Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Ava Max – Kings & Queens

A jack of all trades?


Jackie Powell: For many, Ava Max has struggled to distinguish herself. She has similar artistic idiosyncrasies to Lady Gaga but a vocal that soars in a similar trajectory to Marina. The confidence and attitude of her delivery could draw even with Dua Lipa. In 2020 Max returns with “Kings & Queens,” another solo single. But this one has been promoted and packaged as the lead single for her first full-length LP, which still remains to be seen and is untitled to the public. While I could blame the spitfire single releases post-“Sweet But Psycho” on Atlantic Records — who are notorious for stringing their artists along on a topsy-turvy release orbit — putting out a potential pop Kraken in “Kings & Queens” reminds us of how Max can continue to differentiate herself within dancefloor pop circles. Her lyrics are witty, and especially on this cut, she’s not afraid to sell and go all-in on an extended metaphor about gender, power, and nobility: “And you might think I’m weak without a sword/But if I had one, it’d be bigger than yours.” The written visualization carries into the music video treatment and into how the cut sounds. Max lays on a throne accompanied by a sword and then she’s seen knocking down the King on a life-size chess set. The most memorable audible moment is the Brian May “Killer Queen”-esque guitar solo that supersedes the second chorus and then picks up again in the high energy outro. Her messaging is a strength, but her operatic pop vocal is sometimes drowned out by Cirkut’s glossy production. Eight other writers developed this melody. So how does Max break through and become a pop heavyweight? She ought to stick to her strengths and not force her weaknesses. “Sweet But Psycho” was no fluke. Max has something to say, and she ought to continue her cheeky metaphors that are sometimes extended, while discontinuing the eight-piece factory that brainstormed ten “different versions” of this melody.

Will Adams: There are aspirations toward big ’80s cheese — the chorus lifted from Bon Jovi by-way-of Bonnie Tyler; those rad electric guitars  — but it’s mostly the same wan Gaga pastiche, only enhanced by the presence of RedOne. Even Gaga is releasing better early-Gaga-era music at this point.

Leah Isobel: This is garish as hell, but that’s a positive — the borrowed melody solidifies Ava as a committed Max-imalist, a Meat Loaf for the Spotify era. But transposing those over-the-top sonics into circa-2010 ~empowerment~ sort of defeats the purpose. Like, yeah, being a woman is hard work, and love is, indeed, a battlefield; for the artists and songs she’s referencing, these truths were just background. Here, that subtext is plain text, and as a result there’s nowhere for the song to build. Ava is left swinging at shadows with her non-existent sword.

Kayla Beardslee: You Give Feminism a Bad Name.

Scott Mildenhall: It is indeed a shot through the heart — when Ava Max homages, she homages with a big sign saying she’s done it. What’s better yet is that “Kings & Queens” never seeks to reframe its obvious inspiration through any kind of lens. No layer of archness is required for something which is and always was arch by itself. Instead, this has all the wit and confusion of “Paparazzi” with even more punch. While Gaga’s recent retrospectacle was immensely satisfying, here is a step further: a glimpse into a world in which she denied all impulse to develop, and kept making songs like this forever and ever.

Kylo Nocom: Attempts to project conservatism onto willfully silly mainstream pop like this and Meghan Trainor always fall flat because it’s hardly any more offensive than most other acceptable brands of pop-feminism. Ava has the voice to give a song as silly as this the needed royal-drama, and the guitars are killer. If Ava is really the fake-Gaga her detractors want her to be, then she’s doing a killer job. Besides, I always preferred “The Queen” to Born This Way‘s failed experiments.

Oliver Maier: Max’s songcraft is simple, but effective enough to justify her wildly irresponsible metaphor mixing (she’s a queen, but also a dragon at one point, and also maybe Robyn’s pal who arrived at the club a bit late). The harmonised guitar solo and the bridge are the wrong way around, but the former is a welcome anachronism and the latter gets extra credit for being 50% extremely literal chess rules. 

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Robyn in 2010: “I keep dancing on my own.” Ava Max in 2020: “You’re not dancing on your own.” Who do you think I’m gonna side with? 

Joshua Lu: On paper, “Kings & Queens” should be one of the kookiest pop songs of the year. Listening just brings so many questions to mind; why an electric guitar breakdown right into a downtempo bridge, without any kind of transition? Why do so many of these lines not even try to rhyme? Was this whole monarchy theme employed just for that dick size joke? Or was it just for that chess example? And most importantly: Why is this song, despite all of these disparate elements, so utterly bland?

Alex Clifton: A perfect bite-size pocket of sugar with Eurodance synths and a chorus that’ll cling to my brain for the next week. I’m a simple girl with extremely basic needs and while this isn’t the greatest song in the universe, it will fit perfectly on my “list of dance songs for quarancleaning.”

Reader average: [3.75] (4 votes)

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3 Responses to “Ava Max – Kings & Queens”

  1. her highest score yet…. the ava max-aissance is upon us!

  2. This song is brilliant, Robyn wishes

  3. more than anything, a juked-up version of Bubbles’ “Happy Girl”, not that that’s a bad thing

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