Song: ‘Love Me Harder’
Artist: Ariana Grande feat The Weeknd
US chart peak: 7
Release date: September 30, 2014
Writers: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Peter Svensson, Ali Payami, Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe
Producers: Ali Payami, Peter Svensson
Quintessential Max moment: The slightly odd melody line in the verses
Video synopsis: The pair of them looking moody in a stately home covered in sand for some reason
In many ways, the sexually-charged ‘Love Me Harder’ – the fourth single form Grande’s ‘My Everything’ album, and her fourth US Top Ten in a row – was more vital in the career of its featured artist then Grande herself. While the lasciviousness and frank lyrical content was relatively shocking coming out of Grande’s mouth, she’s always played around with people’s expectations of her sexuality since that leaked original cover of her debut album, ‘Yours Truly’.
For The Weeknd, however, ‘Love Me Harder’ was a statement of intent. As noted here, the song’s co-writer Savan Kotecha told me that that success of the song showed The Weeknd that he could evolve out of the blog world and into the mainstream pop world. It helped too that his recently-released album ‘Kiss Land’ had flopped, so when Wendy Goldstein, the head of urban A&R at Republic, suggested The Weeknd for ‘Love Me Harder’ – his first foray into the mainstream pop world – the timing was perfect.
Mind you, it wasn’t all plain sailing – when The Weeknd first received the song’s original lyrics he found them to be tepid and sent back his own re-writes. Thankfully Martin liked his changes and kept them, which in turn let The Weeknd know he could explore a new creative outlet, mixing the murky world of his drug-fuelled sexcapades with the propulsive rush of pop.
As outlined in this New York Times profile on The Weeknd, the impact of ‘Love Me Harder’ was huge: “If I’m gonna be the biggest in the world,’’ he told Goldstein, ‘‘I need a handful of songs like that.’’ Obviously he then went and wrote three songs with Max ‘et al’ for his own ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’ album and the rest, as they say, is written about on this website right here.
This is all well and good of course, but what about the song itself? My relationship with it is a bit of a rocky one actually. Around the time it came out I avoided The Weeknd like the plague. To me his songs all sounded the same – just one long mope featuring the same lyrical tropes (sex; drugs; having sex on drugs; taking drugs while having sex; coming down while having sex; coming up while having sex; being sad about not having sex; being sad while having sex; sexy sadness; sad sexiness; druggy sexiness; sexy drugginess etc etc and so on for four albums). I deleted his name from my iTunes when he featured on other people’s songs (yeah, well done Michael, that really showed him), and decided I didn’t like ‘Love Me Harder’. I’m an idiot because the song’s amazing and actually The Weeknd brings it the requisite amount of eww – “can you feel the pressure between your hips” is obviously meant to sound sexy but sounds like a midwife asking a particularly obvious question during a difficult labour.
There are also moments of ‘huh?’ in Ariana’s verse – “If you just let me invade your space” anyone? – but there’s just the right amount of subtlety to get away with it. Also “baby in the moment you’ll know this is / something bigger than us and beyond bliss” is really quite eloquent actually. Production-wise it’s that difficult thing – a sort of airy yet thunderous, pensive yet propulsive sex-banger that sashays around with its pants round its ankles.