After moving 438,000 downloads in its first week (the fourth-best-selling debut ever for a female artist), Ariana Grande’s “Problem” is now officially a contender for the 2014 song-of-summer title.
But the 20-year-old pop star originally didn’t think the swagger-fueled jam would be a single. “It was so different from me,” says Grande, who had her breakout hit last year with ’90s throwback “The Way,” featuring rapper Mac Miller, and was best known before that for her roles on the Nickelodeon series Victorious and Sam & Cat. She decided to go with the Max Martin-produced track after getting some advice from her friend Big Sean.
“He was like, ‘You’ve got a beautiful voice, but this is pop music—you gotta take a risk. You gotta let go and have fun.’ So I did.” Even while she was recording the song, though, Grande wasn’t completely convinced. “It didn’t make sense to me as a single until I heard it completely mixed, and then I was like, ‘Ohhhhh, s - - -!’ ”
Does “Problem” mean that her upcoming, still-untitled album, due in late summer, will be uptempo? “No I think everybody is going to be shocked,” says Grande. “I tried so many new things. I feel like I reinvented without doing anything that’s not genuine to who I am as a person.”
The appeal of “Problem” can be traced to the perfect-formula combo of Grande’s baby-Mariah vocals, the bumping sax beat (courtesy of Swedish hitmaker Martin, who has produced massive hits for the likes of Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson), the homage to Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” and a rap from current hip-hop It Girl Iggy Azalea. “I met her at the EMAs when we presented together,” says Grande. “Then we spent some time together at the after-party and just hit it off.”
Even summer jams can have a bigger message, though, she says: “Everybody has trouble with confidence these days. All these young girls hate themselves, and these women have horrible relationships with men. And men too! We all go through it. ‘Problem’ is such an IDGAF song that makes everybody feel great.” OMFG, we agree.