Amanda Ava Koci (born Amanda Koci; February 16, 1994), known professionally as Ava Max, is an American singer and songwriter. After moving across several states to pursue a music career in her childhood, Max signed with Atlantic Records in 2016, where she released the song "Sweet but Psycho" in August 2018. It became her breakthrough single after peaking at number one in 22 countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and New Zealand. The song also peaked at number two in Australia, and number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Max released her debut studio album Heaven & Hell on September 18, 2020.
Amanda Ava Koci was born Amanda Koci, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 16, 1994. She was born to Albanian parents from Tirana and Sarandë, and has an older brother. In 1991, her parents fled Albania due to the country's fall of communism, and lived in a church in Paris for a year. While in Paris, they encountered a woman from Wisconsin and were given passports by her before immigrating to the United States to reside in Wisconsin, where Max was born. During her childhood, Max often saw her parents struggle to earn an income, as they each worked three jobs without speaking English. Her mother Andrea was a trained opera singer who belted arias in the house, while her father Paul played the piano.
Max moved with her family to Virginia when she was 8 years old, where she competed in numerous Radio Disney singing competitions in malls before entering high school. At the age of 13, she came up with the middle name Ava, which she adopted as her first name, claiming that "I never felt like an Amanda". When she was 14 years old, Max moved with her mother to Los Angeles in pursuit of a music career, but was constantly rejected for being underage. She went to South Carolina a year later, where she began writing songs about relationships she had observed, including those of her brother. Max stated that she was grateful because it allowed for a normal childhood. She eventually returned to Los Angeles when she was 17 years old with her brother.
2013–2017: Career beginnings
Under the stage name Ava, her debut song "Take Away the Pain" was published in May 2013, which was remixed by Canadian DJ and producer duo Project 46 in July 2015. After years of having demos rejected and not returned by record producers and songwriters, she met Canadian record producer Cirkut at a dinner party in 2014, who was also a friend of her brother. Max sang "Happy Birthday" to him, which led to the two working together, writing hundreds of songs and releasing "Anyone but You" on SoundCloud in July 2016. The song gained traction and attracted the attention of various record labels that contacted her through email, ultimately leading her to sign a record deal with Atlantic Records in 2016. Max acknowledged that working with him changed her life, as she considered leaving the music industry after being creatively stifled.
After signing the deal, she began searching for a last name to use as her stage name, eventually deciding on Max. She chose the name, as it combined elements of being both masculine and feminine. Around 2016–2017, Max adopted her signature hairstyle titled the 'Max Cut', which can be seen in her logo as a substitute for the 'A' in Max. On August 4, 2017, Max was featured on the Le Youth song "Clap Your Hands", where she sang two different melodies.
2018–present: Breakthrough and Heaven & Hell
On April 20, 2018, "My Way" was released, which peaked at number 38 on the Romanian Airplay 100 chart. On May 11, 2018, "Slippin", a collaboration with Gashi, was released. On June 8, 2018, she was featured on the song "Into Your Arms" by American rapper Witt Lowry. A month later, "Salt" was sent to SoundCloud. On August 13, 2018, she released "Not Your Barbie Girl" as a promotional single. "Sweet but Psycho" was released on August 17, 2018. The song became Max's commercial breakthrough, reaching number one in more than 22 countries including Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, where it stayed at number one for four consecutive weeks. In January 2019, the song reached the top of the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, and later reached top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Max was also featured on the Vice and Jason Derulo song "Make Up" on October 23, 2018, and made an appearance on David Guetta's 2018 album 7 on the track "Let It Be Me".
On March 7, 2019, she released the follow-up single "So Am I", which reached the top 10 in Poland, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden. A remix of the song was released on July 3, 2019, which featured South Korean boy band NCT 127. The songs "Blood, Sweat & Tears" and "Freaking Me Out" were simultaneously released in July 2019 as promotional singles. On August 7, 2019, Max was featured on the song "Slow Dance" by American singer-songwriter AJ Mitchell, and released "Torn" as a single on August 19, 2019. On September 4, 2019, she entered a joint co-publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music and Artist Publishing Group. On October 31, 2019, she released a music video for "Freaking Me Out" as a Halloween special. Max won best Best Push Act at the 2019 MTV Europe Music Awards. On November 6, 2019, a duet called "Tabú" between Max and Pablo Alborán was released. The previously released song "Salt" was sent to digital streaming platforms on December 12, 2019. She collaborated with British-Norwegian DJ and record producer Alan Walker on the song "Alone, Pt. II", which was released on December 27, 2019. "On Somebody" was released as a promotional single on December 30, 2019.
