Song: ‘Into You’
Artist: Ariana Grande
US chart peak: 13
Release date: May 6, 2016
Writers: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Alexander Kronlund, Ilya, Ariana Grande
Producers: Max Martin, Ilya
Quintessential Max moment: The chorus is immaculate isn’t it.
Video synopsis: A little less Thelma & Louise and a little more Guess jeans advert.
Blimey. Way way back in May 2017 I posted a tweet asking people if they might like to help write a blog about the 10/10 perfection that is Ariana Grande’s ‘Into You’. The song only (ONLY!!!) peaked at number 13 in America (number 14 in the UK) and I wanted people to attempt to right that wrong via the medium of words. Lots of people replied, emails were sent, words were filed and then I went and fucked it up by not getting round to posting anything, not only letting the song’s anniversary pass by, but letting a whole eight months slither into the time vacuum that is life. What a toolbox.
ANYWAY, this is 2018 (new year, new me etc) and given Ariana’s started ‘teasing’ her new album, I thought I’d rectify my wrong and post some glittering words from a selection of guest writers below. Basically, ‘Into You’ is timeless; a proper I’ll-fight-anyone-who-says-otherwise grade-A masterpiece and doesn’t need an anniversary or tenuous link (see above anyway though right) to be celebrated/lauded.
Please do listen to the song on a loop while reading this, thank you.
“The throbbing drums and synths had me willingly locked in a moist jail cell of pleasure”
May 5th 2016. 8:35pm. Night before ‘Into You’ Release. Whittier, CA.
Sometimes Jesus returns. Sometimes Max Martin does an interview. But sometimes a song is birthed into the world that raises the bar of musical excellence so high the apocalypse must be imminent, and no, that song isn’t Katy Perry’s ‘Save As Draft.’ On a certain dark and mysterious Thursday night, the impending release of pint-sized popstar Ariana Grande’s new single ‘Into You’ made my tasty Mexican café dinner with my parents almost unbearable. Short leaks of the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus already alluded to ‘Into You’ being one of the greatest songs of all time, but would the full song actually add up to the hype? Well, I would find out in a mere 25 minutes when I clicked play once it was released. My enchiladas couldn’t distract me any longer.
The problem is, I wasn’t prepared for the agony that ensued during my first listen. As if I had been tortured by the cruciatus curse for just over four minutes, I was puffy-eyed, trembling, and gasping for air on the floor as I cried all over my wrinkled Britney Spears poster. I couldn’t process how the perfect melodies fit into the processed-voice bassline so well; how the throbbing drums and synths had me willingly locked in a moist jail cell of pleasure, and how frankly dangerous a vocalist Ariana Grande is. At least I had a dirty towel in my room with which to blow my nose, but it didn’t stop me from being dumbfounded, distraught, and on the lookout for the closest medical IV or tequila bottle. ‘Into You’ exceeded my already high expectations so much that it was, without a doubt, time to get a sculpture of Max Martin for my bedroom along with a Chartreuse scented scratch-and-sniff painting of him with his collaborators amidst a Stockholm sunset. (I see you, Robert.)
You see, that first listen of ‘Into You’ didn’t just make me feel boundless; it thrust me to heaven with liberation. It transported me to another dimension of musical expertise. I felt like I had crossed over to the other side on Jason Derulo’s ferryboat as the waves whispered, “swish swish.” Neither the average music listener nor music fanatic deserve this song, so I couldn’t help but quiver as I brushed lips with nirvana and experienced the perfect alignment of Swedish geniuses. In the blink-of-an-eye, ‘Into You’ had bulleted itself into the catalog of greatest pop songs of recent years (i.e. ‘Bad Romance,’ ‘Run Away With Me,’ ‘Teenage Dream,’ ‘We Found Love,’ ‘Since U Been Gone,’ etc.), and all I could do was be filled with thanks for the extra burst of oxygen we were given that day.
In conclusion, the greatness of ‘Into You’ catapulted Ariana from successful child actress to internationally recognized superstar; showed the world she isn’t here to mess around or lick donuts; turned the heat up for future releases and is now an indispensable example of its writers’ and producers’ highest music-making capabilities. It also makes one think; ‘Why hasn’t anybody told me “a little less conversation, and a little more touch my body” before? Am I doing something wrong?’ Oh, and before I forget, the bassline rises on the word “rising” in the pre-chorus. An accident? No way. More like a Maxident.
