Release Date: January 27th 2023
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Million Dollar Baby
- Maybe You’re the Problem
- Hold Up (Wait a Minute)
- Diamonds & Dancefloors
- In the Dark
- Turn Off the Lights
- One of Us
- Get Out of My Heart
- Cold as Ice
- Last Night on Earth
- Dancing’s Done
I don’t know how many times I have told you all about this- but I’ll say it again. Personally, in my own life, I have gravitated towards Christian music and inspirational music glorifying Jesus, and encouraging us in our walk with Jesus. And it’s simply because I’m a believer in Christ and I find that type of music most resonating to me. Also, it’s because it is speaking about a focus to eternity, and that we as believers have a much bigger perspective that those who are not- we have an eternal perspective thus hardships and heartache gain a much more transient meaning. Not to be flippant though, and to say that all hardships are immaterial in light of eternity; but when viewed through Jesus and everything He’s done for us; hard times aren’t this ‘woe is me, my life is over’ kind of thing, but rather something that God can use for us to grow as people and for us to grower closer to Him. Christian music has always been uplifting, and there seemed to be no valid reason for me to venture out of my ‘comfort zone’ in terms of musical genres.
Yet it is mainly and predominantly only because of the blog series that my brother and I have been writing over the past few years (if you’re not sure which blog series I’m referring to, it’s this one, the series about the most influential artists of all time!) that I started to branch out into other musical genres. Sure, Christian music was still uplifting and encouraging, but so was mainstream music. And for a long time, I tried to explain away my love for mainstream music. Like maybe I resonated with certain mainstream artists because they were Christian, and I didn’t gravitate towards artists that were not Christian. Yet over the past year and a half I’ve found myself liking music from artists that weren’t even believers… and then I stopped trying to explain how God moved and worked. I wasn’t going to defend or argue as to why I felt that Christian music was supposed to be superior. Because what listening to a wider range of artists lately has taught me, is that encouragement and inspiration can come from any place. God can use anything, and even non-believers, to draw us closer to Him. Crazy, right?
Well now, arising from me having too much time on my hands during the pandemic and during lockdown; I’ve been inspired and encouraged by another artist. Amanda Ava Koci, known by her stage name Ava Max, released her debut project Heaven & Hell in September 2020. She re-released the project shortly afterwards with “My Head And My Heart” added in as well; and boy let me tell you that this pop album is very, very hopeful and encouraging, as many themes and relevant topics are explored. Fast forward to now, and Ava has unveiled another album called Diamonds And Dancefloors. With her stand-alone single from last year “EveryTime I Cry” musically sounding top-notch, as well as lyrically quite confronting and hopeful at the same time (read our review here!); my mind is made up- Ava’s music is one of the most ‘inspirational’ pop music out there. For many of you who may have listened to Ava’s debut album, you may agree as to the impactful-ness and hopefulness and encouraging nature of this project… but for those who only listen to Christian music and don’t venture out much musically, like how I used to be; you can read my thoughts of Heaven And Hell here; and also our blog about Ava as well!
[The album] It was done before October, but the reason why we switched the release date is because I am a perfectionist. I started tweaking more and more. I’m a little crazy when it comes to my music. I just want to make sure it’s like everything I hear in my head. When it was about to release, I thought, wait a second. It’s way too soon. I definitely have more to do. I’m going to give it a few more months.
Diamonds & Dancefloors is really just my personal life in a nutshell. I never wrote about my personal relationships in the past, and all these songs started as ballads, and then I turned them into dance records. “Diamonds” represents, for me personally, the lyrical part of the relationship and how I felt and how sad I was during the heartbreak. “Dancefloors” represents letting go and really letting it all out on the dance floor and kind of releasing all of the emotions you felt during the heartbreak. It’s an exciting way to look at heartbreak. Like you’re coming out stronger from it. I made these songs dance records for a reason.
I make so much music now that it’s kind of like second nature. It feels like I can go into the studio right now and do the same thing again. I’ve made hundreds of songs like this. I can close my eyes and write a song now. It’s just something that’s in me. But it takes practice, like everything. Like sports or dance, writing songs is the same. The more you do it, the easier it gets to express your emotions and your feelings and really let out what you want to portray in the song.
