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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"My Head and My Heart" places a Eurodance classic into a new, house-based context

Ava Max demonstrates how to build up from a sample, creating new material in a different style while also not losing sight of the original.

If today's Senior Year Soundtrack entry tells you anything, it's that I really like house and dance-pop music that takes influences from the 90s.

I already espoused my love for many of that era's tropes in my post on "Rain on Me" (which I find to be one of my best entries thus far — make sure to check out that post after today's if you haven't already). Today's track has its roots in a slightly different branch of 90s dance music: not from France, but rather from central and eastern Europe.

Before there was modern dance-pop in the Western world, there was Eurodance, a mix of hip house, techno, European disco, and more. Beginning with the project Snap! in Germany, its fast-paced beats and synth-forward sound caught on across the continent and beyond.

Today's track's journey begins in earnest in Russia in 1998, with band Ruki Vverh! ("Hands Up!") and their little song "Pesenka" (literally translated as "little song"). I guarantee the tune will strike most of you as familiar... and that a good number of you will begin singing the version you know. That English-language version is "Around the World (La La La La La)," by German outfit ATC, released in 2000. Fittingly for its name, "Around the World" caught on globally, even reaching the top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fast-forward two decades, and 90s electronic music has hit the big time again in the United States through the aforementioned house influences of Lady Gaga's Chromatica. Before long, producers Cirkut, Earwulf, and Jonas Blue decided to combine the Chromatica soundscape with the contemporaneous, enduring Eurodance melody of "Around the World." The result was Ava Max's late 2020 release "My Head and My Heart," a song which simply refuses to get out of my head.

"My Head and My Heart" takes "Pesenka"'s two main melodic motifs — the instrumental, bell-like line and the vocal melodic cell — and recontextualizes them within a 90s-tinged house groove. There honestly isn't all that much else to it... but despite the lack of an original tune, it still sounds really fresh, and that's because of the differences in genre and production between the Eurodance originals and Ava Max's track. "My Head and My Heart" is over 10 percent slower than "Pesenka" and "Around the World," and that difference by itself greatly alters the track's tone. While "Pesenka" feels like the instrumental is constantly being pushed forward by virtue of its tempo and quick melodic lines, Ava Max's song feels much more laidback and willing to let the vocals take the lead. Sure enough, that's exactly what happens in the pre-chorus, as a longer vocal line and climb leads into the chorus. This change in the vocal line instantly sets "My Head and My Heart" on a unique path, as Ruki Vverh! (and thus, ATC as well) never changed their melodic phrasing in their tunes.

The chorus of "My Head and My Heart" continues to demonstrate a divergence from the path of the sample track. On the vocal side of things, Ava Max sings another new melody as she struggles with persistent, conflicting thoughts about a former lover. Instrumentally, the track is carried by syncopation that redefines the Eurodance track's straight-ahead, off-beat bass into a bouncy house rhythm that — forgive yet another Chromatica reference — sounds like a cousin of that of Lady Gaga's "Free Woman" in both its rhythm and synth timbre. When the original "Pesenka" vocal line returns in the second half of the chorus, it's a welcome sound that helps bring the section of the track full-circle and demonstrates the reverence Ava Max and her team have toward the original production.

I've talked plenty about samples and replayings in the first month or so of my Senior Year Soundtrack, from "Rain on Me" to "Love Rears Its Ugly Head" and "Way Less Sad," just to name three instances. Each time, I think about how extensively the sample in question is utilized, and what kind of impact it has as a result. "My Head and My Heart" features the most readily employed sample of any track I've covered so far, being the only one to be manifested through vocal melodies. While such a track may often fail to be original, the producers of "My Head and My Heart" knew where to draw the line: they knew when to insert original material in order for the song to be able to assert itself as its own, rather than a simple re-skinning of an existing work. The new vocal melodies outside the verse grant the song that independence, and the brief move away from the "Pesenka" chord progression in the bridge is a breath of fresh air that gives the track new life at the point where it might have otherwise started to feel a bit stale.

As much as I and others can talk — and have talked — about great choice and incorporation of a sample, the intuition of when to limit or cut off one's use of a sample is often completely overlooked. That's understandable: it's a tough concept to grasp, especially when the vision of two productions with the same sample can be so vastly different. At the same time, it's a good topic of discussion in thinking about the relationship between inspiration and originality. I offer up "My Head and My Heart" as a track which is sample-based just the right amount to keep the production original, especially with its inspiration being so visible. Credit to Ava Max, her fellow writers, and the production team for knowing and setting limits in the process of creating an infectious house-pop record.


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