By Paul Hoffman
“It articulates something so intangible and human”
The space between tentative possibility and ecstatic actualising is my favourite place for pop to come from. The tension and release, the push and pull and second guessing and wondering whether she’s brushing her hand against yours on purpose and if she’s noticed the jump in your pulse as she does it. It’s a feeling that’s physical more than intellectual; anecdotal rather than totalising. It’s a specific skip of your heartbeat that you can recall perfectly years after you first felt it. It’s when words lose their purpose. It’s the temperature rising, waiting and waiting for them to make a move before you make a move. It’s the throbbing synths and finger snaps building and building until they can’t be held tight anymore, then letting go. It’s cliché maybe, but it’s only cliché because everyone has felt it, everyone knows it.
‘Into You’ could take place over years or a fraction of a second. It could be addressed to a guy you can only half see down the bar when you’re trying to get served, but who you look at with an inevitable kind of determination, like you know what’s going to happen and you don’t need to know his name. Or it could be a friend you’ve known for years, waiting for the right moment while always worrying that the moment has passed. The song is a comfort not only because it articulates something so intangible and human, but because it always resolves.
By Claire Biddles
“An Elvis AND a Mariah reference in one line? It’s too much”
It’s hard to write about Ariana Grande now without talking about what happened in Manchester but Olivia Campbell would have wanted to hear the hits and let’s face it, ‘Into You’ is a bona fide mega hit/banger/bop super-hybrid.
It’s not instantly identifiable as a Max Martin production but at the same time Martin’s genius touch is all over it. When you listen to it, there are so many moments where you can’t help but think to yourself ‘WHAT A SONG’ (always written in caps please) and then there are the big moments that make you say it out loud and proud. Here are my moments that explain why ‘Into You’ is the banger we didn’t deserve but got anyway, so that’s great.
1. That ‘worrrmp’ bit that comes after each line in the verses.
2. The literal building up like the temperature is rising in here, is this going to happen of the finger snaps and the synthy bass getting louder.
3. The ‘woooh oooh’ bits in the bridge.
4. UGH THAT CHORUS
5. ‘A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION, A LITTLE MORE TOUCH MY BODY’ – an Elvis AND a Mariah reference in one line? It’s too much.
6. When it quietens down again and you feel like you can’t hide how much that chorus has hit you but you’ve gotta just reign it in and keep it cool just for a moment because then it’s the bridge and it’s about to be the chorus and A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION, A LITTLE MORE TOUCH MY BODY (is it a side eye at all the elusive chanteuse comparisons? Serve.)
7. The ‘duh duh duh’ synth bits in the middle eight.
8. TELL ME WHAT YOU CAME HERE FORRRRRRR
9. The repeated bits in “I can’t, I can’t wait no more” and “I need, I need you to know”.
10. The lovely vocal run, girl please.
11. The background bits – “light me up”, “little dangerous”, “how I want it” – that remind me of classic Max Martin 90s Backstreet Boys/N*SYNC/Britney Spears productions where he took the middle eight and put it as background to the main chorus to switch things up towards the end.
12. THOSE BACKGROUND BITS COMING THROUGH INTO THE OPEN IN THE LAST TWENTY SECONDS OF THE SONG AND ARI’S ADLIBS.
13. Then it’s over. Then you listen to it again. And again. Because we want to hear the hits.
By Polly Holton
“It’s not unlikely that Fabolous awakes in the dead of night in a cold sweat recalling the days when his ‘Into You’ was the foremost ‘Into You'”
There are many canonical songs about being “into you.” There is SWV’s ‘I’m So Into You’, the fantastic second single from their 1992 debut album. There’s J. Lo’s ‘I’m Into You’ featuring Lil Wayne, memorable for a horrible simile about a four leaf clover, and Celine Dion’s ‘Falling Into You,’ notable mostly because her 1996 album of the same name also contained an astounding string of career-defining singles. There’s Paramore’s ‘Still Into You,’ which remains a career highlight thanks to that surprising xylophone and killer chorus. And then there’s Tamia’s sensuous ‘So Into You,’ recast by Fabolous as ‘Into You’ with versions featuring both Tamia and Ashanti. For years, Fabolous’s ‘Into You’ stood unchallenged as the reigning champ of ‘Into You’s.
But in the eighteen months or so since Ariana Grande’s ‘Into You’ was released as a single, it has broken away from the pack. Why? Is it the way that throbbing, electric beat gathers momentum before detonating? Is it Ariana’s masterly vocals, alternatively restrained and exuberant? Is it the way she sings “into you, into you, into you” as if slipping down a playground slide? Is it the family of owls on background vocals?
