point where you have to ask if she’s serious. Here, her lyrical world-building lands us somewhere in “Disturbia,” while the production remains pure 2009 cheese. She’s committed to selling the most mall-friendly version of gothy extremity possible, but her lack of guile is weirdly charming — what other singer could deliver a line about “the vibe inside my soul”? What other singer would even try?
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Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Who knew Rita Ora had a style distinctive enough for people to be able to — let alone want to — rip off? 
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Katherine St Asaph: Not chill, as feared, but definitely tentative. Most of the song really wants to turn into “Free Fallin'” but doesn’t, and the bridge really wants to turn into “Tom’s Diner” but doesn’t. Why the hesitation — not knowing the songs? Fear of getting sued? Would classic rock not fit the “vibe” of “empty mansion in the rain just off the coast”? (The “spooky” lyrics are less “Disturbia” than “hasty pivot to creepypasta by a social media ad campaign for Grape-Nuts.” Which, to be fair, is the vibe inside my soul.) Whatever it is, “tentative” is not an adjective that should fit an Ava Max song, or a song about crush-having freakoutery.
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Michael Hong: How often have you seen a song title and expected it to go big, only to be let down by the wave of chillness sweeping the pop climate? “Freaking Me Out” goes big once, on the final chorus where Ava Max growls “it’s freaking me out.” The rest of the time, Ava Max murmurs awkward lyrical cues — I’m not sure how you would describe “empty mansion, in the rain just off the coast” as a vibe. It’s great that Ava Max is stepping away from being a Lady Gaga tribute act, but this is really just another anonymous contribution to some roséwave playlist.
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Joshua Lu: If “Sweet but Psycho” was Ava Max’s The Fame and “So Am I” her Born This Way, the measured and restrained “Freaking Me Out” sure isn’t her Artpop. If anything, Ava’s jumped ahead to that part in A Star is Born where Lady Gaga, as Ally Maine, attempts to churn out disposable pop fodder that’s completely devoid of personality. The key difference is that Ava has actually succeeded at doing that.
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Alfred Soto: The simplicity of the hook is winning; she sounds like a normal person working through a situation. Confront her about the generic means she uses and suddenly that smile goes away right quick.
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Kylo Nocom: She could do without the fake sincerity of the church-youth-group-guitar verses, but there’s two minutes of “Freaking Me Out” that indicate how capable Ava Max is of liveliness, her vocals sliding through gaps of rich Zedd-esque synth textures. A generous interpreter would believe this to be a song about her being in love with somebody that has actually died. This adds a single point.
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Will Adams: Spooky (if slightly silly) imagery that avoids the forced edginess of “Disturbia”; the dynamic arrangement, especially how the prettiness of the second verse dovetails into Cirkut’s electro drop; the compelling vocal performance — they all add up to the realization that I actually like an Ava Max song. So much so that it’s freaking me out.
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Kayla Beardslee: Ava Max is, against all odds, creating a signature sound by making generic pop. My only takeaway from the musical void that is “Freaking Me Out” is that Max can do a legitimately good job carrying and elevating a simple melody (confirmed in this chorus but already proved in “Sweet But Psycho“). It’s underwritten, basic, yet pleasantly competent — and at this point, that’s all I expect from Ava Max.
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One Response to “Ava Max – Freaking Me Out”

  1. Yeah, yeah, “Freaking Me Out” derived its production from past Billboard Hot 100s, the guitar intro seemingly transposed from Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF” and the shoddy attempt of a pre-chorus build-up with piano chords that aren’t even ACTUALLY suspended, but can we just take a moment to appreciate the one-liners here? “That’s the vibe now”? “There’s a heart now, where there used to be a ghost?” Robyn already did the whole melancholia-turned-dance-pop better, and leave the lyrics about the haunting desolation of heartbreak to KAINA, Ava Max.
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