Interview: Rising Pop Star Ava Max on Female Empowerment & Finally Embracing Fame

All it takes is one dive into the rabbit hole of TikTok, or a few minutes channel surfing on your car radio, and you’re bound to hear a song by none other than Ava Max, the Albanian-American dance pop diva now taking the world by storm. Born Amanda Ava Koci, the 27-year-old songstress has made tidal waves with infectious hit songs like ‘Sweet but Psycho’ and ‘Kings & Queens,’ both taken from her exhilarating 2020 debut album Heaven & Hell. Her most recent single ‘EveryTime I Cry’ proves that she has cemented herself in the pop-cultural zeitgeist, especially via her provocatively eccentric sense of style.

To wit, dubbed the “Max-Cut,” Max’s hair is long on her left side, short on her right – a style that actually sprung from an accidental wig-cutting. As the story goes, Max had been baking cookies when she lobbed one side off of a wig. She has since developed it into a statement on the duality of masculinity and femininity, a theme that also echoes through her relatable lyrics, curated sampling choices, and electrifying beats.

After a week of having ‘EveryTime I Cry’ on endless repeat, we sat down with her to chat about just what it means to be Ava Max.

What have you been doing?

I’m good, just doing my thing and working on records lately. I’m really excited. I’ve been in the studio lot, in Studio City.

I feel like a lot of people don’t know that you’re a singer-songwriter. Can I ask you a little bit about your own songwriting process?

Yeah, so I love writing songs. In fact, I’m going to the studio to finish one today. I love to get in the booth, have a beat in my ear, and then I just write – I like writing melodies from scratch. Whatever comes off the top of my head, I love just having it come out naturally. Then I go in and write lyrics. That’s when I’m writing by myself. When I’m writing with other people, we like to talk about the concepts first, and then I’ll go in the booth and write melodies. Then we finish the lyrics afterwards. So it depends, but I’m mostly starting with the melody.

So you’re writing while in the booth?

It’s kinda like freestyle almost. It’s whatever comes out. I love that spontaneity.

Do you want to talk about the story behind your new song ‘EveryTime I Cry’?

Yeah, definitely. I mean the lyrics kind of speak for themselves. I’m trying to cry and get a little stronger. So every tear you shed is really talking about like…I mean, I’ve been through it. I’m sure a lot of people have been through it, just being in a place where you feel so hurt and not knowing if you’re ever going to come out of it. And it’s really just about knowing that every tear you shed, you become stronger, and you learn to become wiser and just better. I think it’s good to know that if something good isn’t happening now, and you feel sad or angry or upset, something incredible is just around the corner. And you have no idea. You just have to look up.

I think that really touches on the themes of female empowerment in your music. You’ve spoken a lot about it, so what does that mean to you? 

Female empowerment, to me, means really sticking up for other women, being there for other women, women in your family, and women in your friend group – being there for women when they need help. I think it’s important to set a good example of being open-minded and outspoken. It’s showing the younger generation that it’s okay to speak up on everything that you believe in because women have been suppressed for generations and generations. 

How do you hope to continue that through your music?

I started doing it with ‘Kings & Queens’ and ‘Sweet But Psycho’ and reclaiming the word psycho. When men call us psycho, we are actually empowered and strong. And I think that’s what I try to do in my music and lyrics. But I also try to make it fun, where you can dance to it and have a good time as well.

I know you like to play with masculinity and femininity in your styling, so is that something you intentionally touch upon in your music as well?

Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I say, “If I had a sword it’d be bigger than yours” in ‘Kings & Queens,’ for instance. I like to talk about, going back to female empowerment, how women can do it all. And in fact, if they did have a sword, it’d be bigger than the men’s sword.

In ‘Kings and Queens,’ you cleverly sample Bonnie Tyler’s ‘If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man).’ How do you choose which songs you want to sample?

It’s funny, because when I’m in the studio, it’s not, like, ‘Let’s sample this line or this melody.’ If we’re in the mood, we just do it. Sometimes it just fits the song perfectly, for instance, ‘Around the World (La La La La La)’ for ‘My Head & My Heart’ was just perfect for that little part. We wrote a new song completely. So we like taking little, little bits, but then most of the song is completely new. And it’s familiar, you know? I love it when people are like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve heard that before.’

It can be literally a splash. In ‘My Head & My Heart,’ it’s only “la la la la la.” It’s literally only that, and everything else is new – all new lyrics. And I think it’s really awesome that that’s available to sample.

What was your creative process like during COVID and what are you most looking forward to now that the world is returning to normal again?

I miss performing and just really being there with the fans in person. And even talking to fans and getting to know them – I want to do more of that again in the future.

On the topic of fans, you’re pretty private about your personal life, and you’ve said before that you don’t like the attention of cameras and red carpets. Would you say that’s still true for you?

I like getting dressed up and wearing fashion and all that and putting on makeup. I just don’t like the attention though. I think privacy is super important for everybody, but for me personally, it’s because of my friends and family. I try not to bring my fame into their laps.

Has that been difficult because you have found so much success in the last few years?

I think maybe sometimes. For instance, when I’m at dinner and I’m trying to celebrate my friend’s birthday, there’s paparazzi or people coming up and the attention comes back on me. So, it’s a little awkward. I think that right there is where I don’t like the fame. Other than that, I know it comes with everything I’m doing, and I love doing what I do. 

You’ve said that your mother encouraged you to pursue music as a career. Was there a time when you felt like you wanted to give up?

That’s a complicated question because I feel like I wanted to give up many times. I wanted to give up when I was 13. I wanted to give up when I was 18. I wanted to give up when I was even 21. And I’ve been in so many different phases of trying to make it growing up. Because I started when I was eight years old doing competitions, it felt like a lifetime until ‘Sweet but Psycho,’ you know? So I think I had this moment, especially when I was 18, where I felt all alone. My family didn’t know how to help anymore. I was in California, and I was just in it on my own, I had to find my own way. And that’s what you really have to do. I feel like you have to find your own way to make it happen.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment thus far?

I think releasing my debut album for sure. That’s always been a dream of mine, and when it happened, it was so surreal.

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