On March 12, 2020, Max released "Kings & Queens" as the fifth single from her debut studio album Heaven & Hell (2020). She also appeared as a featured artist on the country song "On Me" along with Thomas Rhett and Kane Brown. It was included on the soundtrack of the 2020 film Scoob! on May 15, 2020, accompanied with a music video. Max released "Who's Laughing Now" on July 30, 2020, and "OMG What's Happening" on September 3, 2020 as singles from the album. Heaven & Hell was released on September 18, 2020, alongside the music video for the album's eighth single "Naked".
Musical style and influences
Max has been labeled as a pop and dance-pop singer. She grew up listening to artists such as Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Fugees, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. She has also cited Beyoncé, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Fergie, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Lady Gaga as some of her influences. She stated that Carey is her biggest influence, recalling how she grew up listening to her music on loop, such as "Vision of Love" (1990).
Public image and persona
— Max on the formation of the 'Max Cut'
Max has often been compared to Lady Gaga for her music and "ostentatious presentation", which includes her platinum blonde hair, persona, and stage name. Chris DeVille of Stereogum criticized Max's production for being too similar to Gaga, stating that it "falls short in terms of lyrics, production, melody, dynamics, personality, and every other conceivable metric", despite recognizing that the latter was also highly compared to Madonna. Max responded to the comparisons, stating that while Gaga was an "incredible" artist, people should not compare her to other people only for having the same hair color and releasing pop music. Although she described the comparisons as "lazy", she understood that it is "an easy thing to do" after being fascinated with pop artists since her childhood.
Max acknowledged that she often goes against the grain while making public appearances, often seeking designers who are overlooked, and wearing outlandish outfits, as she wants "to give people an experience". She stated that she was influenced by fashion in the 1990s, citing Gwen Stefani and Cindy Crawford as influences. However, Max preferred making music in the studio than appearing in public, stating that she did not like the attention of the fashion and cameras on the red carpet. Her self-cut 'Max Cut' hairstyle consists of her asymmetric peroxide blonde hair parted down the center, with the right side containing a chin-length bob cut, while the left side was longer and wavy. She explained that she did not feel authentic with her normal haircut, and that it was about embracing herself and being unique. While interviewed by Radio.com in 2020, Max described her hair as "symbolic of having the freedom to do your own thing" and a "visual representation of her self expression", stating that it was an escape from conformity.
Max has described herself as "100% Albanian" and stated that she wants to give back to the community. She is able to speak the language, but cannot read it. She is also outspoken about female empowerment, which is featured in her music. In a 2019 interview with Attitude, Max revealed that she had been attracted to women in the past but has chosen to not label her sexuality, explaining that she appreciated "when it's about who you are as a person. I don't like people putting me, or anyone else I know in a box".
- Heaven & Hell (2020)
Awards and nominations
|Year||Award||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Category||Result||Ref.|
|2019||BreakTudo Awards||International New Artist||Nominated|
|2019||Global Awards||Rising Star||Nominated|
|2019||GAFFA Awards (Sweden)||Best Foreign New Act||Nominated|
|"Sweet but Psycho"||Best Foreign Song||Won|
|2019||LOS40 Music Awards||Best International Song||Won|
|Herself||Best International New Artist||Nominated|
|2019||MTV Europe Music Awards||Best New Act||Nominated|
|Best Push Act||Won|
|2019||MTV Video Music Awards||Best New Artist||Nominated|
|2019||NRJ Music Awards||International Breakthrough of the Year||Nominated|
|2019||Teen Choice Awards||Choice Summer Female Artist||Nominated|
|"Sweet but Psycho"||Choice Song: Pop||Nominated|
|2020||BreakTudo Awards||Herself||Artist on the Rise||Pending|
|2020||iHeartRadio Music Awards||Best New Pop Artist||Nominated|
|2020||MTV Video Music Awards||Push Best New Artist||Longlisted|
|2020||Spotify Awards||Most-Streamed EDM Female Artist||Nominated|