After landing 438,000 downloads in its first week (the fourth-best-selling debut for a female artist), Ariana Grande’s ”Problem” is now 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 a hit last year with ’90s throwback ”The Way,” featuring rapper Mac Miller, and who is known for her roles on the Nickelodeon series Victorious and Sam & Cat. But she went 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 —.”’
The appeal of ”Problem” can be traced to the brilliant combo of Grande’s Mariah-like vocals, the bumping sax beat (courtesy of hitmaker Martin, who produced pop phenoms like Britney Spears’ ”…Baby One More Time”), 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.”
One secret of the song’s success is the relatable and empowering message. ”Everybody has trouble with confidence these days,” says the singer. ”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.