A guest blog written by James Norman-Fyfe. You can agree/disagree with him here.
Song: ‘First Love’
Artist: Jennifer Lopez
US chart peak: 87
Release Date: May 1, 2014
Writers: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Ilya Salmanzadeh
Producers: Max Martin, Ilya, Peter Carlsson
Quintessential Max moment: See detailed, five-point outline below
Video synopsis: Jennifer Lopez and David Gandy looking ‘not ugly’ in a desert
“You do your best, you try to serve the people, and then they just fuck you over. And you know why? Because they’re ignorant, they’re dumb as shit, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is democracy”.
Selina Meyer, Veep
Selina Meyer’s response to losing the presidency in the Season 4 finale of Veep is a quote fit for repurposing endlessly. You see, pop is actually a bit (a lot) like politics. If you’re FKA twigs or Metronomy or Blood Orange, the conversation surrounding your work is all about quality. If you’re Jennifer Lopez, your success is gauged not on the quality of your work, but instead on the units you shift. For an artist on her eighth album, success for Jennifer Lopez on other people’s terms is far harder to attain. But ‘First Love’ was Jenny’s best single since ‘Get Right’ – surely the people would get behind her?
Sadly, no. ‘First Love’ was a premium slice of Max Martin pop with a huge earworm chorus, and yet we let it sink without a trace. Such examples of exemplary pop sliding down the trash chute of public indifference are regular, but it’s a particularly hard pill to swallow with a song like ‘First Love’ – its qualities as a song tailor-made for ‘the masses’ hit you with every listen. Even some of Max Martin’s more ambitious production tendencies are scaled back here – it’s not particularly boundary-pushing or unique, it’s just a great, immaculately put-together song.
Lyrically, the song isn’t exactly Shakespearean. (“I wish you were my first love / ‘Cause if you were first, baby there wouldn’t have been no second, third or fourth love”. Quite.) But that’s a small quibble, not least because pin-sharpe observational lyrics aren’t exactly at the forefront of Max’s ‘oeuvre’. Interestingly, ‘First Love’ marked Lopez’s first collaboration with Max – and the track’s out-and-out, straight-down-the-line pop qualities are particularly notable for an artist like Jennifer Lopez, who hadn’t quite made anything like it in her career before. Yes, she’s always been a pop artist – but her most recognisable hits are either tinged with r’n’b influences (‘Get Right’, ‘I’m Real’, ‘Jenny From The Block’) or are house-influenced club bangers (‘On The Floor’, ‘Waiting For Tonight’).
There are five elements of this song that make it the ginormous pop beast that it is. Please allow me to outline them below:
- Its middle eight sounds a bit like a football chant, and it leads to a nice bit where everything drops out, and her Jenny’s voice does something nice for a second before the chorus comes crashing back. Classic Max Martin.
- The ‘woo-ooo’ vocal line that arrives in the song’s first eight bars is lovely, and when it comes back just before the middle eight, and then again in the final chorus, it’s a really lovely touch. It’s also classic Max Martin.
- “T-shirt and jeans”. Classic Max Martin.
- It sounds a bit like a modern-day Max Martin version of Toto’s ‘Rosanna’. Literally a classic version of Max Martin.
- THE CHORUS. Like all of Max Martin’s best songs, it is deceptively complex whilst tricking us into thinking it’s simple. There are new intricacies both vocally and within the production that you discover with every listen. ONCE AGAIN, classic Max Martin.
It would be interesting to see how big ‘First Love’ would become if it were released by Ariana Grande. It is, after all, an exemplary pop song that maybe – in hindsight – was not suited to the artist who performed it. More likely, however, is that there were other factors at play for an artist like Jennifer Lopez in 2014, and today in 2017, that make it considerably harder for her to achieve notable success for her music. Either way, ‘First Love’ is an under-appreciated part of both Max and Jennifer’s back catalogue of hits that we should all listen to a bit more.
If you’d like to write a guest blog on a Max Martin song that didn’t make the US Top 10 then there’s information on how to do that right here.