Song: ‘Side To Side’
Artist: Ariana Grande feat Nicki Minaj
US chart peak: 4
Release date: August 30, 2016
Writers: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Alexander Kronlund, Ilya, Onika Maraj
Producers: Max Martin, Ilya
Quintessential Max moment: The way the music initially drops out for the chorus
Video synopsis: Way too much jewellery to be wearing in a gym to be honest
It’s not Ariana’s fault of course, but I’m still having trouble looking her in the eye knowing the immaculate ‘Into You’ stalled in America at Number 13. It’s almost more galling that it got so close and yet so far. So it was into this context that she announced she was moving on to ‘Side To Side’, rather than taking me up on my plan which was to perform ‘Into You’ everyday, on every TV show, at any given moment until justice was served (US Number 1 for a decade). But, I get it, she felt like it made more sense to release the perfect storm of a single that features Nicki Minaj, comes with a video crammed full of topless people (236m views already) and a lyric about being fucked so often, and so hard, that you can barely walk. I GET IT. And, you know, it worked. ‘Side To Side’ is her eighth US Top Ten and the first from the excellent ‘Dangerous Woman’ album in the UK.
That very crude thing I’ve just said about the lyrics touching on how too much sex can lead to problems walking wasn’t just made up for comedic effect. It really is about that. “That whole song is about riding leading to soreness,” Grande mused to MTV. “Ride dick bicycle is the lyric, indeed.” In the video, the ‘riding’ is shown to be of the normal bicycle variety, but as with all great pop sexual innuendo, uncovering the song’s secrets is hardly difficult (although Lena Dunham did need it explained to her of course). (So did Ellen actually).
That “dick bicycle” bit above is in reference to Nicki Minaj’s guest rap, which is so good it appears in the song twice. A reggae-tinged lilt, ‘Side To Side’ has a lovely loping feel to it, especially in the verses. The pre-chorus bit – “these friends keep talking way too much” – feels very modern-day Max Martin, those sped-up drum claps leading straight into another Max trait as the music suddenly falls away for the chorus’ first go round. Keen to keep things moving, however, the chorus becomes more musically robust as the song goes on (the lovely sighing BVs second time round are delicious), while the second verse adds in some delicate little horn blasts. As with most Max singles, there’s a genuine sense of dynamics, with the various layers piling up so that the final chorus feels like a proper anthem.
The “I’ve been here all night, been here all day, and more, you got me walking side to side” in the chorus is the song’s subtle way of saying ‘maybe we could just go outside for a bit, yeah? Maybe lay off the sexual intercourse for an hour or two? Bridget Jones is on at the cinema’.
Not the best song on the album, ‘Side To Side’ feels like such an obvious single it was always going to be the one that re-ignited the album campaign ahead of a world tour. ‘Touch It’ next please, thanks.