With the album standing tall at 14 tracks, and the lead single “Maybe You’re The Problem” anchoring the album, Ava powerfully, emotionally, honestly and vulnerably crafts her most raw yet most hopeful album to date. It’s all about a painful breakup, yet all of these songs are sung as if they’re dance pop numbers. Musically, Ava stays in her lane, and that might turn people off. It did for me at first, but there still is a depth to these songs through the lyrics that I can’t deny enjoying. And thus, Diamonds And Dancefloors is a bonafide pop album that getas you to dance but also encourages you to think about the incredibly deep issues in life.
Simplistic lyrically yet effective also, Ava delivers probably her most powerful and emotional and vulnerable song yet in the lead single “Maybe You’re The Problem”- she directs this 80’s themed pop banger to her ex, telling him that he was the reason that the relationship didn’t work. As Ava confidently relays that ‘…okay, you, you see a pattern? Your point of view, got it all backwards, you should take your little finger and just point it in the mirror, baby, maybe you’re the problem…’, we are all encouraged to take stock of our relationships, see if they’re healthy or not, and to really determine if they’re something that builds us up or breaks us down. It’s a song that is hard-hitting and is lyrically incredibly bold and courageous, despite the seemingly poppy atmosphere musically. And thus, with Ava growing up with Albanian refugees as parents, and being exposed to a wide variety of musical genres such as opera and pop; her debut album, as well as this new single, is musically and sonically a breath of fresh air, as she marries many genres together and creates a musical and lyrical experience so unique and introspective.
The rest of Diamonds And Dancefloors is a soothing and a relaxing musical experience, despite the head-banging club music; as we are treated to inspiring music and thought-provoking lyrics. “Sleepwalker” is a warning of sorts to a potential partner, as Ava asks them whether they want to commit to her as she will turn them into a ‘sleepwalker’, and she will entrance them and make them obsess over her because of her looks, personality and character; while “Million Dollar Baby” champions the women in Ava’s life, as well as the resilience and determination in her own life. As Ava powerfully declares that the worth she receives isn’t from anyone but from herself; the outcome is a more confident woman, as Ava sings out that ‘…in the dark of the night, she got danger on her mind, she’s a million dollar baby, nobody can explain it, she’s a miracle, she’s a miracle, oh, oh, oh, ooh, she broke out of her chains, turned the fire into rain, she’s a million dollar baby, she bound to drive me crazy, she’s a miracle, she’s a miracle, oh, oh, oh, ooh…’. The title track speaks about longing for dancing in clubs and bars whilst in the pandemic; while “In The Dark” poses the question to guys as to why some only want to sleep with girls and then not call them ever again… which is rude and disrespectful and downright wrong by the way. “Ghost” (about trying to get over an ex but you still see them everywhere!), “Hold Up Just Wait A Minute” (an intense melody that is throwing shade at Ava’s ex for cheating on her with his ex), and “Weapons” (an inspirational melody about drowning out all of the online haters and trolls and realising that they’re just angry for no apparent reason and no fault of your own!), are all songs with a positive message about overcoming your fears and owning who you are as a person with no apologies and with no excuses; while “Turn Of The Lights” (a melody about dancing the night away on the dancefloor) and “One Of Us” (one of the rare ballads that speaks about one person wanting to fight for the relationship and the other person being apathetic) are also album standouts: There’s the lyrics: ‘One of us would die for love/One of us would give it up.’ [My ex] just didn’t want to do the work. And he was very toxic. That’s so upsetting. You want to die for someone, and the other person doesn’t want to die for you; it’s like, what am I doing? You’re not meeting me halfway. I was crying in the studio. I went for a walk between writing the lyrics and melodies and recording, because I needed some fresh air. It’s the most intense song I’ve ever written, recorded, and probably will perform.
