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Channeling the imaginations and aesthetics of forebears like Sia and Lady Gaga, Albanian-American pop singer/songwriter Ava Max delivers empowering, dance-friendly anthems similar to contemporaries such as Bebe Rexha, Sigrid, and Dua Lipa. Emerging in the late 2010s, she appeared on collaborations with Le Youth, Witt Lowry, and David Guetta while also releasing her own singles, including her breakthrough smash hit "Sweet But Psycho," which topped the charts in almost two dozen countries. In 2020, she issued her debut full-length, Heaven & Hell.
Born Amanda Ava Koci in Wisconsin, she was raised by Albanian immigrant parents in Virginia. She started singing at a young age and was already active in singing competitions by the time she reached high school. After moving to Los Angeles to pursue music full-time, she joined local disco revival producer Le Youth on his bright dance track "Clap Your Hands," which became a summer hit in 2017. The next year, she showcased her Sia-esque vocals with debut solo single "My Way" (Atlantic) before following with "Slippin" and "Not Your Barbie Girl," which interpolated Aqua's '90s classic. That year, she also joined rapper Witt Lowry on his track "Into Your Arms" and David Guetta on "Let It Be Me" from his album 7. Ava Max issued her biggest hit to date that summer as breakthrough single "Sweet But Psycho" -- an addictive pop gem produced by Cirkut (the Weeknd, Katy Perry, Rihanna) -- began charting across Europe. As the song built momentum across the globe, she signed with Full Stop Management, home to Charli XCX, Harry Styles, HAIM, and others.
By summer 2019, "Sweet but Psycho" had topped over a dozen charts in Europe, as well as in New Zealand and on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart. The sleeper hit was soon certified multi-platinum in Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. Max followed with modest hit "So Am I," which got the K-pop remix treatment with guests NCT 127. Gearing up for her official full-length, she released the additional singles "Salt," "Freaking Me Out," and "Alone, Pt. II" with Alan Walker. Max kicked off 2020 with the album's fifth single, "Kings & Queens." Another modest hit, the track became her second to chart on the Billboard 200. After years of buildup, her official debut finally arrived in September. Certified gold after peaking at number 27 on the Billboard 200, Heaven & Hell was thematically split into the titular sides and featured production by Cirkut and RedOne. Max returned the following year with the stand-alone single "EveryTime I Cry." ~ Neil Z. Yeung