Song: ‘Break Free’
Artist: Ariana Grande feat Zedd
US chart peak: 4
Release date: July 3, 2014
Writers: Anton Zaslavski, Max Martin, Savan Kotecha
Producers: Zedd, Max Martin
Quintessential Max moment: All the bits that don’t make grammatical sense
Video synopsis: Ariana shoots bullets from her bra on a spaceship featuring Zedd as a DJ
In the last few years, word-mumbling, pony-tail-sporting, donut-licking, mini-Mariah Ariana Grande has become the latest muse for Team Max Martin. The best bits of her second album ‘My Everything’ feature their input, with the album’s second single, the fizzing, EDM-inspired ’Break Free’, another collaboration between Max and German producer Zedd (they also worked together on Justin Bieber’s Nicki Minaj-assisted ‘Beauty And The Beat’ in 2013).
Perhaps the most striking thing about ‘Break Free’, outside of it’s grade-A self-empowerment chorus, the fact you can’t always make out what Grande’s singing (this is hilarious) and the uncontrollable fizz and pop of its gargantuan chorus, is the grammatical ‘experimentation’, i.e. a true Max Martin trait. The offending lyric here is the line “Now that I’ve become who I really are”, which, as you can hopefully see is just not right. In the world of pop, and more specifically the world Max has created, none of this matters. Its appearance re-instates this idea of “melodic math” and, as Zedd told me in 2015, “it just felt right”.
“When it comes to lyrics, Max Martin and I are really similar because we’re European and we hear English lyrics a little differently,” he mused. “So while someone who is native English-speaking will listen to the meaning of something, we listen to how it sounds and how it feels to say something. With Ariana Grande’s ‘Break Free’ I didn’t even realise the errors until very late! Because it sounds so good. It just felt right.”
The song’s I’m-moving-on-to-bigger-and-better-things lyrical motif was rightly compared to Kelly Clarkson’s similarly defiant ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Pitchfork, with the rock-infused dynamics of that song transplanted here onto a synthetic confection. In the past, vocal powerhouses such as Ariana haven’t always found a home in the world of thinned out electro (Christina, my love, I’m looking at you), but on ‘Break Free’ Ariana’s voice (sometimes layered so that the histrionics are buried slightly for texture) works with the song rather than against it.
There’s a really brilliant bit where most of the music falls out and the middle eight sort of glows before erupting into the final chorus. Then when you think it might just fade out the music shifts suddenly and the last thirty seconds consist of this big pulsating synth beat that bounces around like a big beach ball.