“Get Outta My Heart” is as evident as it appears- the song is about trying to dispel the guy from Ava’s heart and her life and her house and her head; while “Cold As Ice” has ava warning a potential partner that she’s been burned in relationships before and hence she will be as cold as ice to the other person at first. “Last Night On Earth”, a bass guitar prominent melody about what one could do on the last day on earth, was inspired by the movie San Andreas, and also has a similar theme to “Last Day Here On Earth” by Steven Curtis Chapman; while the final song on the album- “Dancing’s Done”, has Ava asking the question of where do her and her partner go as a couple and as two separate people once the honeymoon phase of their relationship is over.
Each song is pop, yes, but they have different influences. For instance, “Million Dollar Baby” has a little bit of a Michael Jackson energy. The vibe and the production on “Ghost” is ’90s house/pop. “Sleepwalker” I say is kind of like the sister to “Million Dollar Baby.” And then “One of Us” and “Weapons” feel to me a little bit more like “Kings and Queens” [from her first album]. It feels a little bit more like an in-your-face empowerment record. And then “In the Dark” is completely different — something I’ve never done before. But they’re all in the same realm of pop music, but I didn’t want every single song to be exactly the same. And that’s one thing I was really adamant about. So for instance, “Maybe You’re, the Problem” is pop, but it also has influences of pop rock. I got really excited to dabble in different things.
We need to dance, we need to let loose, we need to have a good time and forget about our heartbreak. I wrote these records at a very emotional time. I thought I wasn’t gonna make it through. I went through two really bad breakups. A lot of people think it was one, but it was two really, really bad breakups. And it kind of just spiraled and really hit me. I had never gone through a breakup like that. And you know, it’s funny. Now I understand lyrics better. I see color differently. I live my life differently. I came out stronger. Heartbreak… Yes, it’s sad, but you can also turn it into a positive. And that’s what I did with these songs.
When the song is doing really well, it’s inevitable that you’ll notice it. Obviously you’re gonna notice it. It gets exciting when it’s like top five then, oh, my God, number three, number two, number one! But I don’t watch it diligently. For instance, a song’s out now. I see people posting on Twitter, the numbers and where it’s at. I kind of just scroll by. It’s not like something I’m looking for if that makes sense.
But at the end of the day, you never know what’s going to go. I really believe that. For instance, there’s been a song that I didn’t think was going to go and it went…. Then there was a song, that I’m not going to name, that I thought was going to go and didn’t. So I don’t really even think about that. I’m just like, “I hope they like it. I’m done. This is yours. I’m moving on to my next project now. If you love it, you love it. If you don’t, whatever.” I just don’t want to overthink the charting and all that stuff.
Some would say that Ava Max is like the new Avril Lavigne. Or the new Lady Gaga, or the new Kesha, or the new Dua Lipa. But for me I’d say that while Ava may draw inspiration from these artists and more, Heaven & Hell, “EveryTime I Cry” and now the album Diamonds And Dancefloors show us that Ava can rock out and dance to poppy numbers, yet her ultimate goal is to give lyrics for us all to ponder over and to dwell upon. Not that those other artists don’t do that… but Ava is her own person and not the next ____ (fill in the blank!). Sure, these songs may be catchy and sure these songs will make you dance… but at the end of the day if these songs aren’t saying something meaningful and aren’t giving us advice on how to live in this world… then what’s the point? There’s only so many songs you can sing about partying and drugs and alcohol… and Ava reminds us that even today in this world post-COVID-19, we need uplifting, and we need inspiration right now. So, as we try to decipher the many meanings on songs like each of the 15 in Heaven & Hell, or as we debate as to whether Ava wants to tell us that it’s ok to cry all the time, or as we take stock of our own relationships (romantic or platonic) to see whether they’re destructive or not, and as we dance at clubs and at bars to these 14 songs on Diamonds And Dancefloors; let us remember that life is a journey full of mountain tops and valleys- and without the valley you can’t appreciate the mountain. Without the hard times you can never fully know and appreciate the good times; and Ava’s music, especially this album included, explores this dichotomy of delivering a heavy song thematically against a backdrop of a fun poppy atmosphere! Well done Ava, I can’t wait for hear what’s in store for you next!
4 songs to listen to: Million Dollar Baby, Weapons, One Of Us, Cold As Ice
RIYL: Avril Lavigne, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Kesha, Dua Lipa, Halsey, Bebe Rexha