Song: ‘Hands To Myself’
Artist: Selena Gomez
US chart peak: 7
Release date: January 26, 2016
Writers: Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels, Robin Fredriksson, Mattias Larsson, Max Martin
Producers: Mattman & Robin, Max Martin
Quintessential Max moment: Elongating the word “self” in the chorus
Video synopsis: Stalker Selena imagines herself having sex with an actor in his house. Gets arrested.
According to Selena Gomez, and she’d know, ‘Hands To Myself’ – the best song on her highly above average ‘Revival’ album – initially started life via a cup. Having finished the album, Gomez and songwriter Julia Michaels decided to ask the label for a couple more days of writing time, buoyed by the success of the album’s first single ‘Good For You’. Deciding they wanted to move away from emotion and heart, Gomez wanted instead to explore what girls aren’t doing. That’s when Michaels started banging out a rhythm on the desk using a cup. You can hear that initial starting point in the production of the song, which opens with a pin-sharp percussive drum pattern and light, finger click beats. It sounds like fingers tapping on skin, which is paired with Gomez’s close, breathy vocal to create something quite rare in pop music – genuine sensuality.
Often when someone from Max’s Wolf Cousins collective – in this case the already-pretty-amazing-despite-only-just-starting-out Mattman & Robin – is working on a song that’s going quite well it goes through a specific process. Dame Carly of Rae and indeed Jepsen, aka Carly Rae Jepsen, once told me that what happens is you start a song with someone from the ‘team’, then every so often Max will check in to see what’s happening and listen to some stuff. If he thinks he can add something to it then he’ll ask to work on it for a bit, which then means the artist gets a phone call saying Max has the song. It’s at this point the artist then goes bat shit mental at the thought of Max sprinkling the song with his magic pop dust. (‘FYI’, this Jepsen chat happened around the time of ‘Emotion’ and yet no Max songs appear on said album, so maybe she’s saving them for its sequel which will likely flatten the world with its brilliance).
It’s what seems to have happened with ‘Hands To Myself’. I’ll let Selena tell the story (from this here interview with Time):
“How it happened was we were in the studio working with a few producers that have worked with Max [i.e. Mattman & Robin]. That’s how we created the skeleton of the track in the studio. When we had the hook, they were like, “Do you mind if we send this to Max Martin?” I had never worked with Max before and was like, “I don’t know, maybe!” I just didn’t know what it was going to be. He ended up FaceTiming immediately and was like, “This is the greatest thing I’ve heard all year. I have to be a part of it.” I’m like, “Yeah! Do what you’ve got to do! What do you suggest?” He came up with the very end where it goes se-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-elf and added that little hook. He also changed some of the pre-chorus. I think it is super fresh and different for him, too.”
She goes on to say that she was basically just a bit worried about Max coming in and changing the song completely.
“The whole record, I’ve became family with all of my producers and Justin and Julia. It had nothing to do with me being like, “Oh my goodness, I’m too good for Max.” It was like, “I don’t know, I don’t want him to change it!” He ended up making it, obviously, a smash. I don’t even think I was questioning his ability, I was more nervous to see what it was going to be like. Once we talked, he sent all these voice memos and now we have a relationship. It’s going to grow from there.”
And what a tune it is, honestly. Brilliant bits tumble over brilliant bits – from that little guitar line that comes in midway through the verse, to the sudden lift into the “all of the downs and the uppers” pre-chorus to the actual chorus which is probably the most minimal part of the song. Then just when you think it’s can’t get any better the “I want it all no nothing else” refrain joins in for the chorus near the end and the whole thing sky rockets again. AND THEN IT GETS BETTER STILL when the music drops away and Gomez coos, “I mean I could but why would I want to”. It’s too much.