She’s already had a quái thú hit in Europe and is being compared lớn “Poker Face”-era Lady Gaga. Is this the beginning of her road to pop stardom?

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Two years ago, Ava Max made a mistake that ended up becoming a defining signature. She was in the middle of cutting her hair, while at the same time baking cookies, when she caught a look of herself in the mirror.

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“It was funny, ’cause I was actually experimenting with different haircuts & colors, pink hair, xanh hair, all that kind of stuff,” she said. “Nothing felt lượt thích me. One day I cut my hair, my actual hair, cut it on the right side, and I remember I had something in the oven—I think they were chocolate-chip cookies. And I run downstairs without cutting the other side.” As she recounted the anecdote, it was easy to imagine her telling this story again and again over the next five years. “I run downstairs, and then I’m like, ‘Oh my God, almost burnt.’ As I’m going upstairs, I see in the mirror my reflection & the haircut, and . . . I literally tilted my head, like, why does this feel lượt thích me? It felt like me, lượt thích I had found myself.”


It is an unusual haircut, one side chopped as a short bob and the other left long & loose. (The hairstyle is reflected in her logo, as well, which morphs the “A” of “Max” to lớn reflect the ’do.) She boasted that the style has its own name now—the “Max Cut”—and that it pleases her when she gets odd looks from strangers when she’s out in public. “At the grocery store, people were giving me weird looks, and I’m like, ‘O.K., I’m happy.’ The weirder the looks, the better this decision is.”

Max is in the middle of a grueling promotional cycle, traveling the country—her Instagram stories serving as a travelogue of sorts—on behalf of her first pop hit, “Sweet but Psycho.” The tuy nhiên held the No. 1 spot in the U.K. For four weeks, hit the top of the charts in over a dozen other countries worldwide, & is No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard emerging-artists chart (it’s been rising on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, currently at No. 32, and has reached the U.S. ITunes đứng đầu 10).


The tuy nhiên is unabashedly pop, reminiscent of Lady Gaga or Katy Perry’s early output. While that almost cheesy “pump it up,” perfect-for-the-treadmill sound would be considered outré by some in 2019—when more languid, melancholy, và R&B-infused tracks dominate popular music—Max didn’t seem to lớn be too concerned. She seemed well-aware of the improbability of the song’s meteoric rise: “We knew the song was special, but we didn't know it was gonna take off lượt thích this, obviously, because this was a phenomenon. This doesn’t happen to an artist that no one knows from nowhere, right?” she said, folded up on a sofa in Manhattan this January, a few hours after performing on the Today show & a few days after appearing on The Late Late Show with James Corden, her first late-night-show performance.

While it may seem as if Max appeared out of nowhere, she worked tenaciously in order to arrive at this moment, và “Sweet but Psycho” came after years of attempts lớn break through.

Ava Max was born Amanda Koci, in 1994, to lớn Albanian-immigrant parents in Milwaukee. When she was eight, her family moved to Virginia. Her mother was an opera singer; her dad played the piano; her uncles were in bands. She was a Britney Spears fanatic who wanted to lớn pursue pop music.


As many a stage mother has done before, Max’s mom moved her 14-year-old daughter lớn Los Angeles in 2008. (“She’s like, ‘We're moving to lớn California . . . there’s nothing to do in Virginia for your career.’”) But Max found the city “overwhelming,” and, a year later, they were back in Virginia, where she would remain for her teenage years. “I’m happy nothing happened back then, so I could actually have a normal childhood,” she said.


She eventually moved back to California a few years later, in hopes of igniting that career. She started making music with a friend of her older brother (one of the few members of the family without musical inclinations; Max said he’s an “entrepreneur”). That friend was the producer Cirkut, who, alongside Max Martin & Dr. Luke, was responsible for Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” (with Dr. Luke), among other titanic hits that shaped the 2010s pop sound. Though Cirkut and Ava Max recorded a bunch of songs together, it was a modern-day cosmic sự kiện that spurred her ascent: a song that the two uploaded to SoundCloud.

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“I’m not even kidding you,” Max said, “We got e-mails from record labels wanting khổng lồ talk .” Over the past year, Max has sung on David Guetta & Jason Derulo tracks, & released some one-off singles—including the bombastic, effervescent “Salt” and a re-interpretation of “Barbie Girl” titled “Not Your Barbie Girl”—but none gained traction until the Cirkut-produced “Sweet but Psycho” was unleashed.

A successful pop star needs more than just the music, though, a fact Max seems highly aware of. When she was 13, she had come up with the middle name “Ava” for herself, which she eventually started using as a first name. “I never felt lượt thích an Amanda,” she said.