To answer to all of the above: yes. With these various mechanisms, the song skillfully builds and relieves tension as Ariana’s impatience at her spineless suitor grows and wanes. With peaks as high as her high pony, and valleys as low as her profile during Donut Licking-gate, the contours of this song will one day be taught in textbooks around the world.
Let’s take a look at the bridge and final chorus, architected like a Greek drama to generate maximum suspense and catharsis.
As the second verse and chorus fade, the breathy, owl-like background vocals and glittering synth suddenly come fully into focus, getting four bars to shine. An exasperated Ariana makes a final existential overture (“Tell me what you came here for”) and just as she’s about to completely lose her cool (“I can’t wait no more / I’m on the edge of no control”), the tension suddenly breaks.
The ancient Greeks called this moment ἀναγνώρισις, or anagnorisis – the critical point in which the hero makes a startling discovery and passes from ignorance to knowledge. It is in this moment, perhaps, that Ariana, realizing that the spinning Fates have stacked the odds against her, decides to take possession of her own destiny – and make the first move herself. Resigned but not defeated, she merrily runs up the scale before launching back into the chorus in crystalline, Glee-style acapella. Then, after “into you, into you, into you” winds the chorus back, we get everything again all at once: vocal ad libs, phenomenal kitchen sink-style percussion, the whooshing synths, new lyrical elements, an outro. The song ends, and we are changed.
It’s not unlikely that, on occasion, Fabolous awakes in the dead of night in a cold sweat recalling the days when his ‘Into You’ was the foremost ‘Into You’. He curses the Gods, who watch down mercilessly on pop stars and mortals alike, our destinies determined by their petty arguments and whims. Today, at least, Ariana remains in their favour.
By Patrick D’Arcy
“I can only compare it to the aggression of a proper Rammstein style metal act”
As shocking as it may seem now, I completely missed the release of ‘Into You’ when it first emerged. I guess I’d never really put Ariana in my Premier League of popstars for whatever reason. She was obviously good, but had never really done a top class banger for my money. So I’d kind of let her tunes come to me, rather than eagerly awaiting every release. “If it’s good enough, it will find me”, had been my attitude.
Little did I know that it – the banger for the ages that is ‘Into You’ – would find me via the medium of one of those ridiculous dancing Pokemon videos. After initally loling at the dancing Pokemon (they are funny aren’t they??) I suddenly found myself wondering, ‘what the hell is this amazing song that they’re having a groove too? I’ve never heard this song before and it’s clearly brilliant’. One Shazam later and I’d found the artist to be Grande; immediately I fired up the Spotify and then proceeded to listen to it – no word of a lie – around thirty times in a row.
After just a couple of listens I’d reached for the wiki to find out more about this astonishing piece of music and was staggered to discover that it had been out for a couple of months already. How the hell was this song not Number One in every country in the world? If that was a surprise, what wasn’t was that the song featured two absolute legends of the game: songwriter Max Martin, and – crucially – mixer Serban Ghenea.
Why did I listen to this song thirty times in a row? Because it is, quite simply, one of the greatest pop songs ever made. It is nothing short of a masterclass in composition and production. I do not make a claim like that lightly, but hear me out.
Firstly, the dynamic. In an age of ultra-compressed, open with it cranked up to 11 to get your attention and keep it there because you’ll get bored otherwise, this is a song that allows itself to breathe. The verses are so restrained, so minimal that when that chorus hits, it hits like a freight train. There are sonic peaks and troughs all through the song. It’s a sonic rollercoaster – the credit for that lying with both the writer and the mixer.
Second, the structure. The structure of this song – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, vocal chorus, full chorus, outro chorus is almost old fashioned these days. There’s no guest rap. There’s no lazy middle eight just being a build, drop and back in using the chorus chords. This has a proper ‘new’ middle eight that takes a song that’s already smashing it and lifts it into the stratosphere. Remember when people used to do that all the time? God I miss that.
