Ava Max is Not Your Diva Next Door

The pop vocalist speaks with V about her latest album, “Diamonds and Dancefloors,” and the duality that encapsulates the project

Ava Max grew up admiring the musical abilities of her family—and it wasn’t long before she decided to forge her own path in the industry. She traveled to compete in singing competitions, putting all of her energy into her dream, before choosing her stage name and manifesting the dance-popstar we now know. At seventeen, Max embarked on the journey of a lifetime to Los Angeles and worked tirelessly for five years until she signed her record deal, catapulting into the world of dance music and disco balls at full speed. 

The course was not always painless, but through it all, Max leaned on music to keep her composure. The singer songwriter’s status as certified diva was secured with her viral, hit single “Sweet But Psycho,” released in 2018—and her debut album Heaven and Hell continued that momentum just a couple of years later.

But speaking to Max over a casual video call, it became apparent that she is more than just your diva next door. On stage, she’ll effortlessly mix glitter-encrusted frocks with punk jewelry and chunky platform boots, expressing what she calls her “goth side.” In the same ways that her fashion choices convey her many facets, her new album Diamonds and Dancefloors sheds light on the duality that characterizes her persona. Max cannot be boxed in by just one description or style, and her new project proves just that. 

Below, Max speaks with V about Diamonds and Dancefloors, the emotions behind it, early inspirations, and the tenacity she maintains that allows it all to flourish.

V MAGAZINE: With a mother who comes from a musical background, what lessons did she teach you in your early days that you still carry? Did growing up in a musical environment sway you to pursue the same things? 

AVA MAX: It definitely changed the way I view music. Growing up with my mom, she loved to sing so much and my dad loves to play piano. My uncles were in bands and my grandparents wrote songs so I think my whole family loved music growing up. I think that’s why I was quickly drawn to music. I used to sing all the time with my mom and compete in singing competitions.

V: Right, and I know you participated in singing competitions all over Virginia growing up and even traveled to do so. Did younger Ava always know this was her path? 

AM: Oh my God, yes! Always. I knew what I wanted to do since I was eight years old. Which is a blessing and a curse because then you don’t know how to get there.

V: It sounds like it was in your blood, but navigating the music industry at the young age you did is no easy feat. What helped you to push through?

AM: Consistency and perseverance. You have to have persistence and you have to be consistent. You have to be persistent if you want to do anything in life, which for me is obviously music. I was putting out music and I was writing a lot of music. So I think it’s all about not stopping. I think people stop right before something great. It’s about to happen and that’s where they fail, you know, I think you just have to keep going no matter what.  

V: I read that you chose your stage name—Ava Max—due to Ava being your middle name and Max being a name you were drawn to for its both feminine and masculine qualities. I see that same duality in your music—bedroom pop that oozes with femininity, delivered in a strong-willed, gallant way. Do you feel this duality characterizes your personality as well?

AM: Oh, for sure. I feel like I need to have my cake and eat it too. I always believe that people can have it all and that you don’t have to choose. I feel that society nowadays really makes us feel like we have to choose one direction, do one thing, and be perfect in this little box. And I truly don’t agree with that. I feel like we can do anything we want because we live one life—and it’s our life—and I think we should live it the way we want to. My music is really just about empowering people to do so.  

V: How have you evolved sonically and aesthetically since the “Sweet But Psycho” days and the release of your debut album, Heaven and Hell?

AM: I think I’ve evolved a lot since “Sweet But Psycho.” I mean, I was just learning. I was new to the industry. I had wanted to be a singer for a very long time, but when “Sweet But Psycho” came out, I was new to the actual touring life and the ins and outs, so it was very hard for me to adjust. Because for years, I was in the studio making music by myself. And so when I was out there making music videos and touring the world afterward, I needed to figure out what I really liked and disliked. So I learned a lot the first year during that first tour.

V: Your new project’s title track, “Diamonds and Dancefloors,” seems to fully encapsulate Ava Max as we know it. It’s giving full diva vibes—diamonds, disco balls, and all. Did you look up to any divas growing up? 

AM: Totally. Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani—I mean, the list goes on and on—Tina Turner; I grew up listening to them, and Shania Twain. They were just such strong female performers. And Beyoncé, can’t forget Beyoncé. I just grew up listening to their strong voices and how they danced and sang; they were so powerful. So I really took a lot from watching their music videos. 

V: Can’t forget Beyoncé—of course. Aside from the glitz and glam that comes along with being a pop star, the new album also navigates more turbulent themes of heartbreak and longing. What drove some of the emotions written about on the project? 

AM: For me, it was all about making dance music when I first started this. But then I got my heart broken, and that’s when I combined sad lyrics with dance music. 

V: That was one of the first things I noticed. That duality we spoke about earlier traverses many lanes. Because of that, I see the conclusive experience of womanhood in the modern world expressed in each song on Diamonds and Dancefloors. We have badass, assertive songs like “Cold As Ice,” alongside sadder reflections like “Ghost.” What is the story you want this album to tell from start to finish?

AM: Lyrically, there’s a through line to it and it basically just takes you down the phases of my heartbreak. When I first started getting heartbroken, and I was angry, I wrote, “Maybe You’re The Problem.” In between my heartbreak, where I was finding myself again and feeling so sad, I had to break it off with “One of Us.” That song was about how one of us would die for love while one of us would give it up—we weren’t on the same page. And then “Million Dollar Baby” was me coming out stronger from that experience, but then also feeling like everywhere I go I see his ghost, and that’s “Ghost,” so it all connects. 

V: Your outfits are as full of personality as your music. From glitter-clad frocks to leather head to toe, it seems expressing yourself outwardly is important to you. Who are some of your ultimate fashion role models, and what styles draw you in? 

AM: I find a lot of inspiration from older music videos, like “Crazy in Love” or Gwen Stefani music videos. I think she’s very fashionable and awesome. Kate Moss in the ‘90s as well. I like to mix a lot of stuff and I have a lot of ‘90s, early 2000s, and Y2K looks. But I’m also a little grunge and Rock ‘N Roll in my heart and soul. So I always add a little bit of grunge in there with my big black boots or sometimes I’ll wear an all black look and channel my goth side.

V: Now that the album is out, how will you continue building upon the Diamonds and Dancefloors world this year?

AM: I’m extremely excited for my first headline tour. I feel like it’s been a long time coming and I haven’t been able to tour for a long time because of a lot of different reasons. I’m finally feeling like I can reach my fans and sing with them after all this time, I’m ready.

Discover More