When she was signed by a record label, she decided she wanted a last name lớn go with it—and thought carefully about what exactly she wanted that last name to lớn represent. “Max came about because it felt very masculine, & I feel a little masculine sometimes, lượt thích 50/50, like my hair,” she said. “I wanted something with the feminine that Ava has, và Max has masculinity, so I added those two together.”


Again and again, Max spoke about how success for her means standing out, visually or otherwise. When asked about her personal style, she said, “I think about it like, what can I vì against the grain? I don’t want to vị what anyone else is doing. I don’t want to go khổng lồ the designer that everyone is going to. I want khổng lồ find a designer that maybe no one’s paying attention to. . . . & I’m not afraid to wear something crazy và ridiculous. I think it’s important, again, khổng lồ give people an experience on a red carpet or a performance.”

The pure pop sound, the striking platinum blonde hair, the outsize persona, the flashy stage name—it all recalls, well, a certain pop-star icon. And Max didn’t shy away from the Gaga comparisons. She name-checked Gaga—along with Spears, Perry, Céline Dion, & Mariah Carey—as one of her musical inspirations. Of Gaga, in particular, she offered, “It’s funny, people compare me lớn her, but I think she’s such a legend, và she’s untouchable to lớn me. I think she’s as . . . I see her as iconic. So that’s such a compliment every time I hear that. Yeah, she’s incredible.”

She is also often grouped in with the three other stars with Albanian roots currently finding pop success—recent Grammy best-new-artist winner Dua Lipa; Bebe Rexha; and Rita Ora. Max joked on Twitter that the four of them should record a “Lady Marmalade”-style track together at some point. She told me, “I always make a joke . . . ‘It’s in our blood because we’re so hot-blooded.’”

I asked Max if it ever bothers her that so much of the pop-music conversation is about competition—this pop star sized up next khổng lồ that one, that one slighting another, this one not paying respects to lớn their pop elder, and so on.

She sidestepped the question & answered with something of a thesis statement: “I think ’cause there’s not a lot of straight, head-on pop . . . . Also, even when you’re in school, if you were dressed different or you were different, or the kid with the really, really, really big glasses, they would look at that person strange, and then they’d bình luận a lot about a person’s appearance.


“So I think it’s the same thing with artists. It’s like, wait, this person’s different. This person’s kind of weird. Why is she weird? Why is her hair cut halfway? Right? So, I think that’s why it’s maybe getting attention.”

With a hit under her belt, Max’s follow-up khổng lồ “Sweet but Psycho” is going to be highly scrutinized. Another chart-topping song and Max will likely start khổng lồ be embraced by the pop establishment; a dud, và she could be quickly written off as a one-hit wonder. Max, though, seemed pretty confident & relaxed about it all.

She finished recording her debut album over Christmas. “We’re bringing pop back,” she told me. “I hope you’re all ready.” While the release date remains a surprise, she said we’ll be getting the album, which she worked on for over a year and a half, “Sooner than you think . . . Definitely this year.” There are no guest artists on the album (“I wanted people to lớn discover me”) và it seems the propulsive “Sweet but Psycho” is indicative of the overall sound. “All the songs coming out after are exactly lượt thích that,” she said. The next two singles have been picked, & it seems likely they will be equally well-suited for spin class: “The next two are so fast . . . Super-fast. & super-pop. The next one has a huge message behind it. It’s coming out in March.”

The message of “Sweet but Psycho” has been criticized for its use of tropes about mental illness, particularly in the music video, where a “psychotic” jilted girlfriend wields an axe & baseball bat after she learns her boyfriend is cheating on her. (The U.K.’s Zero Suicide Alliance released an open letter expressing dismay.)


But Max explained away the controversy with the skill of a celebrity who’s been doing this for much longer than she actually has. “It’s all play-pretend. It’s like, well, guys think we actually are . . . . It’s mocking. It’s all gaslighting. Guys lượt thích to gaslight us, and it’s not cool. & it happens so much; it’s happened khổng lồ me in relationships. It‘s happened khổng lồ me where I have been cheated on, và I felt so sad và angry, like it wasn’t my fault, but that was because the person was gaslighting me into thinking it was my fault.” She continued, “ think I’m actually calling them psycho, but then it’s a deeper meaning. & obviously the music video clip is very drastic, và I want theatrics. I want khổng lồ give people a show và an experience. Và every music video clip is gonna be an experience for you guys, và I definitely want you khổng lồ see the real message behind it.”

The tuy vậy is one of self-empowerment khổng lồ her. “I think we all have different personalities . . . & even in relationships, we can be called psycho, và we can be called sweet, based on what the person feels about you. And it’s so irritating, because you’re like, ‘Stop labeling me,’ & so I really think people relate lớn that.”