Thirdly, the tricks. There is clever detail – both in arrangement and mixing – all over the shop. The beautiful little reverb pushes at the end of each line in the verses. The added synth pad in the second half of chorus two to lift it up and differentiate it from chorus one. The genius, classic Max Martin device in verse two of employing a shouty, up the octave vocal over a restrained backing halfway house to push the dynamic while still leaving room for chorus two to explode. The reverb tails at the end of the middle eight vocals, the mesmerising vocal interplay of the vocal chorus after the middle eight, the final glory of the outro chorus – another classic Martin trick of using a sparser, elongated, more simple vocal than the preceding chorus, as heard recently again on Katy Perry’s ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ (with the “it goes on and on and on” bit at the end).
Fourthly, the mixing. I mentioned Ghenea before – he has form, having mixed a load of absolute legit bangers before – but let it be said right here and right now: I have never heard a more aggressive synth sound than in the chorus of Into You. The synths spit and swirl like sonic beasts that refuse to be tamed, punching you in the face over and over again. They’re so rhythmic, they’re so angry, it’s absolutely brutal. I can only compare it to the aggression of a proper Rammstein style metal act. Yes, that’s right, ‘Into You’ is, in essence, a pop-metal song.
And I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics. Or the vocals. The lyrics? Well, they fit perfectly “I’m so into you I can barely breathe”…What a line. We’ve all felt that all-encompassing passion before (I hope), and the memory of it never leaves you – immediately this song brings it back. “A little less conversation, and a little more touch my body”…Amazing. Imagine dropping that IRL. I’d never be able to do it. But I’d love to imagine being able to do it. And that’s what pop’s for. And the vocals – well it’s a masterclass. It’s aided by Max Martin’s clearly genius dynamic devices, as described above, but you still need someone to pull it off, and Ariana does it with ease.
The true test of how good this song is? The very next day I met an old friend in the pub, banged on about the track for ages, told him he absolutely had to listen to it and he wouldn’t regret it, and when he said he would just assumed that was the usual ‘yeah I’ll give it a go but in reality I’ll never get round to it’ response which we all have these days when there’s never the time to listen to everything you want to. An hour later, a message pops up on my phone: “I’ve listened to it ten times in a row already. It’s incredible. Going in for number 11.”
By Dave Fawbert
“It’s not a bad way to start a new tradition – ‘Into Yousday’ every June 28th everyone? Good. Sorted.”
In many ways, ‘Into You’ is almost too good for any actual human popstar to handle – it requires a hell of a vocal range to get into the intricacies of Martin’s production, and it flits between sultry to flirty to angelic to passive to commanding and back again all across a four-minute period. Fortunately, Ariana Grande can somehow pull this off.
It comes across as the natural successor to her slinky 2014 bedroom banger, ‘Love Me Harder’, a full-on R&B ‘bangthem’ (if you will) co-written by Martin and helmed by collaborators Ali Payami, Peter Carlsson, and Peter Svensson, that slides along on aural silk. If ‘Love Me Harder’, with its insistent beats, is the post-2am seduction siren call, then ‘Into You’ is its flirty cousin from a dancefloor several hours earlier, enticing the listener into all kinds of debauchery.
(‘Into You’ is also accompanied by a thankfully-only-on-Soundcloud remix which manages to trample on everything good about the song, wring its neck effusively, and then chuck Mac Miller on it as a guest vocalist. We do not speak of the Mac Miller version.)
It even follows the template of ‘Love Me Harder’: a couple of softly breathed opening lines over provocative beats, followed by a descent into the throbbing dance-pop production that signals the absolute stonker of a stop-start chorus to follow. Then it’s rinse and repeat until a middle eight where everything sans vocals falls away, just in time for the last sledgehammer of a chorus. Not a bad template to go by as it happens.
If ‘Into You’ has an edge over its predecessor, it has to be down to its majestic pre-chorus, where all the magic comes together. Ariana slinks in feathery soft vocals, (“Oh baby, look what you’ve started…”) that somehow manages to harmonise perfectly with the squelchy electro-disco beats to create a truly amazing pre-build to the crashing chorus. Even better? The angelic ‘wooo-oooo’ Enya-lite coos that drift in and anchor the song’s haziness – it sounds like a late-night, wide-eyed romance, as Martin and co. no doubt intended.
At the end of the day, it’s four minutes and four seconds of radiant pop bliss that revels in being a solid-gold tune about music’s number one topic: love. It’s a crying shame old Frappuccino Grande never got to the top spot with this, as it’s easily her best solo pop offering, and a tune that should have been belted from every car radio over 2016 and beyond. Still, it’s not a bad way to start a new tradition – ‘Into Yousday’ every June 28th everyone? Good. Sorted.
By Chris Haigh