“I miss the rhythm keepin’ me warm,” sings pop singer Ava Max on the title track to her second studio album, Diamonds & Dancefloors, which she declares is all she wants. “I miss the music surroundin’ me / Drown me in glitter, glitter, and gold.” Max describes the record as her most personal work yet, having worked through a breakup in her life by channeling her emotions into the songwriting. Diamonds & Dancefloors doesn’t quite sound like a breakup record on the surface since we’re wired to expect emotive ballads on such a work. Instead, Max took a different route, creating her latest in a catalogue of dance-pop that pushes no boundaries but drowns our sorrows on the dancefloor, and we all need that sometimes.
Max’s debut LP Heaven & Hell was crafted with a similar thesis, eschewing originality for a sound familiar and comforting to those who heavily consumed the Top 40 pop of the late aughts and early 2010s. Still, when put under a critical lens, it’s difficult to deny that this trajectory doesn’t quite allow the singer to carve out her own identity, at least not yet, when she’s trying on masks already worn by others.
Where Heaven & Hell was consistent and conceptual, Diamonds & Dancefloors is more of a club album, drawing prominent influences from Europop and nu-disco. Despite being described as of a personal nature, the lyrics are unoriginal and unremarkable. “Stop using your words as weapons,” she shouts on one of the record’s singles. On paper, it’s kitschy and nothing special. To the ears of the pop music fan, it’s an uptempo, cathartic escape from trying to keep up with sonic trends. To paraphrase Taylor Swift, we think we’ve seen this film before and did like the ending, so we saw it repeatedly.
Diamonds & Dancefloors’ biggest flaw is that it perhaps relies too much on Max’s copious use of studio time with Cirkut, who has produced most of her biggest hits to date. It succeeds for a record not looking to push any buttons because it replicates the comforting dance-pop sound that listeners, predominantly those from the queer community, have come to expect from Max. Her debut single, “Sweet But Psycho”, would not have become a viral sleeper hit if not for its throwback to a time when names like Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Kesha dominated the Billboard Hot 100.
Sadly, mainstream music has tended not to take female pop singers seriously for long if all they want to do is sing and dance or if they stick to working with the same producers for too long. Some critics even allege that the downfall of Nicole Scherzinger’s solo music career dates back to her choice to have RedOne entirely produce her debut album.
It’s doubtful whether Max will suffer a similar fate, given that she signed a new management deal with Scooter Braun for this record and has already enjoyed her fair share of mainstream commercial success early in her career. For those who appreciate a particular branch of dance-pop, Diamonds & Dancefloors is a euphoric escape from the harsh realities of adult life. Max knows how to make an earworm reminiscent of the pop of days past, especially in an era of bedroom pop. But I often think of something Kesha said in an interview regarding the club-friendly electropop she was contractually obligated to record earlier in her career, how those songs didn’t represent that she is a “real person having a complete human experience”. Max has chosen to write and record her current caliber of songs, but it’s a sound and image that won’t last forever. Until then, however, we’ll shimmer on the dancefloor.